Which Player Should the Browns Seek Out?
By: Beck Janki (Twitter: @HeismanOlave)
The start of the Browns offseason. This year is different than normal. This time of year, Browns fans would be debating on which top quarterback to take. Cleveland took Jedrick Wills with the 10th pick last year, which proved to be a solid pick so far. As he was the best rookie LT. This season the Browns went 11-5 in the regular season and even won a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. They lost in the divisional round 22-17 against the Super- Bowl-Bound Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns’ offense thrived in a bounceback season for Baker Mayfield. Even with Odell Beckham Jr tearing his ACL on Week 7, the Browns still had a top ten offense. Stefansk’s team was a top three rushing team in the league with arguably the best offensive front in the NFL. Offense should be the least of the focus for the front office going into the offseason. I could see Andrew Berry drafting a Wide Receiver later in the draft, but the biggest needs are patching up their defense, which was a huge problem in 2020.
The Browns hold the number 26 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. I can almost guarantee they will look to the defensive side of the ball who ranked in the bottom half of the league. They gave up 5735 yards total, which was 16th worst in the league, they also allowed 419 points, which is 12th worst. To put into perspective, the Rams, who ranked first in yards allowed and points allowed, gave up 1224 yards less than Cleveland as well as 123 less points. They gave up 3962 yards through the air as well as 31 touchdowns, which ranks as one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Starting safety Andrew Sendejo, had an overall grade of 44.4 which ranks 87/93 for qualified NFL safeties. Karl Joseph scored just above 55 which is 72nd out of 93 safeties. Outside of Ronnie Harrison, who graded out as the ninth highest graded safety. He couldn’t stay on the field this year, only playing 11 games. Cleveland was better stopping the run though, ranking just outside the top ten against the run. The linebacker group was extremely poor this past 2020 season and their grades show. Mack Wilson graded 74th out of 85, BJ Goodson, who’s grade showed higher than his overall production ranked 22nd out of 85. Sione Takitaki, who played a limited number of snaps in 2020, ranked 17th in the NFL. In order for the Browns to consider themselves serious super bowl contenders, Cleveland needs to sure up their defense this offseason. As well as the draft, free agency is a huge opportunity for the Brown and Orange to seek out talent on defense. We covered how the Browns should attack free agency previously. Here are four prospects the Browns should target at pick 26.
- Zaven Collins: The outside linebacker from Tulsa was a difference maker for the Golden Hurricane defense this year. In just nine games this year, Collins tallied 54 tackles, 4 sacks, and an outstanding four interceptions. The 2020 Bronko Nagurski Award Winner, honoring the nation’s best defensive player is a polished blitzer, run stopper, and one of the best cover-linebackers in the draft class. His solid 6-4, 260 pound frame makes him a force in stopping the run, but still has the skill set to lock down any tight end he has faced in his college career. His only potential issue is his speed. He is quick in short bursts, but his issue is cutting players off at the sideline and his ability to get all the way to the outer edge.
- Azeez Ojulari: The edge rusher from Georgia is an almost surefire day one selection. Ojulari is a polished swiss army knife on the front seven. He was selected to Second Team all-SEC this season after recording 31 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 12.5 tackles for loss. Georgia runs a 3-4 defense with a solid edge rusher and a few true linebackers. With the Browns playing a 4-3, this selection will be up to Joe Woods and his staff to select someone who would have an uncertain role based on the scheme Cleveland runs. If Ojulari is still at 26, the Browns could prioritize elite pass-rushing in a unique style of player like Ojulari over a true linebacker like the few on this list. The 6’3, 240 pound edge rusher from UGA does raise a lot of question marks about his run stopping. He is more known as a pass rush specialist than anything, but his frame, skillset, and high motor show upside for his performance against the run. Now it begs the question if he will be available at number 26 with teams like Tennessee, Pittsburgh, LA Chargers, and Arizona all ahead of Cleveland.
- Nick Bolton: Another top SEC defender on this list. Bolton possesses great tackling skills, great zone coverage skills, and a fabulous blitzer up the middle. Bolton is slightly undersized, only standing six foot and weighing 232 pounds. Although he’s an explosive hitter, and the last guy a running back wants to see bearing down on him in the hole, Bolton lacks sideline to sideline speed. He will likely run around a 4.7 40 yard dash, but the angles he takes on plays make up for his lack of speed when the play is behind him, or out of his “area”. Another knock on him in college was his eagerness which would often have him biting on playfakes and misdirections. This is a solid prospect any team that needs a solid linebacker would love to have in the middle of their defense.
- Trevon Moehrig: The Browns were horrendous at safety last year. That position group was battling constant injuries and COVID-19 isues all year long. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Grant Delpit, the Thorpe Award Winner from LSU fell all the way to pick 44. Before the season, he tore his achilles and missed the whole 2020 campaign. This severely hurt the Browns back end, and it would be interesting to see if the Browns strongly consider going safety even with Delpit yet to play his first season. If Cleveland looks at safety, I fully expect Trevon Moehrig, the Safety from TCU, to be available. Moehrig has seven picks in his career and is a constant ball-hawk threat. In order to be a great NFL player, Moehrig needs to improve in the run game and his eye discipline. He was exposed a few times in 2020 for ballfakes and biting too early on routes, and is a target to run double moves on.
The Browns have some real issues on the defensive side of the ball and if they clean those up, I’d peg them as a constant threat in the AFC for years to come with a lethal offense and a solid defense in the future. They already have one piece to the puzzle, now they just have to draft well to sure up the defense in hopes of bringing Cleveland, Ohio a Lombardi Trophy in the near future.