Browns defensive front seven long on potential

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns have a lot of potential on defense, but how soon can they turn that into actual production?

The Cleveland Browns fielded one of the worst defenses in the NFL under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton in 2016.

Don’t think so because you are getting bad information from Twitter sources? Well, what other conclusion can be drawn after the defense finished:

  • 31st in the NFL in touchdown passes allowed with 36
  • 30th in points per game at 28.2
  • 30th in sacks with 26
  • 31st against the run at 142.7 yards per game
  • 28th in average run per carry at 4.6

The Browns served the biggest problem by replacing Horton with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. They also continued to invest heavily in the defense by drafting Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, Larry Ogunjobi, Howard Wilson and Caleb Brantley; signing linebackers Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey, and defensive back Jason McCourty; and trading for safety Calvin Pryor.

They join holdovers Danny Shelton, Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib, among others, to create a defense that is long on potential, but still has to show that in can produce when it matters.

That potential is reflected in the pre-training camp rankings of the front seven, starting with the analytics site Pro Football Focus, which has the Browns front seven as the league’s 24th best unit:

"With a full season in Cleveland, LB Jamie Collins could improve this Browns front seven. Oh, and throwing in No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett in there could also help. Collins ranked in the top 12 in both run stop percentage and pass rush productivity among 4-3 OLBs last season, in just his time in New England alone. Christian Kirksey signed an extension with the team after an impressive 2016 season, and DT Danny Shelton rounds out the standouts on the Browns front seven as he finished with the second most run stops (39) behind Giants’ Damon Harrison from the DT spot. Emmanuel Ogbah, Tank Carder and Desmond Bryant should see extended playing time this season as only Ogbah qualified for a ranking with his overall grade of 44.2 – 94th overall among edge defenders."

USA Today also checks in with position rankings, first with the defensive line (No. 23) and then with the linebackers (No. 19):

"The last time they drafted a defensive end No. 1 (Courtney Brown in 2000), it didn’t work out. Far more will be expected from Myles Garrett. DE Emmanuel Ogbah had six sacks as a rookie, and DT Danny Shelton is immovable inside. But everyone will be adjusting to DC Gregg Williams’ lofty demands."

"Recent investments in Jamie Collins (four-year, $50 million contract) and Christian Kirksey (four-year, $38 million extension) are indicative of the club’s feelings. Will new DC Gregg Williams share the enthusiasm?"

Much of the defensive focus has been on Williams, who brings a no-nonsense approach, to put it mildly, to the defense. But it will be up to the players to successfully put Williams’ defensive concepts to work on the field.

And that is a good thing.

Shelton made a major leap in his second year, as did Kirksey in his first year as a starter. After being miscast early in the season as an outside linebacker, Ogbah finished the season strong from his natural position at defensive end. The Browns will also have Collins, a former Pro Bowl player, for a full season.

Adding Garrett – the No. 1 overall selection and one of the most productive defensive linemen at the college level — to that core should help raise everyone’s game to a higher level.

Next: Myles Garrett looks ready for training camp

Put it all together, and that potential may turn to production sooner than expected, which is good news for the Browns but bad news for the rest of the league.