The depth of the 2021 linebacker class was questionable heading into the 2020 season. However, the games that followed featured impressive development. Now, the class has even more talent up top, as well as suitable options in the early-to-middle rounds. Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning is in that conversation somewhere, but where exactly does he file in as an NFL Draft prospect? How does his upside match up against some of the draft’s best linebackers?
Baron Browning 2021 NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 240 pounds
School: Ohio State
Current Year: Senior
The existence of Baron Browning’s NFL potential has never been in question. Even in high school, he was penciled in as one of the likeliest prospects to eventually make the NFL leap. Browning was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 linebacker on 247 Sports’ board. He also ranked as the 11th-best player in the country.
Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, with a 4.56 40-yard dash time and a 37.5-inch vertical jump on record, Browning stood out as an elite athlete for his size. He received offers from almost three dozen teams, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida State, and LSU.
Despite having closer opportunities to his hometown of Kennedale, Texas, Browning chose to sign with the Ohio State Buckeyes. He aimed to join an NFL pipeline that included the likes of Raekwon McMillan, Darron Lee, Ryan Shazier, James Laurinaitis, and A.J. Hawk.
Baron Browning’s career as an Ohio State linebacker
Browning quickly found the field as a true freshman. Playing in five games, the young Ohio State linebacker logged 14 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Although he didn’t see consistent playing time right away, the departure of Jerome Baker in the 2018 NFL Draft opened the door for Browning to return as a regular contributor.
In 2018, Browning improved on his previous totals. Playing in nine games and starting three, Browning put up 23 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Browning’s measured success served as an indicator for his eventual breakout season in 2019. While not his highest quality football, 2019 was his most statistically eye-catching campaign. It’s what truly put Baron Browning on the map as a draft prospect.
Baron Browning’s junior and senior seasons
2019 saw Browning emerge into a consistent rotational role on Ohio State’s defense, and with added opportunities, the linebacker thrived. He amassed 43 total tackles in 11 games and also added on 11.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks, proving his mettle as a serious threat in the backfield. Browning could have made a case to declare for the draft as a true junior. However, he instead decided to stay in school, graduate, and further his development on the field.
Browning’s 2019 production earned him a place on the Butkus Award watch list ahead of the 2020 season, but uncertainty surrounding the status of the Big Ten season overshadowed his continued development. The Big Ten ended up overseeing a truncated schedule, and although Browning only ended up playing six games, he again distinguished himself as one of the Buckeyes’ premier defenders.
Over the course of the 2020 season, Browning accumulated 24 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, two pass deflections, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Those stats aren’t as eye-catching as his 2019 numbers, but Browning’s production was spread out evenly among his six games. He noticeably improved his consistency from the 2019 campaign. While 2019 saw him as a volatile yet impactful linebacker, 2020 saw him trend toward being a steady presence.
Browning still has one more game left to play — The College Football National Championship. After that, it’s on to the draft process, in which Baron Browning will look to reinforce his status at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine.
Baron Browning shows off upside in loss to Crimson Tide
It was a rough outing overall for the Ohio State defense. However, Baron Browning had his individual moments of production. The big, rangy linebacker came up big a couple times in pursuit, and he also had a massive strip sack on Mac Jones in the first half. Browning used his speed to penetrate the backfield, then wrenched the ball out of Jones’ hand and fell on it himself.
Browning was left cleaning up a lot of the big runs bred by the mismatch in the trenches. He also showcased his upside on the blitz. It was a suspect day for Day’s unit, but Browning played reasonably well, all while splitting snaps with Justin Hilliard.
Analyzing Baron Browning’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
Baron Browning is an exciting yet under-the-radar draft prospect, and it seems necessary to start with his athletic profile. Browning could very well test as an elite athlete at the NFL Combine. As mentioned earlier, he had a 4.56 40-yard dash and a 37.5-inch vertical as a recruit. It’s hard to imagine those numbers getting worse, especially after Browning continued to develop his frame and suffered no major injuries.
Standing at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Browning is an extremely imposing athletic specimen. He has excellent explosiveness both downfield and laterally, and his dense frame is hard to shake when he has momentum. Browning also has good lightness of feet, and he’s also an extremely energetic player who leaves everything out on the field.
Browning’s utility in different phases of the game
Browning’s mix of athleticism and energy shows up in all phases, and it supplements his operational knowledge of the game. As a run defender, Browning is fairly proficient at penetrating gaps and sealing off space, and on outside runs, his pursuit speed and length serve as invaluable assets. Browning also improved his tackling angles in 2020.
Although he still has his tackling inconsistencies on occasion, Browning generally has a good feel for how to pursue ball carriers. Additionally, at the contact point, Browning is a solid tackler who has the size to slow players down and the play strength to wrench them to the ground himself.
As a pass defender, Browning’s athletic freedom provides a similar upside. He does a good job keeping his feet active as he sits in his zone. He also knows how to follow the quarterback’s eyes to key in on intentions. Browning improved his pass coverage proactivity in 2020. More than once, he naturally flowed to the catch point by following the quarterback’s eyes, then made the deflection with his physicality.
Browning also offers very good range when tracking routes and runners laterally. His speed and closing burst can box offensive players in near the sideline. That speed also makes him a stellar pass rusher around the edge. Browning is a weapon as a blitzer, up with Chazz Surratt and Zaven Collins near the top of the class in that regard (Micah Parsons is on another level).
Where can Baron Browning improve?
As is often the case with young players, Browning’s main issues stem from his consistency. In run defense, he sometimes prematurely commits to the inside. There, he can get caught up in congestion, leaving the outside open for runners to break free. Browning has the burst and recovery ability to get back into the play, but he can avoid playing clean-up altogether by making the right reads more often at the line.
Additionally, Browning has continued room for improvement as a pass defender. 2020 was a step in the right direction, and he has the physical potential to be very good. But the volatility was still there to a degree. That’s something that may fade away with more reps, as Browning first became a full-time starter in 2020.
Baron Browning’s draft profile is very promising, in the sense that his weaknesses are correctable and that most of his strengths can’t be taught. Browning is a tremendous athlete who was an emotional, high-motor leader for the Buckeyes’ defense. His developmental potential, combined with his high character, should sell teams on his viability as an investment.
Baron Browning’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Baron Browning’s athleticism makes him a fairly universal fit in the NFL. He played both MIKE and outside linebacker at Ohio State, and his traits give him the versatility to play middle, strong-side, and weak-side linebacker. Additionally, Browning also has potential in a 3-4 scheme. He’d be an inside linebacker there, but with his size and speed, he’d be able to periodically line up as an extra pass rusher and create some disruption.
Browning isn’t as consistently impactful as some of the draft’s top linebackers. However, his profile puts him right there in that top-50 conversation. He has early three-down potential with his size and range. As he continues to hone his instincts and gather more steadiness in his game, he’ll have a chance to become a quality starter.
Teams that could use Browning’s talents
Given the depth of the linebacker class, Browning might get swept up a bit on Day 2, but he still shouldn’t fall far in Round 3 if he gets there. His scheme versatility should allow plenty of teams to remain interested. However, teams in need of athleticism, size, and starting ability at linebacker, like the Packers, Panthers, Lions, and Broncos, would particularly benefit from the value that Browning provides.
Browning isn’t as much of a sure thing as other linebackers in the class. But the draft is ultimately an investment, and Browning has the investment appeal. His athleticism affords him upper-echelon potential, and his energy is infectious. With the right coaching staff, he can be molded into a legitimate playmaker.