Taking A Look At The X-Factors For The Browns Defense

Taking A Look At The X-Factors For The Browns Defense

Nick Pedone
3 years ago
4 min read
Taking A Look At The X-Factors For The Browns Defense

The Cleveland Browns should have one of the best offenses in the NFL after bringing back every integral part of last year’s high-powered attack. The defense was the side of the ball that needed to be overhauled after a lackluster, at best, season last year. 

General Manager Andrew Berry did just that over the offseason, and there will be as many as nine new starters on that side of the ball when the Browns take the field against Kansas City in Week 1.

There are plenty of unknowns surrounding this defense, so let’s take a look at a couple of players who could be X-factors for the Browns this year.

Jadeveon Clowney

It’s known that Myles Garrett is going to be one of the league’s most dominant forces in getting after the passer, but what is the help going to look like?

Well, that is very dependent on Jadeveon Clowney being the guy that the Houston

Texans drafted No. 1 overall once upon a time. Throughout his career, Clowney has underwhelmed in terms of getting after the passer – although he has been terrific against the running game – and oft injured. In Cleveland, he won’t need to post gaudy sack numbers, but he will need to be good enough in pressuring opposing quarterbacks so that offenses cannot dedicate more than two bodies to slow down Garrett on a single play.

If Clowney stays healthy, the Browns will have one of the most feared pass rushes in the NFL between him, Garrett, and Takk McKinley (who also could’ve made this list). Both Clowney and McKinley have underachieved during their careers, but this may be the best situation that each of them have been in. Clowney is on a one-year, ‘prove it’ deal, and could be the reason the Browns defense proves to be one of the NFL’s best.

Troy Hill

Troy Hill was regarded last year as one of the NFL’s best slot corners and may have been the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time for the Rams.

Being part of LA’s secondary meant that he was able to place opposite, or alongside Jalen Ramsey, one of the best cornerbacks in football. It’s hard to know exactly how that’s going to impact his 2021 season by playing on the field without him.

Last year, Hill was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 91 times, and allowed a 70.3 percent completion percentage, although he was targeted relatively quickly after the snap, with the averaged depth of his coverage responsibility just 6.6 yards downfield when the pass was thrown. Those types of plays certainly can be hard to defend and are often chalked up as easy completions that involve minimal risk. 

What made Hill stand out last year was his knack for creating turnovers with the Rams. He finished the year with three interceptions and recovered a pair of fumbles. Two of the interceptions and one of the recovered fumbles were returned for defensive touchdowns. Were those the result of Hill being an above-average defender in the slot? Or were they because Hill was just in the right place at the right time? Defensive scores and turnovers aren’t easily replicated.

The trio of unknowns

In each of the last three NFL Drafts the Browns have made a defensive selection

in the second round, and all three guys are still very much unknown and unproven at the NFL level. In 2019 it was cornerback Greedy Williams out of Louisiana State, in 2020 it was safety Grant Delpit, also from LSU, and this year it was do-it-all linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah out of Notre Dame.

Obviously, Owusu-Koramoah hasn’t played a down yet as a rookie, but Delpit missed his entire rookie campaign after tearing his Achilles’ tendon in training camp last year, and Williams missed all of 2020 due to a nerve injury in his shoulder suffered on the same day as Delpit’s injury.

Greedy Williams 

In 2019, Williams played in 12 games (all starts) a rookie and was a fairly average cornerback. He allowed 38 catches on 62 targets that season. He wasn’t expected to be a dominant corner right away in the NFL, but certainly was a player that some thought would go in the first-round of the draft and could be viewed as a steal for the Browns with the 46th overall pick.

With last year being wiped out entirely due to a nerve issue in his shoulder, there may not be much expected out of Williams in 2021, meaning any contributions are just a bonus for the Browns. If he’s healthy and can live up to what the team thought he could be coming out of college, it can make this defense that much scarier.

Grant Delpit

As for Delpit, he likely would have been listed as an X-factor for the Browns one year ago before his season was prematurely ended. His absence changed the way that the Browns wanted to play defense and forced the secondary’s depth to be tested from the start of the season. With a healthy Delpit on the field for the first time, the Browns should be able to employ multiple looks with him and safeties Ronnie Harrison and John Johnson III. Delpit’s presumed skillset is one that the Browns will need to win games, especially against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Lastly, Owusu-Koramoah enters this season as a guy who could one day be regarded as the steal of the 2021 NFL Draft. He was projected almost unanimously

as a first-round pick and was someone the Browns certainly had to consider taking when they were on the clock at No 26 before selecting cornerback Greg Newsome.

The do-it-all linebacker from Notre Dame isn’t a fit in everyone’s defensive system, but he certainly could be in the Browns’. Last year at Notre Dame, he graded out at 79.7 overall according to Pro Football Focus, that includes a mark of 82.3 in coverage and 75.5 against the run. Owusu-Koramoah may be a bit undersized, but he should be fast enough to cover most, and could step in and be one of the best tacklers on the team right away. If he’s the guy the Browns hope he can be, they’ll be set not only for this season at linebacker, but for the foreseeable future.

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