The Cleveland Browns offense is loaded with talent, but to make a run, the defense will have to step up in 2020.
The Cleveland Browns offense was as dysfunctional as any in the league last season. Poor third-down play calling, red zone turnovers, and dropped passes were the highlight of what was expected to be a breakout year.
Nick Chubb was the lone bright spot in 2019 as he was second in the NFL with 1,494 rushing yards. At times Chubb was the only consistent offense the Browns had, as quarterback Baker Mayfield was far too often high with passes.
While the offense was bad in 2019, the defense was equally as disappointing. The Browns were expected to have a high-end pass rush with Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon coming off the edge, but injuries and suspensions would severely limit that potential.
The Browns defense would finish 22nd overall last season in total defense, but they were gashed for the third-most rushing yards in the league.
Playing the Baltimore Ravens twice per year does not help the rushing defense stat line, but it is more reason the Browns should bolster the front-seven to compete within the division. Lamar Jackson is the most effective running quarterback in the history of the league and looks to be an issue for the Browns for years to come.
Not all the fault goes to the defense. The unfortunate issue of having a bad offense is your defense ends up on the field the whole game and can get worn out. Multiple times the Browns defense would get a momentum turnover, but the Browns offense would go three-and-out and give the ball right back without scoring. Not only did the defense not get any rest, but they also head back to the field feeling deflated.
Additionally, the suspension of Garrett the last six games of the year was a huge hit to the defense. While Garrett deserved the suspension, the pass rush became nonexistent and quarterbacks were given too much time to pick apart the Browns secondary. It doesn’t matter how good the defensive backs are, with time, an NFL quarterback will pick a defense apart.
With Garrett back in full force and a new defensive coordinator, the Browns can bounce back in a big way. Not to mention Kevin Stefanski’s offense should give the defense plenty of rest each game. Here are three bold predictions for the Browns defense next year as they look to make a playoff push.
Grant Delpit will shine in the Browns 4-2-5 defense
IF rookie Grant Delpit from LSU was truly held back because of an injury last season, the Browns may have gotten the biggest steal of the draft. Had Delpit been eligible for the draft following the 2018 season, he likely would have been a top-15 pick in the 2019 draft.
Delpit was a part of winning the National Championship during his junior season, but he reportedly played much of the year with a high ankle sprain. With Delpit not willing to sit out games, his production was down with limited mobility, and he saw his draft stock slide as well.
With the injury, Delpit slid all the way to pick No. 44 in the 2020 NFL draft. Why is their reason to be optimistic? When Delpit did have a chance to rest before the College Football Playoff, he looked to be his old self and was a major reason for the Tigers defeating Clemson in the National Title game.
Missed tackles and coverage skills looked to regress in 2019 compared to 2018, but with time to heal before his final two games, Delpit still proved he was a top safety. Luckily for the Browns, depth at the position in the draft and worries of performance last season allowed him to fall.
In Joe Woods' dime defense, Delpit will be able to roam around where he thrives. Covering tight ends and setting the edge on run plays will be a crucial part of the safety roll in Cleveland, which Delpit will do magnificently.
While Delpit will likely be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year, it will likely go to a pass rusher like Chase Young. Delpit will be a huge piece of the Browns defense and their success, but voters will lean towards sacks.
Mack Wilson will make the Pro Bowl in 2020
At times, rookie linebacker Mack Wilson looked lost on the field after being forced to play because of injuries at linebacker last season. Even with struggling to line up, Wilson was a solid starter for being a fifth-round pick from Alabama. Wilson is extremely athletic, but at times can over pursue run plays and get caught up in play-action.
Year-one to year-two is usually a player’s biggest progression and look for that to be no different for Wilson. After 82 tackles as a rookie, Wilson will be forced to step into an even bigger role after the departures of Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert. Not only do the Browns need Wilson to improve on the field, but they also need him to step up as a leader in the locker room. Both appear more than attainable for Wilson in 2020.
Two driving factors will help Wilson achieve Pro Bowl status in 2020. First, a tough defensive line. A strong and deep defensive line will keep offensive linemen covered up and allow Wilson to roam free to make plays. When unblocked Wilson can utilize his athleticism and fly to the ball.
Secondly, a Stefanski offense will put up points. At times last year, the defense was carrying all the weight. With an improved Mayfield and a potent offense, it will keep the entire defense motivated to continue to play hard and take off a substantial amount of pressure. Wilson appeared to be the only guy with his heart in the game at times last season.
Wilson needs work, but a full offseason (even if virtual) will allow him to study the playbook and put himself in a position to thrive. A strong team around him will help lift Wilson to his first of many Pro Bowls with the Browns.
Myles Garrett will win Defensive Player of the Year
With the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Browns selected defensive end, Myles Garrett, from Texas A&M. Garrett was/is a freak athlete, and you could argue is the second-best player of his draft class (Patrick Mahomes). An injury limited Garrett in year-one, but in 11 games, he still racked up 31 tackles with seven sacks and 18 quarterback hits.
Garrett followed up his rookie season with a full 16-game slate where he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl with 13.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 29 quarterback hits. Garrett was constantly double-teamed, but still wreaked havoc in opposing teams’ backfields. Before the 2019 season, many expected Garrett to compete for Defensive Player of the Year with Vernon now on the opposite side of him.
Injuries to Vernon would limit Garrett's upside for one-on-ones at the beginning of the season. Later, a suspension after an ugly incident swinging a helmet at Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph would end Garrett’s 2019 season early. In only 10 games in 2019, Garrett had 10 sacks and 29 tackles and was a constant issue for opponents.
Look for Garrett to come back strong in 2020, looking for revenge after his suspension last year. With a healthy Vernon on the other side, Garrett could see a substantial amount of one-on-ones, which he will win against almost any tackle in the league.
Look for Garrett to post a monster stat line in 2020 with 50-plus tackles, 17-plus sacks, and 30-plus quarterback hits which should put him on the shortlist for Defensive Player of the Year.