Browns Add Defensive Depth Through the Draft, Offense Through Free Agency

Credit: @a_will2 Instagram

The Browns acquired a highly productive wide receiver with a hyphenated last name this off-season.

Junior college stand-out WR Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi led the National Junior College Athletic Association in kick return yards with 1,278 in 2016. He is 5′ 11″ and 181 pounds, and brings back memories of Eric Metcalf and Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil for many Browns fans.

General manager John Dorsey has a clear strategy: draft defense, sign offense. For the most part, it seemed to work, with the exception of last year, when there was so much need on offense coupled with the fact that franchise-level talent was available in last year’s first round. It is a good strategy to apply, seeing as it brought Kansas City from a middle of the pack team to a playoff contender. (It should be obvious that Kansas City hired an offensive-minded coach and drafted a “can’t-miss” quarterback, too.)

Other than signing the speedy Sheehy-Guiseppi and a few other practice squad wideouts, the Browns re-signed veteran wide receiver Rashad “Hollywood” Higgins and tight end/ fullback/ H-back Orson Charles to the team. Charles and fellow utility knife Seth DeValve were mostly blockers for starting running back Nick Chubb, but what Charles does for the offense cannot be properly quantified. Consistent run and pass blocking, learning both the TE and RB position, and being accountable when called upon are Charles’ most endearing qualities. Higgins grew into his nickname over the course of the year. Higgins entered the league like Hollywood, but played more like “Reseda”. At the later part of the season, Hollywood became a better pass catcher and route runner, showing his ability to get down the field, posting a 14.7 yards-per-catch average.

The Browns have brought in TE Demetrius Harris from the Chiefs and interior offensive lineman Eric Kush, whom Dorsey drafted in 2013. A bit of a journeyman, Kush played for three other teams before coming to Cleveland. The Browns have also signed OL Kendall Lamm away from the Houston Texans where he started thirteen games at right tackle last year, and OL Bryan Witzmann away from the Chicago Bears. Dorsey seems to be happy with most of his interior linemen and wants to solidify the exterior in case something should happen to tackles Desmond Harrison, Chris Hubbard, or Greg Robinson. The Browns have even signed Alliance of American Football quarterback Garrett Gilbert. These players are either special teams whizzes or only on the team to add depth and push the starters.

The Browns did draft a guard. Drew Forbes, 6′ 5″, 305 pounds, played for Southeast Missouri State, proving the adage: if you are good, they will find you. Forbes was a three-year starter, earning All Ohio Valley Conference honors. Browns Scout Colton Chapple offered a slight humble-brag when talking about finding Forbes.

“As a scout, it is always fun to try and find your own diamond in the rough or a guy that is under the radar,” Chapple told clevelandbrowns.com. “We spent an incredible amount of time on Drew. We did bring him in on a 30 visit just so that we could talk to him because we did not get a chance to at any all-star games or at any combines just to get familiar with the person and familiar with the player at the end of the day.

“Once he gets onto the field, you do see him flip that switch. He is what we like to call a finisher. He will get on you, he will drive you down field and then he will try to finish you. You want your whole team to play the game not only angry but with passion that Drew has shown just based off of the game tape that we have been able to watch.”

The one corps that needed the most support going into this season was linebacker. Last year’s biggest steal for the Browns was Genard Avery who eventually made his way into the starting role and even became an effective edge rusher. The linebackers are serviceable and likable –not without skills, but there is definitely room for improvement. Christian Kirksey has finally had three consecutive seasons of playing his natural position, and it showed. Joe Schobert is playing at a high level as well, following up 2018’s Pro-Bowl selection with an alternate selection this past year. Ray-Ray Armstrong was also recently re-signed. The only free agent linebacker added to the squad was Adarius Taylor, who flourished under defensive coordinator Steve Wilks when Wilks held the same position in Tampa Bay.

Depth is the only focus of this draft on defense. Cleveland drafted Sione Takitaki with their third round pick. The Brigham Young University LB does come with baggage, albeit “Latter Day Saint” baggage: he was kicked off the team multiple times for fighting in the dorms and stealing. Takitaki credits his wife, Alyssa, her family, and the coaching staff and the BYU administration for giving him a second chance. About himself, he stated that he was “a physical linebacker with some finesse.” The 6′ 2″, 231 pound LB logged 241 tackles, 33.5 were for losses, and about half of those were sacks. In the fifth round, the Browns selected LB Mack Wilson, 6′ 2″, 239 pounds, from Alabama. Wilson’s playing time was very scarce, but he seemed to make the best of his opportunities with 113 total tackles in 33 games played. This is a hardly substantiation for his declaration that he was the “best linebacker in the country”:

Swagger is good, but his statistics suggest he might see more playing time on special teams.

Speaking of swagger, the defensive secondary has plenty of it in this draft. Rock Ya-Sin and Justin Layne were speculated here to be good fits for this Wilks-led defense. Both are big in stature and as hitters. Lo and behold, the Browns were gifted another steal, as Louisiana State University CB Andreaz “Greedy” Williams, 6′ 2″, 185 pounds, fell right to them in the second round (46th overall). Greedy was too good to pass up at No. 46, and the Browns now have a bookend for Denzel Ward reminiscent for Browns fans like the “Top Dawg” Hanford Dixon and “Mighty Minny” Frank Minnifield, to co-creators of the Dawg Pound. Williams has already predicted he and Ward will “tear up this league,” and he proclaimed the Browns are going to the Super Bowl. While Williams’ scouting video looks as though he went to Deion Sanders’ Tackling Camp, as ESPN Cleveland Tonight show host Matt Fontana stated, “He’s not there to make tackles. He’s there to cover [receivers]”. Williams had 20 pass breakups and eight interceptions in two years at LSU before coming out, but he was a Jim Thorpe Award Finalist as a freshman, so the potential is there:

Williams is from LSU, which has been dubbed “DBU” for the talent pool, but Dorsey went to another talent pool down the Gulf Coast. He chose Sheldrick Redwine, safety from “Da U”, The University of Miami. Redwine, 6′, 196 pounds, is part of the same program that produced greats Sean Taylor and Ed Reed. Redwine has stated he is willing to play anywhere he is asked, which is refreshing to hear from a player Wilks may ask to play in the box. As an insurance policy, the Browns also drafted Donnie Lewis, CB, from Tulane with the 221st pick overall. Lewis, 6′, 190 pounds, was a three-year starter for the Green Wave, recording three interceptions apiece in his junior and senior seasons. He had eight for his career at Tulane, where he enrolled in 2014 and redshirted his first year.

Dorsey’s formula seems to have brought balance to a team looking to take the AFC North from an underwhelming division. Experienced, highly-talented offensive players are evened out by young and hungry defenders. (Do not worry, special teams fans, the Browns drafted kicker and Baker Mayfield buddy Austin Seibert.) While even current wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. even warned everyone that “we haven’t done [anything] yet,” it is hard not to consider the Browns finally having enough depth and talent to make a playoff run.

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