With the Cleveland Browns releasing veteran safety, John Johnson III, they could look to the 2023 NFL Draft to find a replacement and a running mate for Grant Delpit if they are unable to sign a safety in free agency.
It is no secret to Cleveland Browns fans, and even to those on the outside looking in, that the team had quite a few glaring holes that the team needed to fill heading into this offseason. After the team was unable to work out a restructure of the contract of veteran safety John Johnson III, subsequently releasing him, another safety to pair with rising star, Grant Delpit, immediately rose up the list of needs for general manager Andrew Berry and the Cleveland front office.
With veteran defensive mind Jim Schwartz hired as the team's new defensive coordinator under head coach Kevin Stefanski, the Browns will certainly look to turn things around when it comes to opposing offenses. The unit showed flashes under recently-fired Joe Woods, but must be more consistent to truly compete in a stacked AFC.
With Schwartz overseeing the defense, I would anticipate Delpit to continue to play primarily around the line of scrimmage and in the box. I believe the team will be searching for a true free safety this offseason, with free agency seemingly their best shot to find an impact starter given the weak 2023 NFL Draft safety class.
It has been rumored that the Browns are setting their sights on Jessie Bates, former division rival and Cincinnati Bengal who is expected to hit free agency after the team failed to reach an extension or tag him. The 26-year-old, along with 25-year-old C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who had a breakout season in 2022 with the Philadelphia Eagles, lead a very solid group of free agent safeties, also including Julian Love, Taylor Rapp, Juan Thornhill, Donovan Wilson, and former Brown Jordan Poyer.
While I would anticipate Berry and the Browns going after one of these free agents, with Bates and Gardner-Johnson atop the list, they may see it fit to look to the 2023 NFL Draft to find a late-round fit at a bargain price, compared to the paydays that these top free agents are certainly after.
If the Browns do draft a safety to try to help replace Johnson III, keep an eye on these five names.
5. Ji'Ayir Brown, Penn State
Ji'Ayir Brown may be a name that Ohio football fans are already familiar with, as Brown excelled against the Ohio State while at Penn State, racking up 15 total tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery over his last two seasons when playing the Buckeyes. If they don't already, they certainly would be if the Browns were to draft him.
Brown is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife. He can hold his own in man coverage, excels playing in the box and has great instincts in zone. He has 117 tackles, 10 interceptions and 4.5 sacks over his last two seasons in Happy Valley, proving his versatility. While he didn't test overly well at the Combine, you can see on tape that Brown is plenty athletic, and has enough speed to at least be a split safety at the next level.