Cleveland Browns position not needed in draft No. 2: Linebacker
At the local Browns Backers club, one of our favorite things to complain about is Joe Woods’ soft-as-a-marshmallow defense. We are still mad that Joe Schobert was not re-signed, and everyone feels like the team needs a big middle linebacker to restore the run defense.
That’s been a persistent theme in the Dawg Pound, but it’s not true. They didn’t play poorly against the run overall, despite playing a 4-2-5 defense as their base formation most of the time; i.e., with one more little guy in the defensive backfield and one fewer big guy in the box. They were 12th versus the run, not 32nd, and at the beginning of the year, they were even stronger.
Their linebackers are led by a stars player now. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a threat to go to the Pro Bowl. He has the speed and quickness of a safety and hits like a ton of bricks. He was selected to the Pro Football Focus All-Rookie Team, along with cornerback Greg Newsome. Both started as 21-year-olds, meaning that they still have some additional maturing to do. They will get better.
The Dawg Pound loved Mack Wilson for his run-stopping ability. Mack was traded for defensive lineman Chase Winovich, who they needed to plug the hole on the defensive line left by the departure of Jadeveon Clowney. However, Sione Takitaki is just as good and maybe a bit better.
Malcolm Smith is also a free agent who performed well for the Browns last season.
However, the Browns are returning Anthony Walker, who called plays for them last season plus promising second-year man Tony Fields and 2020 third-round pick Jacob Phillips. Fields and Phillips did not see much playing time due to injuries.
Lurking in the background is Willie Harvey, who has played well in the preseason since 2018, but has not gotten very many regular-season snaps. For what it’s worth, all the fundamentals are there and he seems to have a nose for the football.
Also, as harped on by this writer many times, the human body does not typically peak athletically at age 22. If a player has been to a few training camps and knows the system, if you liked him at age 22, you probably will like him a lot more at age 26 because that is a stronger age than 22.
Almost all football players know the game better after a few years of intensive study. NFL players are not like soda pop cans. Football players get better after they have been recycled a few times.
Nevertheless, Harvey may be among those current rostered players who could get bumped when the Browns draft seven rookies and add additional undrafted rookies as free agents. Harvey could consider playing in the new USFL or perhaps hang out in limbo with other NFL prospects hoping to get the call, which happened for him last season. It could happen again.
Lastly, to conclude this little diatribe on Browns linebackers, many fans including this one personally miss Joe Schobert and did not feel comfortable with the idea that middle linebacker was going to be a part-time position in the Browns offense. Most of us understood it, but were not necessarily comfortable with it.
However, if you look at the numbers with the Joe Woods defense, it becomes clear that a multimillion-dollar investment in Joe Schobert wouldn’t have been the right move for the ball club. The Woods defense is tactically sound and will win if they continue to develop personnel to support it.