The Cleveland Browns took a public relations hit with the selection of Florida’s Caleb Brantley, leaving fans to wonder if he is worth the hassle.
The Cleveland Browns surprised just about everyone when they selected Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Once a projected high draft pick – some analysts had Brantley as a possible late first round and certainly no later than second round – selection. But that was before he was involved in a criminal complaint where he allegedly punched a woman, knocking her unconscious.
That report is what supposedly brought about Brantley’s drop into the lower end of the third day of the draft, ultimately landing in the arms of the Browns.
We’re not going to go into the details of the criminal complaint or enter into the debate of whether or not the Browns should have selected Brantley. The legal process will work itself out one way or another, and it has been clear for a long time that teams will put up with a lot from their players if they are talented enough.
But that does lead to the question: is Brantley worth the hassle to the Browns?
Brantley earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2016 after finishing the year with 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. A redshirt junior, he finished his collegiate career with 81 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Decent numbers, certainly, but are those the type of numbers that scream out first-round talent?
Looking through the various draft profiles it appears that the stats may not tell the entire story on Brantley.
"… limited sack total (5.5 for his career) implies that Brantley is more of a two-down, run-stuffer. Nope. While he may not drop the quarterback all that often, his ability to split the gaps and penetrate make him quite useful on passing downs. He was a consistent presence in the pocket, even if he only had 2.5 sacks last season. Brantley can pursue laterally, too, which benefits him on run plays. When he was pushed out to the 3- or 5-tech spots, he had the burst to attack the inside shoulder of the lineman blocking him, thus helping to box in RBs."
"Brantley’s suddenness off the snap can really make blockers look silly if they get their weight too far in front of them in an effort to engage him early. Brantley’s initial move is to swipe the hands of the blocker in front of him and quickly get around the side of him. He does have an effective spin-counter off the initial hand-swipe move. Brantley largely played the 3-technique defensive tackle position where he is lined up on the guard’s outside shoulder and that is the position he is best suited for in the NFL. Brantley has shown the ability to impact the pass game and therefore will be able to stay on the field for all three downs."
And while Brantley has been compared by some to Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, this comparison from CBS Sports is particularly interesting:
"Like the 6-2, 300-pound Jonathan Babineaux, Brantley possesses the initial burst to impact the line of scrimmage but he lacks ideal closing speed to get home. Brantley’s toughness and consistency, however, should make him a favorite of his NFL coaching staff, as Babineaux has been in Atlanta over the past 12 seasons."
So could the Browns have really been so lucky as to select a player in the sixth round that may go on to a 12-year career? Could it be? Surely there must be an on-the-field reason that Brantley was still around so late in the draft?
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The answer to those questions seem to center on Brantley’s inability to put out a consistent effort.
A run through those same draft profiles reveals that Brantley “tires quickly and does not possess ideal speed for stalking or in pursuit’ (CBS Sports), “misses out on sacks and tackles for losses due to lack of length to consistently finish … Drawn offsides 10 times over the last two seasons” (NFL.com), and his “overaggressiveness can take himself out of plays at times … “doesn’t have the length to play outside or the bulk to play nose tackle” (PFF).
The Gators also had a deep defensive line, so Brantley never played more than 434 snaps in a single season, which leads to questions about whether or not he can be more than a rotational player at the next level.
If Brantley does have a lazy streak then it should come to the surface quickly under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who clearly does not suffer fools when it comes to his players. Some of his methods may be a bit old school for the modern NFL, but there is no doubt that Williams will task his players with putting out there full effort or suffer the consequences.
There are some red flags about Brantley’s game on the field, and legitimate questions about whether or not the Browns should have drafted him because of the ongoing off-the-field incident.
But the Browns may be in a situation to maximize Brantley’s talent, making him a risk worth taking – at least for the moment.