With the Scouting Combine just days away, the consensus on which area the Browns will target with their first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft 42nd overall is almost unanimous.
Most draft experts believe Cleveland will go for a defensive lineman at that spot. It’s easy to see why after the Browns struggled against the run and didn’t generate much pass rush other than assists from All-Pro DE Myles Garrett last season.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah thinks the Browns are in a good position to snag an edge rusher. Two players came to mind on Friday as he considered where the Browns are drafting and who might be a good fit for Jim Schwartz’s defense in his first year as defensive coordinator.
First up was Will McDonald IV, who earned high praise from Matt Campbell, his head coach at Iowa State, when Campbell spoke to Jeremiah about his NFL potential.
“You think of the players they had there in (QB) Brock Purdy and RB (Breece Hall), and (Campbell) said Will McDonald has the most positive side of anyone he ever had there,” Jeremiah said.
Purdy, of course, was initially drafted as “Mr. Irrelevant” to the 49ers last year as the bottom draft pick 262nd overall. He played wonderfully when he needed to start five games due to injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, winning all five of his starts before an elbow injury eliminated him from the NFC Championship Game.
Hall, meanwhile, was considered a favorite for Rookie of the Year last season for the Jets before suffering a season-ending knee injury midway through the year.
To say McDonald could be an even better player than either of his two former offensive teammates might sound noble for a guy currently projected to land in Round 2, but Jeremiah understands why Campbell believes him.
McDonald tallied 34 sacks in five seasons with the Cyclones and immediately caught the attention of Campbell and his coaching staff as a freshman, even though he redshirted that season.
“He was a 206-pound freshman and they couldn’t pin him in practice,” Jeremiah said. “They put him in a game, and he had a sack in his first game, and they said, ‘Should we shirt him? He only weighs 206 pounds, but he’s our best passer.'”
McDonald, who is 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, is still slightly undersized for the position, but Jeremiah believes he has an NFL-ready set of tools.
“He can really get off the ball,” he said. “He can win with spins. He can win just by turning the corner. Burst and bend is his calling card.”
Those traits, which sound familiar to Garrett’s, play well under the scheme of Schwartz, whose defenses have already had success positioning defensive ends a little farther outfield. The extra space allows for creativity and speed so they can overcome offensive tackles.
One player in the Browns draft Jeremiah thinks could fit that style is Felix Anudike-Uzomah. He has 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in his last two seasons with Kansas State, though Jeremiah thinks those numbers could have been even higher if he had played in a scheme that more closely matched what Schwartz is for. known.
“He can get off the ball and win with hands,” Jeremiah said. “He had to play inside the tackle a lot. He didn’t get a lot of runway consistently, but when you spread it out and give him runway, he was pretty dominant. He had a lot of production.”
The Combine may alter the likelihood of either of these players being available for the Browns in the second round, but the need for the Browns to find another starting-caliber edge rusher won’t change.
Jeremiah believes the Browns could find him with their first pick of the draft.