Yesterday I wrote down my thoughts on the final Cleveland Browns 53-man roster for the offence, so today I might as well bang on about the defence as well.
Emmanuel Ogbah, Trevon Coley, Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Garrett, Chris Smith, Chad Thomas, Devaroe Lawrence, Carl Davis and Ifeadi Odenigbo – As far as I can see, this unit is still very much a work-in-progress. The DE starters are solid with Ogbah and Garrett but I still wouldn’t be surprised if they went to that position in the offseason next year as Ogbah has flashed great things but lacked the consistency of it. Personally, I really like Ogbah and think he’s a good player and with him on the left, Garrett on the right and Larry Ogunjobi in the middle, I think those three spots are sorted. The Browns’ base D is a 4-3 so they need to find consistency in the middle next to Ogunjobi. Last season we had Trevon Coley and it looks like he’ll be the starter there again this year as the 1-tech.
Just as I’d come to terms with and was comfortable about Jamie Meder and Coley splitting time alongside Ogunjobi, the team go and cut Meder. I wouldn’t have said he was a game-changer but he started to look good towards the end of preseason. Maybe the team didn’t like his efforts on the field and I must say that he did only look good in game 4 of the preseason against the 2’s and 3’s.
Coley started all 15 of the games he played in for the Browns during the 2017 season so has a decent amount of experience playing in a Gregg Williams defence. For his efforts during those games, the Pro Football Focus analysts gave him a 58.8 rating which ranked him as the 98th overall interior lineman last year. This isn’t good and we could do with another guy like Ogunjobi in there who graded at 79.4 (26th overall) according to PFF.
This is definitely the part of the defence that still needs improving as nothing that’s been seen during the preseason would appear to have impressed. We have our three starters, as I stated above, and they are solid, but that other interior spot and depth would seem to be an issue. An exciting move the team made during waivers was to bring in Carl Davis who was waived by division rivals Baltimore. He’s a former 3rd round pick by the Ravens who started 9 games for them last year after spending the entire 2016 season on IR due to an ankle injury. It’ll be the IR and high-quality depth that the Ravens have at his position that has seen him end up with the Browns. I’m looking forward to seeing him play for us and I think it’ll only be a short time before we see him starting alongside Ogunjobi this year.
Myles Garrett doesn’t need any introduction as he’s a fantastic player and set for great things in the NFL. I love how good he is on the field of play but also how mature, intelligent and just a good person off it. I wish the Browns could have 22 players as their starters like this guy, he’s definitely got potential to be the face of the NFL in future years.
The rest of this unit is made up of depth players with another waiver claim at the close of the preseason.
Chris Smith comes to the Browns as an unrestricted free agent and is coming off his best season so far. He came into games once the 1’s had done during the preseason and I’d say he looked very good. I like the addition of him to the roster and think he’s a good quality backup DE.
Ifeadi Odenigbo is the other waiver claim after his release from the Minnesota Vikings. He spent 2017 on the Vikings practice squad and I’ve read that he’s transitioning from DE to DT. I find this a little bizarre as he looks undersized to me. He’s listed at 6’3″, 275lbs so I see him as a DE, really. He’s definitely one to watch and I’m intrigued as to how they’re going to use him.
A move that seemed to slip under the radar during the waiver period was that of the trade for Devaroe Lawrence from the New Orleans Saints. The Browns gave a 2019 7th round pick for him and I’ve seen him described as a fighter. I get the impression the new management is trying hard to change the mentality within the Cleveland ranks from that of players who were just going through the motions to those who want to fight hard and win some football games. This guy sounds to be the epitome for that mindset. He has suffered from a torn ACL in the past and was on the Saints’ IR for 2017, but we can hope he’s back to doing what he can do well; playing football, as he showed during this preseason.
Odenigbo and Lawrence are indeed interesting prospects who didn’t play last season and should be fresh and eager to play. Lawrence looks like an addition to the interior of the line but I’m not sure how Odenigbo will be used just yet. He’ll probably move about on the line.
The final player to make the 53 as a DL is third-round rookie Chad Thomas. He’s another player like Odenigbo that could be moved around on the DL this year. He came in as a DE but has been used inside and on the edge throughout the preseason games. I’ve seen people on social media calling him a bust already and a waste of a third-round pick. Come on people, have a word with yourselves, huh?
My untrained, unprofessional eye tells me that we currently have four interior guys, three DE’s and a couple that were DE’s but have been tried both inside and out.
The interior defensive line play isn’t the most exciting to watch for most fans during a game, but it could be interesting to see which of these guys comes out on top throughout this season. Like I said at the start, it’s still very much a work-in-progress as far as I can see.
Christian Kirksey, Joe Schobert, Jamie Collins Sr, James Burgess Jr, Genard Avery and Tanner Vallejo – Before the excellent offseason got into full-flow and the new front office started making all their roster moves, I was concerned about this unit as much as I was the defensive line. Yes, we had Kirksey and the emerging talent of Schobert, but that was about it for me. I know many still rate Jamie Collins highly but I’m not a big fan, to be honest.
I keep using the term “Going through the motions and picking up their paychecks”, well, I think this definitely applies to Collins. I just don’t think he’s that committed to playing football and is only willing to do just enough to keep his job. He doesn’t appear to be the player he was in New England during 2014 and 2015 and, yes, I wanted him to be used in a trade this offseason after the acquisition of Mychal Kendricks. Obviously, Kendricks had his past catching up with him and it didn’t work out for him in Cleveland, but he was definitely the better player of the two, for my money. I just hope Collins finds some of that 2014/2015 play and contributes a lot to this improved Cleveland Browns team.
Collins will be the starting strongside LB with Schobert in the middle and Kirksey on the weak side of the formation. Kirksey is a fantastic player with his build, speed and skillset. I think he’s a very good modern NFL linebacker and the player who’d be the first name on the defensive teamsheet for every game.
I’m not sure I’d have said Schobert did anything extraordinary last year to make it to the Pro Bowl, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well he performed during his first year as the starting MLB after Tank Carder went down with a season-ending injury. Schobert is a success story in Cleveland and has taken some of the pressure to rebuild the team off the FO and coaches.
Two of the three backups I feel are great for the Browns. James Burgess Jr is a good player who gets involved in a lot of plays and is a borderline starter, for me. He stepped in last year when Jamie Collins went down injured and played some good football.
The other current backup is probably, for me, the most exciting player on the defensive side of the ball for the Browns…and that’s a bold statement considering it’s a defence with Myles Garrett on it. Genard Avery is going to be a pass-rushing nightmare for opposing QB’s. He’s already shown how great he is this preseason with his ability to collapse the pocket from the strongside whilst Garrett does the same from the blindside. I’ve said it before in previous posts and I’ll say it again; these two could be a dominant force in the NFL in the coming years!
The best play of the preseason came against the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles when Avery lined up in a 2-point stance at the LDE position and went on a rampage. First, he embarrassed TE Zach Ertz by throwing him to the ground with one arm (it took Ertz the rest of the play to realise what had happened and to get back up) before overpowering the highly regarded RT Lane Johnson and pushing him back into his QB, Nick Foles, to get the strip. Just an incredible play that I could watch a hundred times more. Avery did end the preseason with a hip injury but he’ll be back for the regular season and I can’t wait to see him and Myles Garrett get to work!
The final piece of the linebacker puzzle comes in the shape of Tanner Vallejo, fresh from waiver claims via the Buffalo Bills. He was a rookie last year after being picked in the 6th round and played a part in 15 games last year. I know I keep mentioning Pro Football Focus, but I find them to be a good source of information on a player when they haven’t had much playing time in the league or when I don’t know too much about them. PFF gave him a good rating of 69.4 for last season but he didn’t play enough snaps to actually be officially ranked. He’s another promising young player to keep an eye on as he’ll probably backup Christian Kirksey on that right side of the formation.
Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell, Jabrill Peppers, Damarius Randall, T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines, Derrick Kindred, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Denzel Rice and Tavierre Thomas – Right, this is a unit that has turned out to not be as clear cut in terms of starters and depth as I had initially thought.
I fully expected #4 overall pick in this years draft, Denzel Ward to be starting but then I thought T.J. Carrie would start opposite him. This hasn’t turned out to be the case and it is, in fact, a player that I wasn’t too bothered about when he was brought in who has won the other starting spot. Terrance Mitchell started 9 games last season with the Kansas City Chiefs and has 5-years experience in the league so that spot on the roster could be said to be in safe hands. He did also earn the right to be named as the starter going into the regular season during training camp, so I’m happy with our starters right now.
Statistically, E.J. Gaines is a great player at the cornerback position and he’s made the roster on that basis. I, and so many others I’m sure hope he can get over his injury-riddled career so far and get out onto the field of play more often. He’s currently out injured after suffering a “significant knee injury” during training camp. I’m not sure we’ll ever get the full benefit of what Gaines can do but, for now, he’s on the active roster.
I’m most disappointed with T.J. Carrie so far as he can be a good player for the Browns and I’d hoped he’d come in and command that other starting spot at CB. He currently looks to be backing up Mitchell after a pretty disappointing training camp. He’s coming off his best season to date after starting all 16 games last season for the Oakland Raiders and getting a PFF rating of 74.5, which is very good. I hope he can get back on that kind of form and contribute positively to the Browns 2018 NFL campaign.
The last two CB’s on the roster are Denzel Rice and waiver claim Tavierre Thomas. Rice has earned his spot on the roster through training camp when many thought that spot would go to Jeremiah McKinnon, who also had a good preseason. McKinnon has made it on to the practice squad so maybe these roles might be reversed at a later date.
Tavierre Thomas is another player I don’t know much about other than he’s a rookie who was claimed via waivers after his release from the Arizona Cardinals. I’m not sure how much we’ll see of him other than on special teams.
The safeties are looking very good for 2018. We have starters of Damarius Randall at FS and Jabrill Peppers at SS with Derrick Kindred and Briean Boddy-Calhoun slated as the backups. In today’s NFL, it’s not as simple as having an FS and SS plus a couple of CB’s. Because the offences are more passing-based now, defences run with 5+ DB’s more often. I like the fact that we have, what I’d consider, four players at safety who are of starter quality.
Damarius Randall went away for a second opinion on an injury he suffered during the preseason and I haven’t heard any more about it since. Hue Jackson did state that he’d be back and ready to play week one, so fingers crossed.
I like the fact that Jabrill Peppers is a player who likes to play up closer to the line (in the box) and I hope we’ll see more formations where there are 3 DL, 3 LB’s and 5 DB’s. In this set, I’d like to see the left-side LB being Genard Avery up on the line where the LDE would normally be and Peppers up in the box where the left-side LB would normally be. This was seen during preseason a few times and it did look productive.
Defensive Roster Cuts
Trimming the roster from 90 to 53 can’t be an easy thing to do, but do it teams must. Some of the bigger casualties on defence this year were Carl Nassib, Jamie Meder, Jeremiah McKinnon, Caleb Brantley and Zaycovern Henderson.
Nassib is probably the biggest name on this list I’ve mentioned and that’s only because of his annoying personality on Hard Knocks and the crap he talks. In case you can’t guess, I’m not a fan of his. I think he’s a decent backup at DE but personally, I think he thinks he’s more intelligent than others but is actually a bit of a bellend. He’s been picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after his release from the Browns.
Just as I’d got comfortable with the Browns going into the 2018 season with Ogunjobi and Meder on the interior of the D-line, Dorsey goes and flips it all around. He waived Meder and signed four others from the waiver list. Meder looked good in the final preseason game but only average leading up to that point when playing against better quality opposition. I’d imagine he’ll get picked up by someone at some stage during the season.
Caleb Brantley and rookie Zaycovern Henderson have also been released during the late overhaul of that defensive line interior. I’ve been cheering for Brantley to step up with Ogunjobi to give us a pair of good young players in that interior but he just hasn’t worked out as well as Larry. I still think he’ll develop into a good player but he has gone off to a mediocre team, the Washington Redskins. I’m not surprised he was picked up so quickly and he’s a player whose career I’ll keep an eye on.
Zaycovern is yet another player who has great potential but doesn’t appear to have the maturity and common sense to match. Off-the-field issues blah blah blah. I do think he will also develop into a decent player and I was glad to see the Browns haven’t given up on him entirely and have signed him to the practice squad.
Another player released then signed to the practice squad was DB Jeremiah McKinnon. So far in his career, McKinnon hasn’t settled anywhere since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016. The Browns are his 5th different team already but after some decent looking preseason performances, the Browns haven’t quite given up on him completely at this stage. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him promoted to the roster at some point.
So, that’s my little piece on the Cleveland Browns defence going into the 2018 NFL season. What do you see and like/dislike about the unit and the individual players within it? Let me know in the comments below.