Browns defense most upgraded among AFC North competition

We've heard it all before: The Cleveland Browns always win the offseason! But this year the defense has added so much talent that it is difficult for even the most cynical among us to ignore.
Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout / Nick Cammett/GettyImages
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The 2023 Browns Added MajorTalent to the Defense.

Indeed, what about 2023? The pessimists have a certain right to be unhappy, given that only one team in the NFL goes home truly happy each year.

If you would rather have a Participation Trophy, probably Pickleball is the sport for you, not NFL Football. But if you can get your mind around the difficulty of the task, Andrew Berry and the Browns have made several audacious signings. If this were the New York Jets, the fans would be in an absolute feeding frenzy. As it is, Cleveland fans are not quite sure whether to buy into it or not.

Difference makers include DT1 Dalvin Tomlinson, who upgrades a position from the top 70 to the top 20; Za’Darius Smith who elevates DE2 to the top 20; DE3 Ogbo Okoronkwo who gives the Browns a third defensive end ranked within the top 30.

At safety, The Browns added Rodney McLeod, who ranked top 10 last season, and Juan Thornhill, who ranked top 20, replacing John Johnson III. Perhaps we might believe that age might cause McLeod and Thornhill to slow down a bit, but they represent a monstrous improvement over JJ3’s attempt to play free safety.

Browns Give up: DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Chase Winovich, DT Taven Bryan S John Johnson III S Ronnie Harrison

Browns Get: DE Za'Darius Smith, DE Ogbo Okoronkwo, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, S Rodney McLeod, S Juan Thornhill.

Browns Draft: DT Siaki Ika, DE Isiah McGuire, CB Cameron Mitchell.

Somehow, Pro Football Focus believes that Jadeveon Clowney performed at an above-average level for an NFL starter last season, though the numbers he generated only two sacks. Fans, did anyone see him get double-teamed when he was on the field with Myles Garrett?

If not, he should have had more than 2.0 sacks. Stats aren't everything, true. However, Clowney (2.0, 4) and Winovich (1.0, 1) combined for 3.0 sacks and five (5) tackles for loss (TFL). Smith (10.0, 15) and Okoronkwo (5, 9) combined for 15.0 sacks and 24 tackles for loss. Isn't that at bit indicative of better production?

Similarly, Dalvin Tomlinson, who has the reputation of being a run-stopper, had 42 tackles last season in 551 snaps, or 7.6 tackles per 100 snaps. He replaces Taven Bryan who had 26 tackles in 641 snaps (4.1 tackles per 100 snaps). In other words, the numbers say Tomlinson makes tackles that Bryan does not. The Browns are stopping the run this season, gang.

Even the second defensive tackle position looks much less much ridiculous if they can establish a platoon with 335 pound run-stopper Siaki Ika and either Jordan Elliott or Tommy Togiai, both of whom are more likely to apply pressure on passing downs. It's not going to be a matador position like 2022.

There does need to be some caution about gauging the health at the linebacker position, but they have sufficient depth there in case Anthony Walker, Jr. and/or Sione Takitaki are not available to start the season. Overall there is justification for believing that the Browns will stop the run this season.

It’s not just that the new players are good—and they are—but the players being displaced were not even second-string NFL players in many cases. All told these moves may impact the defense by as much as three to five points per game, which is enough to contend for the top defensive ranking in the AFC North. To show that, let’s compare the Browns offseason on defense with the Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers. The Ravens were the best in the AFC North last season, so let's start there.