Christian Kirksey’s return will be key for the Cleveland Browns defense

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns lost a key leader for their defense midway through last season, and his return in 2019 will be beneficial for Cleveland’s success.

Linebacker Christian Kirksey has been through the tough seasons for the Cleveland Browns over the past several years, including their 1-31 stretch in 2016 and 2017. He is one of the longest tenured Browns after being drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, so he has seen it all since being in Cleveland.

Unfortunately for Kirksey, he was not able to be a part of Cleveland’s strong second half of last season after suffering a hamstring injury in the Browns’ Week 9 game against the Chiefs. The injury forced Kirksey to miss the rest of the season.

Kirksey has been one of the most vocal leaders on the Cleveland Browns defense in recent seasons. Without his presence on the defense last season, other players had to step up and become leaders in place of him.

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Not only has Kirksey been a leader for the defense, but he has also been one of the league leaders in tackles. In 2016 and 2017, Kirksey made 143 tackles (third in the NFL) and 138 tackles (fourth in the NFL).

In seven games last season, Kirksey made 43 total tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions, and five passes defensed. If he was able to play the entire season, Kirksey was on pace to make 98 total tackles.

It was the first season in Kirksey’s five-year career that he was forced to miss a game due to an injury. He was hampered with injuries even when he was playing after missing two of Cleveland’s first three games. Kirksey’s return to full health will be key for the entire defense in 2019.

Not only will the defense have its vocal leader back on the field, but he can help solidify a run defense that struggled. In 2018, the Browns had multiple holes in their front seven causing their run defense to suffer, including the play of the linebackers. Cleveland finished with the fifth-worst run defense in 2018.

However, general manager John Dorsey helped address some of those holes when he added Olivier Vernon to help on the edge and Sheldon Richardson to plug the middle. Kirksey’s return will help plug the hole left at linebacker and help the team make plays at the second-level of the defense.

After most of the defense struggled with missed tackles last season, adding a player who has proven to be a sure tackler will benefit the entire unit. His numbers may have been down last season, but last year has been an outlier in the 26-year-old’s career.

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As the Browns hope to be competing for the playoffs, there is plenty of room for the defense to improve. Kirksey’s return in 2019 could play a huge role in how well the entire unit performs in Steve Wilks’ first year as Cleveland’s defensive coordinator.