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How does the Jadeveon Clowney signing affect the Cleveland Browns' draft plans?

The Cleveland Browns' signing of Jadeveon Clowney gives them newfound flexibility in the 2021 NFL Draft.

CLEVELAND — On Wednesday, the Cleveland Browns and three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney agreed to a one-year contract.

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With that in mind, let's re-rank the Browns position needs heading into the 2021 NFL Draft:

5. Linebacker

Analytics-driven front offices like the Browns don't typically put a high emphasis on the linebacker position, but Cleveland could use an upgrade nonetheless. Entering 2021, the Browns have little invested in the position long-term and lack a proven difference-maker in the group.

After a solid 2020 season, veteran Malcolm Smith re-signed with Cleveland on a one-year deal and 2020 third-round pick Jacob Phillips showed promise in his rookie season. Add in free-agent signee Anthony Walker Jr. and holdovers Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki and the Browns' need at linebacker isn't necessarily a pressing one. But it remains perhaps the most obvious area in which Cleveland's roster could stand to improve.

4. Wide receiver

The Browns are set to return their top four wide receivers from a season ago in Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Odell Beckham Jr. and Donovan Peoples-Jones, while the fifth, KhaDarel Hodge, remains a restricted free agent. But while Beckham's return from last year's season-ending ACL injury should provide a boost, Cleveland could use some more downfield speed in its receiving corps.

Considering the Browns' emphasis on defense in free agency, using either their first or second-round pick on a wide receiver might make some sense. Depending on how the first-round shakes out, there could be some promising speedsters on the board when Cleveland is scheduled to make its pick at No. 26.

3. Defensive end

In theory, the signings of Clowney and Takkarist McKinley should help the Browns fill the void left by Olivier Vernon, but it's worth noting that both players combined to appear in just 12 games last season. Furthermore, Clowney and McKinley each only signed for one-year contracts.

As a result, Cleveland could still spend a draft pick on an edge defender as early as the first round should the right prospect be available. At a position you can never have too many good players at, another pass rusher would only give the Browns additional versatility and perhaps, a long-term partner to pair opposite Myles Garrett.

2. Defensive tackle

Like defensive end, Cleveland seems set at defensive tackle in the immediate future, with Sheldon Richardson, Andrew Billings, Malik Jackson and Jordan Elliott all under contract for 2021. The addition of Clowney should also give the Browns the versatility to line up pass-rushers across their defensive line in certain situations.

But with Richardson, Billings and Jackson each in the final years of their contracts, Cleveland could use a long-term fixture at the position. While this year's class might not be loaded with top-end defensive tackle prospects, it would make sense for the Browns to take a swing on a high upside player at the position.

1. Cornerback

The Browns signed Troy Hill earlier this offseason, but the former Los Angeles Rams cornerback is better suited to play nickel than outside. Even if Greedy Williams returns from a shoulder injury that cost him his entire 2020 season, both he and Denzel Ward have had histories battling injuries.

With edge defender no longer the pressing need it seemed to be following the Clowney signing, cornerback moves to the top of the Browns' draft wish list. Cleveland may, however, need to move up from 26 if it's going to have a shot at drafting one of the top players at the position in this year's draft.

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