New York Giants fans have been screaming — aching — for their team to draft a linebacker highly. Yet they haven’t done so since 1984, and they’ve only selected one linebacker in the first two rounds since 1992. That player being Clint Sintim, who would rightly be reckoned as an EDGE nowadays anyway.
It is entirely likely that yet another draft will pass without the Giants using their first round pick on a linebacker. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be prospects worth their pick on the second day of the draft. The 2021 NFL Draft is shaping up to have solid depth at the linebacker position after the first round, and that could be to the Giants’ benefit.
Ohio State’s Baron Browning has prototypical size and the athleticism to be a true three-down player in the modern NFL. Could he be the linebacker Giants’ fans have been looking for?
Prospect: Baron Browning
Games Watched: vs. Cincinnati (2019), vs. Clemson (2019), vs. Clemson (2020), vs. Alabama (2020)
Games Played: 32
Tackles For a loss: 19.0
Forced Fumbles: 2
Games Played: 7
Tackles For a loss: 3.0
Forced Fumbles: 2
Best: Size, athleticism, versatility, play strength, competitive toughness
Worst: Instincts, consistency
Projection: A starting linebacker with scheme versatility
(Browning is LB number 5)
Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning possesses excellent length, play strength, and athleticism for the position. Ohio State made use of those traits to fill a variety of roles in their front seven. Browning aligned both inside and outside as an off-ball linebacker, as well as on the line of scrimmage as a rush linebacker.
Browning shows good discipline within the scheme and is generally assignment sound. He does a good job of processing the play, reacting to what he sees, and adjusting after the snap. He generally avoids freelancing and trusts his teammates to do their jobs.
Browning shows good athleticism, agility, quickness, and fluidity dropping into coverage zones. He quickly gets good depth with a balanced backpedal while keeping his eyes in the backfield. Browning does a good job of mirroring offensive players while maintaining discipline in picking up and passing off players as they enter and exit his zone. He also has the athleticism to turn and run with most running backs and tight ends in man coverage.
He is a very physical player against the run, coming downhill hard to fill gaps. He is a hard tackler, generally driving through ball carriers with good form and wrapping up to prevent yards after contact.
Browning also has utility as a pass rushing linebacker. Ohio State used him both as a blitzer attacking interior gaps and as a rusher off the edge. Browning was generally better off the edge, showing good burst and flexibility to bend the corner and carry speed into the backfield. He generally relies on a long-arm move to keep blockers from engaging and was disruptive on the few occasions he rushed off the edge. He also does a good job of faking interior blitzes before dropping into coverage zones. It can be very difficult to tell whether he is rushing or dropping based on his pre-snap body language.
Browning shows good mental processing, but isn’t the most instinctive of linebackers. While he processes new information quickly, he still needs a beat to see the offense develop before reacting, rather than anticipating prior to the snap. He was able to make that moment up with his athleticism at the collegiate level, but that could impact his play speed at the NFL level. Browning’s reliance on his eyes and play discipline did open him up to misdirection. He has a tendency to bite hard on play-action or let play fakes move him out of position while he tries to honor his assignment. That improved between his junior and senior seasons, but it should still be an area of emphasis as he adjusts to the NFL.
He could also stand to work with coaches to improve his hand usage. Browning does a good job of keeping blocker from engaging as he navigates the line of scrimmage, but he can still get hung up on reach blocks, particularly when blitzing through the A or B-gaps.
Overall Grade: 7.2 - This prospect should be a solid Day 2 pick with the ability to contribute immediately. He has the upside to develop into a reliable every-down starter.
Baron Browning projects as a starting, three-down linebacker at the NFL level. He has the potential upside to be a very productive player in the NFL, but he will need time and coaching to consistently play at his potential as a professional.
Browning’s athletic profile should interest any and every defensive coach. He has the size and play strength to be a traditional inside linebacker in short-yardage situations, the athleticism to be an effective off-ball linebacker, and the pass rush ability to be an asset for defenses which use linebackers in blitz packages. That same versatility should allow him to be an every-down player at the NFL level
Given the multiple nature of most modern NFL defenses, Browning should be able to find a fit in most defensive schemes, whether they are based in 3 or 4-man fronts.
Coaches will like the competitive toughness and demeanor with which he plays. Browning is a physical player who doesn’t shy away from getting his hands dirty and laying hits, and is a fiery competitor who keeps energy levels high when the defense is in a groove.
Teams will likely want to keep his assignments relatively simple to start his career. While he might be able to grow into the role of a MIKE linebacker, his need to work through what he is seeing could slow him down as a rookie. That said, he has the ability to fly around the field and play with true sideline-to-sideline range when he is able to commit quickly and fully.