2021 NFL draft prospects: Ohio State LB Baron Browning

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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Ohio State LB Baron Browning

6-foot-3, 241 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.84 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: All-Traits Team member who finally started fulfilling his massive potential in breakout senior season

Games watched: Clemson (2019), Indiana (2020), Penn State (2020), Alabama (2020)

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit (No. 9 nationally), Browning left the state of Texas to sign with the Buckeyes. As a sophomore In 2018, he had 23 tackles (3.5 for loss) and one sack while starting three of 12 games. Browning only started one game in 2019, but he had 43 tackles (10 for losses), five sacks and one pass breakup in 12 games. As a senior, Browning shifted from inside linebacker to the outside, starting five of seven games and making 30 tackles (three for losses), one sack, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries for the national runners-up. Browning earned third-team All-Big Ten honors and played in the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Ideal physical specimen for a modern linebacker with great size-speed combination. Good length and athletic twitch. Tremendous wingspan (81 inches), good arm length (33 inches) and huge hands (10 inches). Chiseled physique and well-proportioned. Strong frame and plays big — uses his length to stack and shed well, especially against tight ends and athletic tackles.

Fluid athlete who can run — impressive burst. Fast closer who can come from off the screen to make a play. Does good job of stringing out plays wide and not letting ballcarriers turn the corner. Played faster as a college senior.

Very effective blitzer. WIll run through blocks or shimmy past them. Good finishing ability — see his sack against Alabama’s Mac Jones in the national title game. Hitter who brings a thump.

Great third-down ability. Was asked to rush, cover in the slot (or even outside) over his four years. Covered Indiana’s 180-pound slot WR Whop Philyor and Penn State’s 258-pound TE Pat Freiermuth. Here’s Browning knocking away a ball in a red-zone rep against Freiermuth:

Good positional versatility. Improved tackler as senior — displayed better technique and was more reliable after early-career issues.

Plays with intensity and effort. Just starting to hit his peak, with instincts catching up to the traits.

Downside: Late bloomer. Wasn’t a full-time starter until shortened 2020 season. Had responsibilities streamlined prior to breakout year. Struggled to find his footing and carve out a defined role amidst a talented LB group earlier in his career.

Often looked hesitant and even a bit lost his first few years. Didn’t trust his eyes to diagnose what was happening in front of him. Anticipation skills still lagging — in the process of learning how to read his keys and get a jump on plays.

Can do better taking on blocks in the run game. Does’t play the angles in his favor. Can hit high and whiff. You’d like to see him play through the ball a bit better, although that was improved as a senior.

Coverage skills likely limited to tight ends and H-backs. A little clunky flipping his hips and transitioning. Better dropping into short zone coverage. Zero career interceptions and only three pass breakups — ball skills not yet refined.

Still currently a better athlete than complete football player. Some development is required to coax out all of his natural ability. Hasn’t played extensively on special teams since his sophomore year.

Best-suited destination: With his size and athletic skill, Browning figures to be either an outside or inside linebacker in a 3-4 system or an outside ‘backer in even fronts. He has good rush potential, and the ability to impact special-teams units in coverage and return units.

By Year 2 or 3, you might really have something special. But there's little doubt he's a boom-or-bust prospect who has ample work to do to get better.

Did you know: His father, Barry, was a hard-hitting DB at TCU in the 1990s, and his brother, Barry Jr., played cornerback at Stanford from 2010 to 2013.

Player comp: Zach Cunningham

Expected draft range: Round 3