3. Willie Harvey, LB
Willie Harvey, Jr. is too small and too slow to play in the NFL, except every time we see him in the preseason, he has obliterated everything in his path to the football. If he doesn’t make plays, okay fine, cut him. But we have never seen him do anything but carry out his assignment on the field, so how do you cut a guy like this?
Harvey was an Iowa State Cyclone in the Big 12 Conference (not to be confused with the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten, of course) from 2014 to 2018 and played all three linebacker spots, with 289 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, an interception, 11 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He was Honorable Mention All-Big 12 for three straight seasons. However, at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, and running a 4.72 40-yard dash at the combine, he wasn’t interesting enough to warrant a draft pick.
Harvey had a dominant preseason in 2019 including a game against Indianapolis in which he was virtually a one-man team and caught the attention of the coaching staff. Admittedly, you can’t get too crazy about preseason games, but nevertheless, that’s what we have to go on. He got into two games before suffering a shoulder injury.
He hung out in limbo for a while but finally was called back in 2021, first to the practice squad and then to the active roster. He made a good enough impression that they have kept him on the roster after the draft and after the UDFA signing period is mostly over.
His position is as precarious as anyone’s on the team, but there must be something that someone likes. My suggestion: for what it’s worth, go hang out with D’Ernest Johnson. That guy transformed himself into a football player after a so-so college career and unimpressive Pro Day performance.
He credits Numa Speed and Olympian Tim Montgomery for helping him with his quickness and game speed, and I think I would promote him to a special position on the fitness staff immediately.
Your humble correspondent still has nightmares about the Browns cutting Sam Mills, who a generation ago led the team in tackles in the preseason, but he was only 5-foot-9 and not getting any taller. Better cut him, right? It was the safe, smart thing to do.
So off went Mills to the old USFL, where he won two championships and was a three-time All-USFL selection. Okay, so what? That’s minor league football. But then off he went to the New Orleans Saints and then Carolina Panthers, and he was a five-time Pro Bowler.
He didn’t start his NFL career until age 27, but played 12 years in the three-letter league and had 1,265 tackles. He made All-Pro at age 37. He averaged over 100 tackles a season, and in his last year, at age 38, he posted 99. He only missed 10 games to injury in 12 NFL seasons. But he never got any taller.
Yeah, he was a short dude. But dang, he could play middle linebacker. I’m not actually claiming that Willie is as good as Sam. However, I hesitate to assume that he is automatically the number seven linebacker in a six-linebacker group just because he is not as tall as the others.
The Browns are not an ideal situation for a linebacker because most of the time they play only two, based on the notion that the NFL loves multiple wide receiver sets these days. Hence the Browns might go with six linebackers rather than the usual seven. Chiseled in stone are Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who looks like he wants to go to Canton; Anthony Walker, Jr., who has done a great job, though this writer loves Sione Takitaki even more than AW2; Jacob Phillips, who was a third-round pick in 2020 and Tony Fields II, who was drafted in the fifth round last year out of West Virginia.
That sixth and presumably final spot will be competitive. Dakota Allen may be the favorite. Allen is a former All-Big 12 linebacker from Texas Tech. He is a three-year veteran with 28 career tackles in 144 snaps on defense and 522 snaps on special teams.
He was originally drafted by the Rams and also had a gig with the Raiders, but most of his playing time came with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He is two inches taller than Harvey and no one would complain if they kept Allen over Harvey as the number six linebacker.
Silas Kelly is a UDFA from Coastal Carolina, who weighs 229 pounds and stands 6-foot-4, which according to NFL experts is tall enough to peer over offensive linemen into the pocket, and he posted a 4.62 seconds 40-yard dash. Coastal Carolina, by the way, plays ball in the Sun Belt Conference, which is an FBS Conference.
Kelly had 340 career tackles, 10.0 career sacks, and 24.5 career tackles-for-loss ranking 10th all-time. He’s also a two-time College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-American. If Joe Woods likes smart linebackers, that might count for something.
However, if you look around the neighborhood in the AFC North, the two-tight-end formation is also in vogue here. Hence there might very well be a need for a seventh linebacker on this team. I want to see Harvey get his shot.
If Duke Johnson or someone pancakes him, okay. But not, “well, he’s too short, so let’s go with a taller player. We’ll look better on paper at least.” Just have each player prove it on the field.