Denzel Ward will improve the Browns secondary
By: Michael Welsh
The Browns finished the 2020 season with the 21st ranked defense, giving up a total of 5,735 yards. Clearly there were many areas to improve in, and in the 2021 off-season, Andrew Berry did just that with the draft and free agency. Outside of Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Ronnie Harrison, there was a lot left to be desired on that side of the ball last year.
You could say every area of the defense has improved dramatically and they are poised to potentially be a top 5 unit in the NFL. The defensive line should be much better with the additions of Jadeveon Clowney, Takk Mckinley, and Malik Jackson. Taking a look at the linebackers, there are still some questions but with Anthony Walker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, they should be faster and far more dynamic.
All of those additions are great, but the area that improved the most overall is the secondary. In 2020, it was tough to see games where the offense would get a big lead, but then slowly let teams back in games as Andrew Sendejo blew yet another coverage. It wasn’t just Sendejo, though. Outside of Denzel Ward, who missed 4 games, the entire secondary was often dreadful and hard to watch. Andrew Berry knew this and aggressively attacked that weakness in the 2021 offseason. Let’s take a look at the new additions and how they can make a substantial impact this fall, along with returning players and how they fit into the defensive back room.
John Johnson III – Safety – 2020 team, Los Angelas Rams
Perhaps the best overall signing of free agency, the Browns picked up John Johnson for a 3 year deal worth $33 million. Johnson reportedly turned down more money to come to Cleveland, calling it an “opportunity of a lifetime.” That is music to Browns fans ears, and it will only get better when he steps on the field. Johnson played on the number one ranked defense in all of football last year, finishing with an 85.6 Pro Football Focus grade. The former third round pick also had the green dot on his helmet and called defensive plays, which makes him even more valuable if Joe Woods wants to go that route. He has potential to be the ball-hawking safety Cleveland has been looking for since returning to the league in 1999.
Troy Hill – Cornerback – 2020 team, Los Angelas Rams
Following in Johnson’s footsteps, Troy Hill signed with the Browns shortly after his deal was made official. Hill is going to be a huge addition as a nickel corner that is versatile and has a nose for the football. Hill scored two defensive touchdowns and had three interceptions in 2020, finishing with a 74.2 Pro Football Focus grade. Having arguably the best nickel corner in the NFL is a huge step up from Kevin Johnson and Terrance Mitchell who often played the position the last few years. Expect Hill to make an immediate impact.
Greg Newsome – Cornerback – 2020 team, Northwestern (college)
Andrew Berry was all smiles when pick 26 came around in the 2021 NFL Draft and Greg Newsome was still on the board. He has all the makings of an All-Pro cornerback in the NFL. Throughout college, Newsome thrived at Northwestern. He allowed a 31.7 passer rating in 2020, including a 0.0 rating on 3rd and 4th downs. Adding to that, Newsome allowed only 1 touchdown on 471 coverage snaps. He is the definition of a shutdown corner, and although he has much to learn at the next level, there is a good chance he makes the Pro Bowl his rookie year like fellow teammate Denzel Ward in 2018.
Denzel Ward – Cornerback – 2020 team, Cleveland Browns
Speaking of Denzel Ward, he’s one of the returning players to Cleveland’s defense in 2021, and he actually has a fair amount of pressure on him. Ward has played great in his young career, but has yet to play a full season. In 2021, we need to see him play every game and earn a contract extension from the front office. Either way, when he is on the field, he plays like a top 10 corner in the NFL. He finished with two interceptions and a 72.8 Pro Football Focus grade in 2020. Hopefully he can put it all together in 2021. Oh, and give us more slide tackles.
Ronnie Harrison – Safety – 2020 team, Jacksonville Jaguars/Cleveland Browns
Needing safety help last year after some injuries, Andrew Berry traded a third round pick for Ronnie Harrison. There had been flashes of him being a good safety in Jacksonville, and when he came to Cleveland, there was an immediate impact. Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods wants to run a lot of Dime packages with three safeties on the field, so Harrison should have a significant role on the defense. He finished with a 74.7 Pro Football Focus grade and a pick-six interception. If he stays healthy.
Grant Delpit – Safety – 2020 team, Cleveland Browns
It was devastating last year in training camp when Grant Delpit went down with a torn achilles. The hype around him was real and fans were dying to see him in action. Joe Woods had plans to use him in various ways, but had to change up his defense completely due to his injury. Delpit was a force in college, finishing with 8 interceptions and 120 tackles. His rehab is going very well and should be good to go for game one of the 2021 season.
Greedy Williams – Cornerback – 2020 team, Cleveland Browns
It is easy to forget about Greedy Williams since he missed all of 2020 due to nerve damage. At one point, Greedy’s career was in jeopardy. But after all that uncertainty, Greedy appears to be good to go for the 2021 season. It will be very interesting to see if he can win the starting job over Greg Newsome, but with whatever happens he will have a role in the nickel or rotating on the outside. In 2019, Greedy showed flashes and finished with a mediocre 54.6 Pro Football Focus grade. This is a big year for Williams to prove he can be a starter.