Cleveland Browns best NFL Draft steals of all time: 19. Christian Kirksey
Most often when a team spends a third-round pick on a player, they’re hoping he will become a starter for them, or at the very least a solid contributor. In 2014, the Browns had that in mind when they used the No. 71 overall pick in the draft on Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey.
A three-year starter for the Hawkeyes, Kirksey racked up 309 tackles from 2011 through 2013. He added 5.5 sacks and four interceptions while returning two for touchdowns.
Once a member of the Browns, Kirksey didn’t disappoint, as he continued to prove he had a nose for the football. He played all 16 games as a rookie, while starting eight of them. In that season, he had 81 tackles and two sacks for Cleveland, but then he was on the field less in his second season. That year, Kirksey had just 53 tackles while starting only five games.
Then in 2016, he broke out and became the player we are all used to seeing now. Kirksey had a career year in his third campaign, racking up 143 tackles — 93 of which were solo — and 2.5 sacks. This was also the first time he was a legitimate full-time starter. He was just as good the following year, as his 138 tackles were one of the few bright spots in a 0-16 season.
With hopes high for him in 2018, Kirksey struggled with health. Hamstring issues limited him to just seven games — it was also the first time Kirksey ever missed time in his NFL career.
Before getting hurt, the starting weakside linebacker had already matched his career-high with five pass defenses and recorded his first two career picks. Much is expected out of him in 2019. As long as he remains healthy, he should have no problem exceeding expectations.