The Cleveland Browns are going to have a great problem this season: Talented players competing for spots, roster and starting. The Browns have added a lot of young talent the last two seasons as well as a couple of veterans starters each of Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine's off-seasons.
The offensive and defensive lines will get a lot of attention, including from us soon, but the other inside linebacker next to Karlos Dansby is just as interesting. While the Browns will go with a 4-3 Under defensive look pretty often, Dansby will be on the field often with either Craig Robertson or Christian Kirksey.
Browns fans have long memories and many quickly read the title of this article and may have quickly said "Kirksey of course." A lot of that has to do with Robertson's time in Ray Horton's defense. Fans remember Horton singing his praises in Training Camp and calling him the "ace in the hole." Unfortunately Horton's defense left Robertson in poor positions, especially in coverage.
Yet Robertson started over Kirksey in the latter's rookie season and is still in the running to start this year. While Kirksey is the exciting, young Third Round pick, could he again be the Browns primary sub instead of their long term starter beginning this season?
Looking back at last year could give us some intel:
Robertson - 16 games - 99 Tackles - 1 FR - 2 INTs - 4 Passes Defended
Kirksey - 16 games - 81 Tackles - 1 FF - 3 Passes Defended
Robertson's "counting" numbers are clearly in his advantage even though, according to PFF, Kirksey played in 19 more defensive snaps. Robertson was used more often against the run, 343 to 289, while Kirksey rushed the passer 26 more times and played in coverage 47 more snaps.
Yet, even though he was used more often, Kirksey was rated lower by PFF. Kirksey was given a -3.0 grade as a run stopper, compared to Robertson's positive 0.1. Robertson was a =0.9 as a pass rusher, while Kirksey was a -2.6. Both Robertson, 2.3, and Kirksey, 1.7, had good grades in pass coverage.
Yet, even with better overall rating by PFF, Kirksey was given a little more playing time last year. There are two areas that Kirksey has the advantage on Robertson. The first is in age: Kirksey is a young player at 22 while Robertson, going into his 4th season, is already 27. Robertson is also only under contract for 1 year, his Restricted Free Agent Qualifying Offer. Kirksey on the other hand has 3 years left on his rookie deal, in which he will make less in 3 years than Robertson will this year.
The Browns are obviously going to use both players this season. Who starts may not be as important as who finishes the game and who is in during important snaps. It could, however, be a sign of who the Browns are planning to build around at the position.
So we ask you:
Who should start next to Karlos Dansby at ILB next year for the Cleveland Browns?