Despite all the turnovers they forced, the Cleveland Browns were lacking defensively in 2018. Newly-acquired defensive end Olivier Vernon could be the key to making it all click together in Cleveland.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cleveland Browns have just about all the talent you could ask for. With a young group of linebackers in Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert and a star-studded defensive line, the Browns were set for defensive success in 2018. And yet, that talent never truly reached its full potential last season.
Myles Garrett is a fantastic edge rusher, and with 13.5 sacks last year, he showed just how much of a wrecking ball he can be. Cornerback Denzel Ward, when he’s healthy, is another tremendous talent that the Browns boast on defense. But for as good as Cleveland’s defense can be, it always felt like there was something missing last year. Enter Olivier Vernon.
The Browns acquired Vernon from the New York Giants in a blockbuster trade that was eventually packaged with the Odell Beckham Jr. deal. Vernon never fully lived up to his salary, or the talent level he should be at, but he was a great piece for New York. Now, with three truly elite talents around him, he can be the key to the Browns’ defensive success.
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Playing both edge rusher and linebacker, Vernon now bolsters a front seven that was already one of the strongest in the NFL. Allowing Vernon to play across from defensive anchor Myles Garrett gives Garrett the one thing he’s been missing at the NFL level: someone to take the pressure off.
Filling up the defensive line with Vernon, Larry Ogunjobi, and Sheldon Richardson is a testament to how much the Browns believe in Garrett. And rightfully so, as Garrett has shown that even without top-flight players around him, he can wreak havoc on an offensive line. The key difference with Vernon added is that now, opposing teams have to pick their poison.
Offensive lines can no longer double-team Garrett on each and every play, because that opens the door for Richardson or Vernon to make a play. With Emmanuel Ogbah able to rotate in and out of the defensive line, the Browns can now stay fresh and let one of their top-level players take a break every few drives. Cleveland prides themselves on their front seven, and they should see major production in 2019.
Vernon never lived up to his billing with the New York Giants, with just seven sacks in 2018. But, his speed and finesse off the edge still make him one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league.
Putting Vernon alongside Garrett allows him to make even more plays, as opposing offenses have to choose just one athletic freak to double-team. All the noise about the Odell Beckham Jr. trade is well-deserved, but it’s Vernon who is now the key to Cleveland’s success on the defensive side of the ball.