Who is the best Cleveland Browns player to wear number 72?
The Countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 72 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear No. 72: Jerry Sherk.
Sherk was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 1970 NFL draft out of Oklahoma State University. While attending Oklahoma State, Sherk was a standout dual sport athlete. In addition to being an All-Big Eight defensive tackle, Sherk was also an All-American wrestler during his time in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Sherk was later inducted into the Oklahoma State Hall of Honor in 2000.
When Sherk arrived in Cleveland, the Browns already had one stellar defensive tackle in Walter Johnson. By the time training camp at Hiram College had concluded, the Browns coaching staff were convinced they now had two first-rate defensive tackles with the addition of Sherk. Opposing offensive lines would soon agree with that assessment.
Sherk was able to adjust to playing defensive tackle at the NFL level immediately. His traits as a collegiate All-American wrestler were evident in how he played the position. Sherk, even as a rookie, was a master at leverage and demonstrated an elite ability to disengage with would be blockers. He played the game with an immeasurably high motor and at times was simply unblockable.
Even though Sherk had never missed a start in his young career, it was in his fourth season as a professional where he became a truly dominant force. In 1973, Sherk began a streak that would see him named to four straight Pro Bowls. This was the golden age of the defensive tackle in the AFC Central with each team possessing one who had the ability to take over a game, and Sherk was undoubtedly that for the Browns.
Sherk’s best season came in 1976. In addition to being named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive year, he was also named first-team All-Pro. Sherk was also named the Defensive Player of the Year by the NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association) and was awarded the George S. Halas Trophy for his achievement.
The following year, Sherk suffered a knee injury during the preseason that caused him to miss seven games. Up to that point Sherk had not missed a game in his career. In 1978, Sherk bounced back starting all 16 games and setting a new career-high in tackles.
However, during the 10th game of the 1979 season, Sherk contracted a severe Staph Infection during a game in Philadelphia that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. The infection proved to be devastating to his health and his career. After recovering, Sherk only played in one game in 1980 and was relegated to pass rushing duties off the bench in 1981.
Sherk retired after the 1981 season, playing his entire 12-year career for the Browns. In 2005, Sherk was inducted into the Browns Legends Program and is the best player to ever wear number 72 for the franchise.