As the calendar slowly moves towards the opening of NFL training camps, the news cycle is opinions, speculation, Josh Gordon asking for reinstatement and lists, endless lists. Good lists, bad lists, all kinds of lists. Welcome to the NFL quiet period. All the speculation, lists and opinions are based on how teams look on paper, which is fine because that’s all the talking heads have to go by until the season begins. But some of the opinions are just mind-blowing. I see you, Mike Tannenbaum.
There are two certainties this off-season, Tampa Bay has the best overall roster because they brought back their entire starting Super Bowl roster and the Browns offense will be just as good in 2021 as it was in 2020 because they brought back their entire starting offense. While most Browns fans are turning themselves into social media defense attorneys, I’ve been watching Browns 2020 highlights. I know, it’s a disease, but I don’t want to be cured. While watching these highlights it was painfully obvious how bad the Browns defense was and how determined Browns GM Andrew Berry was to fix it. Since it’s the last period in the NFL, I thought I would rank Andrew Berry’s off-season moves.
- Safety John Johnson, III and cornerback Troy Hill. Watching the highlights from last year, the middle of the Browns secondary was where opposing tight ends and slot receivers made their money. Johnson was Pro Football Focus’s third-ranked safety last year with an 85.6 grade and Hill has produced PFF coverage grades of 73.0, three of his last four seasons. Johnson is considered a great coverage safety and Hill can play inside or outside. In 2020 Hill was moved to the slot exclusively and became the best slot defender in the NFL. Last year LB B.J. Goodson made all the defensive calls, so LB Malcolm Smith, a very good coverage linebacker, lost playing time. Johnson will call the defensive plays in 2021 which means Smith will be on the field more to help the coverage on passing downs.
- Linebacker Anthony Walker and defensive tackle Andrew Billings. The 2020 Browns were terrible against the run, just go back and watch the Raider game. Also over the last two years, the Browns defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to run through the middle of the defense for first downs and touchdowns. It’s so bad, in 2019 Miami QB Ryan Fitzpatrick ran up the middle of the defense for a touchdown. Ryan freaking Fitzpatrick. LB Anthony Walker is a run-stopping tackling machine. He had 105 tackles in 2018 and 124 tackles in 2020. DT Andrew Billings was signed prior to the 2020 season but sat out because of Covid. Billings is an upgrade over former Brown DT Larry Ogunjobi. He can play in both the 4-3 and the 3-4 as a nose tackle. Known as a run-stuffer, in three years as a player he has 80 tackles, 49 solos, 14 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks.
- Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end Takk McKinley and defensive lineman Malik Jackson. There’s an old saying in football, “coverage creates sacks and pressure creates interceptions/incompletions.” These three will definitely help DE Myles Garrett in the pressure department. I could have listed Clowney with Walker and Billings because he’s a great run defender. PFF has him ranked in the 95th percentile in run defense and 77th in pass-rushing. McKinley ranks as a mid-tier pass rusher and would be the number three option at defensive end. Jackson, who played for Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods in Denver, can play both defensive tackle and defensive end. An ideal defensive line on passing downs would be McKinley, Jackson, Clowney and Garrett. Opposing offenses will have to commit a lot of help blocking those four.
You probably noticed I did not include safety Grant Delpit, the Browns draft picks or undrafted free agents. Until I see the endless training camp videos on Twitter, I can’t project how they’ll help the Browns defense. All I know is training camp needs to hurry up and get here.