As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2018 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
It seems everyone has gone Browns crazy. After finally finding a franchise quarterback after decades of fruitless searching, the Browns have made a couple of other splash signings and all of a sudden the football world seems to think they’re going to be playing New England and Baltimore and Kansas City in January. I hope it happens. It’d be great to see the Browns be successful for a change.
Part of the assessment is a sweeping belief that the defense is also really good. With Gregg Williams gone and Steve Wilks hired fresh from a disastrously bad stint as Cardinals head coach, we’re going to see quite a bit of change.
The biggest thing to remember about the Browns is they played a huge amount of defensive snaps last year because they played in four overtime games – which is almost unheard of. It’s about as guaranteed as possible that they’ll see a significant collective drop in playing time.
Let’s see what we can expect.
It seems the Browns are going to play with similar tackles and rotate them between the various gap alignments this year. Expect both Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson to get the chance to rush the passer plenty.
It’s worth remembering that Ogunjobi played a monstrous amount of snaps due to those OT games. His 930 was 11th of all interior players in the last decade. In the last five years, only Ndamukong Suh and Dontari Poe have played more. Ogunjobi played 100 snaps more than the third-placed tackle in 2018. Do not make the mistake of believing his 2018 was some sort of “breakout” season. He produced because he played a lot.
Only seven interior players created more pressure than Sheldon Richardson – it’s just his sack:pressure ratio was low. That’s not a sticky stat across seasons so expect positive regression there.
A year ago, this column worried Myles Garrett would end up being rotated too much. In fact, he led the league in DE snaps! He should build on that excellent season and he’s in a great position to solidify himself as an elite DE. Being ranked seventh might seem disappointing but there are a lot of great pass rushers around at the moment. Start him every week with confidence.
Behind Garrett, we see a veteran and a young player battling. Olivier Vernon lost a lot of hype after his first season as a Giant, but he never stopped being a good player. He’s averaged over 60 pressures and nine sacks per year over the past four seasons. Unfortunately, he is going into his age-29 season and we should expect him to play less. Genard Avery is going into his age-24 season after an impressive rookie year. He created 42 pressures last season though so expect Vernon to clearly win this battle early on at least.
With Gregg Williams gone, the LB corps takes a bit of a hit even before you factor in drafting two young players at the position. It will still be a surprise to see anyone but Joe Schobert and Chris Kirksey dominating snaps at the start of the season though.
Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson (in that order) are interesting but they’ll need to wait for an opportunity. Wilson, in particular, was a big-name pre-draft but ultimately was a fifth-round pick after the team picked another player at the same position 75 spots higher. His pre-season interceptions simply present a sell opportunity.
A reminder: the thing about rookie cornerbacks being especially productive is a myth. They’re not bad but the proportion of top IDP CBs is in line with the proportion of CBs that are rookies. It seems like a lot of rookies do well just because there’s a lot of rookie corners playing.
With that out of the way – Denzel Ward was good last year because he’s a really good player. If Greedy Williams can play at the top of his game, then they’ll have a serious pair of players there. Terrance Mitchell is decent depth and TJ Carrie isn’t the worst option in the league for the slot DB role.
If you’re gambling on one player here though – pick Denzel Ward.
Morgan Burnett has had a couple of down years. He didn’t get to play much last year in Pittsburgh and his last year as a Packer was a wash. So, it’s easy to forget he’s hit 80+ solos four times in his career. That’s extremely impressive. He finds himself the clear starter in Cleveland this year with an axe to grind against the team’s division rivals. He’s a big value right now.
Damarious Randall will man the free safety spot. He did well in 2018 but that was off the back of playing nearly 1,100 snaps and snagging four picks. Neither of those are likely to happen again. They’re both possible but not likely. Don’t chase last year’s stats for deep safeties – it’s a poor strategy.
Stud – Myles Garrett, DE
Disappointment – Larry Ogunjobi, DT
He was great in 2018 and given his owners got him for free, they’ll expect big things of him again. However, he’s almost certain to regress.
Darkhorse – Morgan Burnett, S
30-year-old safeties who have been cut two seasons in a row aren’t normally as exciting. But they don’t normally have a history of elite production either. Hopefully, Burnett can roll back the years and remind us all what he was.
The Browns are going to get a lot of attention this year and the chances of them withering under that weight of expectation with a first-time head coach and a young QB are significant. But this defense has depth and talent. They should be a lot better than some of the atrocities we’ve seen in recent years.
Thanks for reading.