Links to discussions for other teams:
The Browns have their share of questions entering the 2022 season, but the defense should not be one. This unit played well enough to make the playoffs last year. They were fifth against the pass, twelfth versus the run, had 43 sacks, and were in the league's top half in points allowed. They were a little light in the turnover columns with 19, but even that was not horrible. For the most part, this group returns intact with only one new starter and a sprinkling of fresh faces looking to work their way up the depth chart.
Myles Garrett is the cornerstone of Cleveland’s defense. The 2017 first-overall pick came with grand expectations. Besides getting himself ejected from a game late in the 2019 season and then suspended for the rest of the year, he has done nothing to disappoint. Garrett is an elite, three-down defensive end that does a great job versus and is one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
Regarding fantasy value, Garrett is close to a sure thing. If not for the league-imposed time off in 2019, he would be on a string of four consecutive seasons with more than 40 total tackles and double-digit sacks. Statistically, the 2021 season was Garrett’s best to date. Through Week 14, he was the fantasy game’s number one defensive lineman with an average of nearly 12.9 points per game. He hit a mini-slump to finish the year but ended the season with 52 total tackles, a career-best 16 sacks, a pair of turnovers, 3 passes defended, and a score. At 26 years old, Garrett has many good years left and is a perennial candidate to challenge for a sack title. He is a strong candidate to be the first defensive lineman off the board in this year’s drafts, and an argument can be made for making Garrett the first defensive player taken.
Jadeveon Clowney was also the first-overall pick (2014) in his draft class and came with just as much expectation as Garrett. Unfortunately, he has not lived up to the hype. It’s not like Clowney has been a bust by any stretch, but there have been some peaks and valleys over his eight seasons. Over a three-year span with the Texans from 2016 to 2018, Clowney averaged 40-18-8.5 and had ten turnovers. His next best season was last year, when he finished 23-15-9 with a pair of forced fumbles. Injuries have sometimes been a factor but do not explain all of his inconsistencies. Clowney has reached nine sacks in three of his eight seasons but has never reached double digits. The Browns brought him back on a one-year deal, hoping he would finally get there.
Clowney's IDP value may be slightly inflated at a fairly thin position due to so many good edge players being tagged as linebackers. We know he is capable of 50+ combined tackles because he did three years in a row at one point. On the other hand, he has not reached 40 in any of the last three seasons. Still, the potential and the fact that he is playing opposite one of the best in the game make Clowney worthy of a roster spot and possibly duty as a second starter.
The Browns added both veteran experience and young potential at the defensive end position this offseason. Chase Winovich comes over from the Patriots, Stephen Weatherly from Denver, and Isaac Rochell from the Colts. Winovich was a starter in New England two years ago, going 33-17-5.5 in 2020. Just like so many others before him, he fell out of favor and was discarded. Look for Winovich to see action as the third man in passing situations this year.
The organization used one of its third-round picks on Alabama Birmingham defensive end Alex Wright. He is considered a developmental prospect and needs to grow both technically and physically, but has the athletic traits and motor to become a factor in a year or two. Put him on the dynasty watch list and see how things go with Clownery this year.
The only newcomer that is expected to start for the Browns’ defense is tackle Taven Bryan. A first-round pick of the Jaguars in 2018, Bryan is another player who has thus far failed to live up to expectations. He recorded 37 combined tackles and 4 sacks in his only year as a starter at Florida (2017), but that production has thus far not followed him to the NFL, where he has 51 tackles, 32 assists, and 5.5 sacks over four seasons. Bryan is expected to start at the 3-technique with the hope that a change of venue will kick start his career. Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath on this one.
With both Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell gone, Cleveland will have two new starters on the inside. The other one will be promoted from within. Chances are that will be Jordan Elliot, who was the team's third-round pick in 2020. He opened last season as the third man in the rotation earning a bigger share of the playing time as the season went along, including a handful of starts late in the year. Last year’s fourth-round pick, Tommy Togiai, and rookie fourth-rounder Perrion Winfrey could also be in the mix.
There is some history of IDP value at the Browns’ interior line positions, but it doesn’t come from last year when their most productive tackle was McDowell at 19-12-3. In 2019 Sheldon Richardson was the No. 6 tackle and Larry Ogunjobi No. 12. In 2020, Richardson was way up a three while Ogunjobi slipped to 23 but was still a viable DT2. I see no Richardson or Ogunjobi on Cleveland’s current roster, so take a wait-and-see approach with these guys.
- DE Myles Garrett – Elite tier-one
- DE Jadeveon Clowney – Roster worthy as DL3 with low DL2 potential
- DE Chase Winovich – Injury sleeper with DL2 ceiling
- DE Alex Wright – Developmental rookie worth a spot on the dynasty watchlist
- DE Stephen Weatherly – No impact
- DE Curtis Weaver – No impact
- DE Isaac Rochell – No impact
- DT Taven Bryan – Watchlist but not draft worthy
- DT Jordan Elliot – Watchlist but not draft worthy
- DT Tommy Togiai – No impact
- DT Perrion Winfrey – Dynasty watch list with some long-term potential
- DT Sheldon Day – No impact
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