Cleveland Browns: Za'Darius Smith Converts Pass Rush From Adequate to Game Changing

Cleveland Browns: Za'Darius Smith Converts Pass Rush From Adequate to Game Changing

Mac Blank
1 year ago
3 min read
Former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Za'Darius Smith looks on during game

Weeks after the NFL draft and the first waves of free agency passed, fans around Cleveland had a feeling Andrew Berry and the front office were not done adding talent. Even though Ogbo Okoronkwo was signed to a multi-year deal, there was a lot of speculation another name would be added to the defensive line room.

Shocking New Addition

 In a move that shocked most people, the Browns traded away a 2024 5th round and 2025 5th round pick to the Vikings for Za’Darius Smith and received a 2025 6th and 7th round pick. 

Usually when acquiring a top name in a trade for such low trade compensation requires the team on the player-receiving end to pay or “eat” a hefty salary the team isn’t able or is unwilling to pay. In this case, Andrew Berry and the Browns front office reworked his contract to a very small cap hit of $3.03 million with incentives worth up to $13 million. The team now has another pass rusher on a money motivated contract with very low risk. 

In terms of just the player, the Browns got an absolute steal with Za’Darius Smith. His production speaks for himself as he’s accumulated double digit sacks and at least 50 pressures in each of the past four seasons. 

Smith even led the league in pressures in 2019 with 93 and had a career high 16 sacks to add to that. Of course, some will quickly point to him missing the entire 2021 season with back surgery. That concern is quickly put to bed when you see he produced a sack for the Packers in their lone playoff game later that year. 

His past production becomes even more interesting considering he’s been the best pass rusher on every team he’s played on. 

Dynamic Duo In Cleveland

Now arriving in Cleveland, he will no longer be the focal point of the opponents blocking strategy that week. Za’Darius has played with great players in his tenure, but none are or were at the level of Myles Garrett. Last season, Garrett was the lone wolf of Cleveland’s pass rush getting 73 pressures out of the teams 245 total (29.8%) and 18 sacks of the 41 team total (43.9%).

After the first few weeks of OTAs, new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz spoke out how versatile Smith is in his pass rush alignments, specifically how well he rushes the passer when lined up in the interior of the line. 

In the past 4 seasons he has played, Za’Darius has lined up somewhere outside of his normal “edge alignment” 11% and higher in each season. In his best season] in 2019, he lined up outside of edge 21.3% of the time. 

This is significant because Myles Garrett was the only rusher on the team the past couple years that could move around the line and create miss matches among weak parts in the opponents offensive line. Having two top tier edge rushers being able to be moved around will only make things more difficult for opponents as the pass rushing “stunts” will become more unpredictable and complex to pick up. 

To summarize, the trade will only come with upside. The low trade compensation and cap hit combined with past production, versatility and a heavily incentivized contract can only mean good things from Za’Darius Smith in Cleveland. The additions of Dalvin Tomlinson and Ogbo Okoronkwo made this defensive line serviceable and life easier for Myles Garrett, but now with Smith in town, the Browns pass rush can change the tide of games. 

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