By: Davis Byrd
The Cleveland Browns are coming off the back of their best season in 18 years. Finishing the season with an 11-5 record, a road playoff win and a heartbreaking one score loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. They look to be on the doorstep of Super Bowl contention themselves and can make large strides to reaching that precipice with a strong offseason.
The Browns finished with the 17th overall defense but allowed 26.2 points per game. Upgrading the defense this offseason will undoubtedly be a priority in Cleveland this offseason and you’ll sense that trend with this article. The defensive gameplan at times seemed to be to hope Myles Garrett or Denzel Ward could make a play. The Browns surrendered 35 points in five games this past season and need help at basically every level on defense. Here are three realistic additions on defense that can help get the Browns defense back up to speed.
#1 Carl Lawson
The strength of the Browns defense in 2020 was their front four. Anchored by Myles Garrett and his 12 sacks on the year the unit was relatively strong.
They will have to make some decisions about the futures of Olivier Vernon and Larry Ogunjobi, who are both slated to hit free agency. The Browns drafted Jordan Elliot in the third round in last year’s draft and will have Andrew Billings back after he opted out of the 2020 season so they’ll have adequate depth at defensive tackle.
Browns have a handful of question marks on the edge however. Olivier Vernon will be coming off of a ruptured Achilles tendon injury he suffered in Week 16 against the Steelers. That leaves them with backups in solid veteran Adrian Clayborn and rookies Porter Gustin and Curtis Weaver.
Well, Weaver has yet to play a down in the NFL after going on season ending IR. Carl Lawson would represent a big upgrade on that depth and give the Browns a good option to rush the passer across from Garrett.
Lawson would weaken a Bengals team in the same division and likely see an uptick in production as Garrett commands more attention from blockers. At 25 years old, Lawson could also be seen as a longer-term investment than re-signing Vernon.
#2 Zaven Collins
Collins is a name that has been mocked to the Browns a good bit in recent weeks and it’s relatively easy to see why. Collins has rocketed up draft boards and was an All-American, Chuck Bednarik award winner and Bronko Nagurski award winner in 2020.
The biggest weakness on the Browns defense last season was arguably at linebacker. Browns linebackers struggled in coverage all season and could use an upgrade at middle linebacker.
Collins is more of an outside linebacker but posted the highest coverage grade of any college linebacker since 2014. Collins is a swiss army knife and has shown to be adept at rushing the passer as well with four sacks in 2020. Collins is a raw athletic prospect with almost a superhero build at 6-4 and 260 lbs. Adding him to the linebacker room would be huge.
#3 Brian Poole
The Browns figure to retool their secondary but it’s not likely they swing for the fences in this area as they look to retain some future flexibility.
They also have the return Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit from injury to bolster the unit. The secondary also has Terrance Mitchell as an impending free agent and makes sense to return as well.
The system defensive coordinator Joe Woods employs uses a lot of packages in the nickel formation so a move to add another corner wouldn’t hurt. Brian Poole was graded at a 77.0 by PFF and could seemingly be had for cheap after knee injuries plagued his 2020 season.
Poole is talented and still registered 2 interceptions in his injury shortened season. He could be a good fit in the slot in Woods’ defense.