4. LB Mack Wilson
Losing Jacob Phillips hurts. The backup MIKE to Anthony Walker will miss extended time this season, if his year isn’t over entirely. His absence opens up a spot for another linebacker, though the Browns still may only keep five instead of six.
Along with Donovan Peoples-Jones, Wilson has been the talk of training camp, but you wouldn’t know that from watching him this preseason. He’s still the fundamentally unsound ball-sniffer who has to be told his responsibilities by others and still makes the mistake (yes, that actually happened against Jacksonville, go back and watch the first defensive drive).
Wilson is currently listed as the starting WILL, but preseason depth charts are practically meaningless. Unless we are meant to believe that Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is third-string, or that Greg Newsome won’t be starting over Greedy Williams. Snap counts and situations are a better indication, and after playing 47 defensive and 15 special teams snaps against the Jags, JOK was on the field for just 15 and two against New York, while Wilson played essentially the entire second half.
The Browns can almost certainly waive Willie Harvey Jr. and then sign him to the practice squad, calling him up to the active roster as needed. Wilson has to prove that he is significantly better than Harvey, to the point where the team can’t afford to move on from the Alabama product even though he’d be the sixth and final linebacker. He’ll also have to prove he’s more valuable than an extra defensive lineman or defensive back, as it could come down to someone like Malik McDowell or Jovante Moffat vs. Wilson.
See the dilemma? Wilson has been hyped up by the team, the media, and the fanbase, but that hype has never manifested itself on the football field, which is all that should matter. Wilson is easy to root for, and it’d be great to see him flourish in Cleveland, but he’ll need a truly great performance on Sunday to secure a spot, and perhaps that won’t even be enough; his body of work speaks for itself at the moment.
For a team that ranked seventh in nickel (two linebackers) usage last season with a ravaged secondary, the Browns keeping six linebackers doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially when that sixth guy is a third-stringer who doesn’t play special teams.
Wilson may be a fan favorite, but that isn’t what good teams make decisions based on. If it’s Wilson or someone like Blake Hance, Nick Harris, or Malik McDowell, the choice is obvious.