The 2019 Cleveland Browns have a lot of hype, but will their lack of interior defensive line depth hurt their chances to make the playoffs?
The Cleveland Browns are flying high with expectations as they enter 2019 with a loaded young roster. The excitement, although warranted, often depicts the Browns as certain contenders.
However, this exciting young team is an injury or two away on the interior of the defensive line from being in serious trouble.
The Browns starting four on the line of Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Sheldon Richardson, and Olivier Vernon is among the league’s best. Those four coming after a passer is all a defensive coordinator could ever ask for. However, Garrett and Ogunjobi had to play some of the highest number of snaps of any defensive linemen last season because of lack of depth and/or inept defensive planning. The wear and tear of the season caused Ogunjobi to tear a bicep.
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At defensive end, the Browns are in great shape. Garrett and Vernon will play the most snaps. But when they sit out, Anthony Zettel, the former Detroit Lion who had 6.5 sacks in 2017, can be paired with Genard Avery and Chris Smith. Avery had 4.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher in 2018 and he is a problem for tackles coming off the edge. Pairing him with Zettel and Smith to shore up the defensive end depth for 2019 is intriguing for the Browns.
The interior defensive line, however, lacks depth. Alongside Ogunjobi, Trevon Coley started games for the Browns in 2018. His 50.4 grade, per Pro Football Focus, was 111th out of all the defensive linemen. This is not ideal for a team that needs to give Ogunjobi and Richardson plays off.
Behind Coley is Carl Davis, who had a 56.7 PFF grade, Devaroe Lawrence, 60.0, and Brian Price, 58.5. Those grades do not warrant panic; however, injuries happen often in the NFL, so losing Ogunjobi or Richardson long-term next season will prove to be very difficult to overcome.
There is no need to lose any hope in the 2019 season over this depth, or lack there of. If the Browns are able to stay healthy on the defensive line, there are some quick fixes to this problem.
Cleveland can play Avery at an end spot 20-25 snaps a game, giving Garrett an opportunity to slide inside, giving a break to Ogunjobi or Richardson. Garrett is very versatile and can line up anywhere along the line, so he can take a lot of those snaps inside when Avery comes in.
Coley is also more than able to hold down the fort while Ogunjobi and Richardson take a play off or two, he just is not a great depth option in case of injury. Lawrence and Price can also play a bit, but should not be considered vital to any game plan throughout the season. Along with Garrett’s versatility, very limited use of actual defensive tackle depth, and balancing snap counts, the Browns can be one of the most disruptive groups in the NFL.
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