The Cleveland Browns went into the offseason needing to beef up the defense. The hiring of Jim Schwartz was the first domino. The second was the free-agent signings of Juan Thornhill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Ogbo Okoronkwo. They also added Za'Darius Smith in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings.
With all those changes to the defense, the linebacking group is relatively the same as in 2023.
Cleveland brought back Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker Jr. on one-year deals. They also have potential breakout candidate Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah along with young veterans Jacob Phillips and Tony Fields II. Those five players round out the top of the rotation.
They also brought back their top special teams player Jordan Kunaszyk and added Matt Adams. Both could see time at linebacker but figure more into special teams. They round out the room with young players Mohamoud Diabate and Charlie Thomas.
The Veteran Presence
We start with Anthony Walker Jr. in the middle. Walker's season ended with a torn quad tendon injury in game three against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before the injury happened, he was off to a great start to the season. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Walker had an overall grade of 82.7 through those first three games.
PFF writer Brad Spielberger labeled Walker the most important player the Browns needed to bring back this past offseason.
"Cleveland can’t afford to spend much on defense outside of perhaps investing in their interior defensive line, which makes Walker a solid option here coming off his torn quadriceps tendon injury. His 85.9 coverage grade over the past two seasons ranks third among off-ball linebackers, and while he can stand to improve against the run — as is the case with almost the entire Browns defense — those improvements are more likely to come via the aforementioned interior defensive line additions and a change in philosophy under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. "- By Brad Spielberger Jan 24, 2023
Walker not only brings coverage skills to the defense, but he also brings leadership. Since he joined the league with the Colts in 2017, everyone that has played with him has raved about his leadership both on and off the field. The hope for the Browns is that Walker is fully healthy and back to the player he was before the injury. If you ask him, Walker is ready to be even better than before the injury.
"Obviously, I want to be a better player than I was before I got hurt. So that’s my goal and I have a lot of lofty goals for this year."- Anthony Walker Jr.,
We would all be happy to get the steady veteran play that Walker has provided throughout his career, but if he takes it to another level, no one will complain.