The Cleveland Browns finished the 2021 season ninth in sacks as a team with 43, including 25 combined between defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. On its face, that’s good for the Browns, but dig a little deeper and their deficiencies become apparent.
The next three players in terms of sacks?
DT Malik McDowell – 3
EDGE Takkarist McKinley – 2.5
CB Troy Hill – 2
McDowell has tools worth developing. His path to the Browns was unorthodox. Only recently having gotten out of prison, he was changing his body, adding bulk during training camp. A rushed process out of necessity led to inconsistent, often poor results on the field. With increased certainty and a real offseason, McDowell could come back a far better player.
McKinley is a player the Browns likely would have wanted back, but a torn Achilles’ has likely wiped out the 2022 season for him, leaving his NFL future in limbo.
Other than that? Joe Jackson had 1.5 sacks and a few key plays along the way. Ifeadi Odenigbo and Porter Gustin were both… present. Neither recorded a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Sacks aren’t the only means to evaluate the effectiveness of a pass rush, but the sheer disparity from Garrett and Clowney to even McDowell is stark.
The Browns defensive line is thin. McKinley was an effort to give them an added dynamic of a speed rush. When he was on the field, it provided a noticeable impact. Injuries limited it from realizing the potential and now, no longer an option for next year, they need to replace what McKinley was doing and go beyond it.
Garrett is as good as the league has to offer and re-signing Clowney should be a given, but investing beyond them must be a priority. It’s in line with what the defense’s goals to amass a collection of long, athletic bodies that can play up and down the line, representing a consistent threat to impact the quarterback.
The Browns need a defensive tackle or two that excel against the run, but once teams are in second and third and medium or longer, they are operating largely out of sub packages that would ideally include four players that all represent a meaningful threat to the quarterback.
The best way to accomplish that is to add high end edge talent in the upcoming NFL Draft, which would also balance out the cost for the position against the salary cap. Garrett and Clowney will likely end up costing the Browns around $40 million against the cap, so a pair players on rookie deals that might add up to $5 million between them is ideal. McKinley was earning $4.25 million in 2021 by contrast.
It’s going to be difficult to find a better learning environment for a rookie than in Cleveland behind Garrett and Clowney. Having those players in place also enables rookies to be put in position to succeed, something that paid dividends with how defensive coordinator Joe Woods employed linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah in his rookie season. Provided they hit on the picks, they would provide a seamless transition in a future where Clowney is no longer on the team.
More importantly, it makes the Browns better now. Acquiring defensive line help capable of chipping in more than 3 sacks shouldn’t be a Herculean task. It should increase the pressure rate on opposing quarterbacks, leading to more turnover opportunities and making the unit better overall.
There’s no shortage of viable talent available in the 2022 draft class. If Andrew Berry and the scouting department have anywhere near the level of success they’ve enjoyed in their first two drafts, bringing in a couple of draft picks in the first four rounds could enable the Browns to go from having a dominant duo to having a varied, unpredictable pass rush.
With the depth and versatility the Browns have in their secondary that thrived under the leadership of Woods, the logical next step toward dominating that side of the ball is to expand their ability to attack opposing quarterbacks, making them uncomfortable from the moment they step onto the field.