Cleveland Browns: 2016 depth chart predictions
Like the majority of teams in today’s NFL, the Cleveland Browns don’t simply play what traditionalists consider a straight 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
Instead, the Browns defense will be a hybrid under defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who is back in town after two seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Horton will attempt to mix-and-match his defensive personnel depending on the down and the distance.
“We’re going to work hard — we’ll have fun — but we’re going to work hard and the guys have bought into that.” – Defensive line coach Robert Nunn
Knowing that, the base defense that the Browns will operate out of will be primarily a 3-4 set, so for our purposes here we will build the two-deep defensive roster with the Browns in that alignment, starting with the defensive line.
The depth chart along the defensive front was hit hard recently when defensive end Desmond Bryant, the team’s best defensive lineman, was lost for the year with a torn pectoral muscle.
The most likely candidate to take over Bryant’s starting role is second-year player Xavier Cooper, who played in 14 games as a rookie, finishing with 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks while seeing more playing time as the year went along. Even before Bryant went down with his injury, Cooper was heading to training camp with a starter’s role on his mind.
At the other defensive end will be John Hughes, who has only made 10 starts in his four years with the Browns, but is the veteran among the position group. Hughes is a nice player to have on the roster, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up in the starter’s role.
Danny Shelton is a lock to start at nose tackle, but that doesn’t mean there are not questions surrounding the team’s first-round draft pick in 2015. Shelton gave it his best as a rookie, but wore down as the season went along as his weight increased to an estimated 365 pounds — well above his ideal playing weight of around 340 pounds. Shelton worked hard in the off-season to get in better shape, dropping around 30 pounds, giving him a better chance at being the disruptive three-down tackle the Browns desperately need.
The second unit should consist of Jamie Meder, who is a solid back-up to Shelton; and rookie Carl Nassib, who will be utilized on passing downs in an attempt to terrorize quarterbacks at the NFL level the same way he did at Penn State, where he posted 15.5 sacks last season.
As for the other defensive end, it will be a training camp battle with Dylan Wynn the early favorite, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the front office is keeping an eye on the waiver wire for short-term veteran help as the season approaches.
“We have a way we do it, a way we’re going to do things and a way we’re going to react to things,” defensive line coach Robert Nunn told the team’s website. “We’re going to work hard — we’ll have fun — but we’re going to work hard and the guys have bought into that.”
Next: The Outside Linebackers