Will Browns add a pass rusher in 2022 NFL draft?

2022 NFL Draft Cleveland Browns
Browns 2018 NFL draft picks

Cleveland enters the 2021 season with one of the most complete rosters in the league.

But take a look at the depth chart, and you’ll see some notable holes, particularly behind starting pass rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.

Cleveland signed Clowney and Takk McKinley to one-year deals in the offseason.

McKinley missed most of training camp after taking three weeks off for personal reasons. The former No. 26 overall pick in 2017 is the team’s most experienced backup pass rusher with 17.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in his career, but McKinley fell out of favor in Atlanta, where he played just four games last season.

Former Miami edge Joe Jackson, a fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2019, is the only other edge rusher on the roster, while Curtis Weaver of Boise State (fifth round by Miami in 2020) and Porter Gustin of USC (undrafted in 2019) are currently on the practice squad.

One name to keep an eye on is free agent Olivier Vernon, who started 23 games for Cleveland the past two seasons, picking up 12.5 sacks and 16 TFLs. His 9 sacks last season were second to Garrett’s 12. Vernon suffered a ruptured Achilles’ at the end of the regular-season finale, so his status for this season remains in doubt.

Even in a best-case scenario, all but Garrett could be gone by next season.

That makes pass rusher one of Cleveland’s top priorities in the 2022 draft. The team will likely pick somewhere in the mid- to late-20s.

Here are some pass rushers with regional interest who could be available:

  • Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan: At 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, Hutchinson has great size but missed most of last season with a leg fracture that required surgery. From Dane Brugler of The Athletic: “With his mix of physical talent and competitive drive, Hutchinson is a football coach’s dream. He has logged snaps at every defensive line position while at Michigan, flashing the upper body physicality to be a battering ram, but also the agile, flexible lower body to stay balanced on his feet.” However, a healthy Hutchinson might not be available for the Browns, as Brugler said Hutchinson could be the first Big Ten player drafted.
  • George Karlaftis, Purdue: The 6-foot-4, 275 pound junior is another other Big Ten player competing with Hutchinson to be the first player out of his conference drafted, Brugler said. Drew Schneider of Hammer and Nails said Karlaftis is “the total package.” “George looked like an NFL player the moment he stepped on campus. … (H)e’s built like a Greek God (which isn’t a stretch considering his last name), and is a classic long levered pass rusher. He can beat an offensive tackle with speed around the corner, or bury him in the pocket with a bull rush.”
  • Zach Harrison, Ohio State: One of Harrison’s best attributes is his size, which is the same as Hutchinson at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds. But he’s put up pedestrian numbers his first two seasons, with 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks for his career. However, reports out of Columbus say Harrison has had a monster offseason. From Pete Nakos of Lettermen Row: “With the help of Mickey Marotti in the weight room this winter, Harrison reshaped his body. The work was rewarded on the field this spring as coaches raved about his improvements. He showed it on a national stage in the spring game, too, getting off the edge faster and looking ready to burst into backfields frequently this fall.”
  • Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati: The 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior is another long, athletic pass rusher. Sanders is coming off a great season in which he tallied 10.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks and five passes defended in 10 games. He’s currently more of a Day 2 type of prospect, but another solid season could put him into the Day 1 conversation.

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