When factoring in upside, the Cleveland Browns could end up utilizing what might be viewed as a counterintuitive draft process to maximize talent. The team has relatively few needs, but they are important positions, so they have to consider the best way to hit on the picks while also factoring how good they can become. The Browns are potentially in position to compete right now for the Super Bowl, so maybe they want impact sooner than later, but they often take a longer view with their acquisition of talent through the draft.
Pass rusher and corner are the two biggest needs on the Browns roster currently. The cupboards aren't bare, but they need more talent in those position groups to achieve their goals on the defensive side of the ball.
The two players that might have the most long term upside are also among the rawest prospects in the class. Joseph Ossai, the pass rusher from Texas and Ifeatu Melifonwu, corner from Syracuse.
Ossai is a player that has been knocked because he's still new to the position, only having one season as a true edge rusher. He needs to continue developing as a pass rusher in terms of defeating blocks. As a run defender, he's incredibly active but will occasionally end up on his butt as he's overpowered by opposing linemen.
Despite the flaws on tape, Ossai was still incredibly productive, posting an elite production profile this past season for the Longhorns.
He also produced an incredibly impressive athletic profile. No, he did not agility, which is frustrating when trying to produce a complete profile, but his explosion and speed are excellent. It's easy to get distracted by someone like Jayson Oweh from Penn State, who put together an otherworldly profile, but Ossai's is fantastic.
Joseph Ossai, EDGE Texas
Age: 21 at the time of the Draft(Born April 13th, 2000)
Height: 6'3 3/4"
Arm Length: 33 7/8'
40-Yard Dash: 4.63
Broad Jump: 10'11"
Bench Press: 19 reps
Save for bench press, which is a threshold exercise, where Ossai tested was top of the line across the board. His jumps in particular are outstanding. And with Kwity Paye of Michigan losing weight, testing at 261 pounds, there's far less of a distinction between the two.
Paye's jumps weren't as impressive as Ossai's either with a 35.5" vertical and 9'10" broad jump. He was unable to test agility, but he has a freakishly fast 3-cone video from the past, which makes it pretty clear how special he is in that area. Paye's jumps are not bad by any stretch. Ossai's are just that impressive.
Ossai is also younger and will only have been 21 a couple weeks when he's selected.
And while plenty of people want to suggest Ossai should be a standup edge rusher, which isn't a problem anyway. At 256 pounds, he's more than capable of playing from a 3-point stance, even if he's perhaps only using it to pin his ears back as a designated pass rusher early in his career.
If the Browns are able to sign Jadeveon Clowney, Ossai, the first pick in their draft would at least nominally be their fourth edge rusher behind Myles Garrett, Takkarist McKinly and Clowney, which might be a frustrating proposition for some.
On one hand, it represents an embarrassment of riches for the Browns at a spot that is critical both for the present and future. Ossai might only really be utilized as a specialist in his rookie season, but what a weapon to have. For the future though, Ossai has incredibly high upside and could be a multiple time Pro Bowler and perhaps an All-Pro across from Myles Garrett in the long run.
If the Browns defense operates as they hope and the offense is able to give them leads in games, they will be able to consistently have fresh, athletic pass rushers to send at the opposing quarterback. Consider a situation where the Browns kicked Garrett inside with both McKinley and Ossai sprinting off the edge.
Ossai looks like a second round pick, but his potential makes it easy to defend selecting him with the 26th pick. Maybe the Browns could move down a few spots before selecting him, but they may not want to risk it.
Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB Syracuse
Age: 21 (Born in May, 1999)
Height: 6'2 1/2"
Arm Length: 32 1/8'
40-Yard Dash: 4.5
Broad Jump: 11'2"
Bench Press: 16 reps
His jumps, his explosion are elite. His speed is fine when factoring in his size and his agility for his size is adequate. He will be 22 shortly after the draft, which is also a good number for the Browns.
Melifonwu put together an outstanding 2020 season in terms of production, which vaults his overall profile up to potentially being a multiple Pro Bowl player.
Melifonwu isn't a finished product and needs to continue developing in the NFL to reach his lofty potential. The good news is the Browns don't necessarily need him to step in and play right away.
This is part of what makes Greedy Williams valuable to the Browns. He's still got two years left on his rookie deal and the Browns need corner depth anyway. If Melifonwu needs time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, the Browns don't feel the need to throw him into the starting lineup. They can develop him at his own pace.
Melifonwu would obviously address length in the corner room. Along with Williams, that would give the Browns two players that can step in and provide more size across from Denzel Ward, which could be valuable in a division with players like Tee Higgins and Chase Claypool.
The trick with Melifonwu is figuring out where the Browns need to be in order to select him. It seems like they will want to move up from the 59th pick to get him, but whether that's 10 spots as opposed to 15 or even 20 would represent a significant difference in the compensation needed to make such a move.
The easiest thing the Browns can do is use one of their two third round picks, which sit 89th and 91st as part of a package to move up to get Melifonwu. The Browns have positions they would like to add to this team through the draft, but if they can come out with a good edge rusher and corner, that would really improve their chances to compete for the Super Bowl the next two seasons.
Obviously, this is dependent on how quickly the Browns can get them ready to contribute, but in terms of maximizing talent, Ossai and Melifonwu might be the best path forward in addressing those two positions.