The Case for Defense in the First Round: Cleveland Browns
Which side of the football should the Cleveland Browns target in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft? I’m intrigued to see what Ray Farmer has up his sleeve. One would believe that the defense was better than their counterparts in 2014. While that may be the case, there’s no reason why the team still cannot strengthen that unit with both picks early in the draft. Let’s review the defensive options.
Different than Offense
Unlike the offensive side of the ball, there are only two likely positions that the Browns will select early (for the defense) draft weekend. The secondary appears to be young but reliable, and I expect Ray Farmer to choose a guy or two for this part of the team in the middle-to-later rounds. The same goes for the inside linebacker positions, as the trio of Karlos Dansby, Chris Kirksey, and Craig Robertson did a tremendous job in 2014. Therefore, the Browns will likely stray away from an early pick at this position. That leaves just two spots open for the first round – interior defensive lineman and outside linebacker.
They Were Born to Run
The inability to stop opposing running backs last season must not be underestimated by the Cleveland Browns. It only makes sense to look at athletes like Danny Shelton, Eddie Goldman, and Malcom Brown at the twelfth or nineteenth selection. Inserting a stalwart at the defensive tackle spot allows Phil Taylor, John Hughes, and Desmond Bryant (to name a few) to rotate during contests. This will keep these athletes fresh and allow Mike Pettine to “experiment” with different combinations of trios upfront – potentially causing headaches for offensive coordinators.
Another issue that the Browns’ defense had last season was their ineffectiveness in getting to the quarterback. Outside of veteran Paul Kruger, not a whole lot of quarterback hurries or sacks came from this part of the team. I understand that Barkevious Mingo was fighting season-long injuries, but he has not shown anything to merit his first round draft spot. That said; why not get a Shane Ray, Vic Beasley, or Randy Gregory (issues and all) for this defense? It appears that Armonty Bryant might slide to this position – hopefully replacing Jabaal Sheard and doing a better job than the departed veteran. That still leaves only three guys, and Pettine will want to see three on the field at the same time (in certain situations). Getting the best of the bunch at the outside linebacker spot could be what the doctor ordered for the Browns’ pass rush in 2015 and beyond.
Conclusion: While I’m not a huge advocate of going defense-heavy in the first round, I can understand if the front office decides to go that route. Should the Browns get both a run stopper and a quarterback nemesis on the first night of the draft (and they pan out), this defense will be a scary one. I know, the offense still has to score points to win games – but improved field position and more opportunities will make it easier for Josh McCown (or someone else under center) and company.