Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns Roster Evaluation: Defensive Line

The Cleveland Browns enter a very important offseason. With a new front office in place to go along with the new coaching staff, we take a look at the team's current roster and possible targets in Free Agency and the NFL Draft.

The defensive numbers for the Browns in 2015 were abysmal. The Browns finished 27th in yards allowed per game, 29th in points allowed per game, and 28th in sacks. They allowed 128.4 rushing yards a game, which was 29th in the NFL.

The Browns haven’t had anything resembling a successful defense since Ray Horton was the defensive coordinator in 2013.

The hope is that with Horton’s return, the Browns will be a much better defensive team. The defensive line will need to improve dramatically for that to happen. Horton uses three and four man fronts, depending on personnel, match-ups, game situation and so on.

 

On the Roster for 2016:

Desmond Bryant, Xavier Cooper, John Hughes, Danny Shelton, and Dylan Wynn.

 

Who Could the Browns Lose:

The Browns released Randy Starks, who started 15 games in 2015. He finished with 29 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Safe to say Starks did not perform up to team expectations. Jamie Meder is an exclusive rights free agent. If they want him back, he’ll be on the team.

 

Is the Need: Low, Medium or High:

Numbers alone would indicate that the need is medium-to-high. Numbers in this case means both the low-player count currently on the roster, and the sad numbers that the Browns defense produced in stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. Expect the Browns to add at least one more two-technique big man.

 

Top Free Agents at the Position:

The top DE in the free agent class may just be Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ), but he is coming off a broken leg. He has been an effective 3-4 DE in the past, and could be for the Browns. Olivier Vernon (MIA) had 7.5 sacks, but only Von Miller and Khalil Mack had more pressures in the second half of the season.

Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG) can still pressure the quarterback, but is not much of a run defender. Malik Jackson (DEN) proved to be effective against both the run and the pass, but it is hard to imagine Denver letting him go.

Damon Harrison (NYJ) should be a target by any team with cap room and a need for a run-stuffer. Ian Williams (SF) could prove to be the poor man’s choice inside this offseason. The ‘name’ players in this group are Haloti Ngata (DET) and Nick Fairley (STL). Fairley is still in his prime, but he comes with a certain amount of baggage.

 

Top NFL Draft Prospects:

Defensive Ends: Joey Bosa (Ohio State), DeForest Buckner (Oregon), Shaq Lawson (Clemson), Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky), Jonathan Bullard (Florida), Kevin Dodd (Clemson), Emmanuel Ogbah (Oklahoma State), Shillique Calhoun (Michigan State), Carl Nassib (Penn State).

Defensive Tackles: A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama), Andrew Billings (Baylor), Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), Jarran Reed (Alabama), Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), Kenny Clark (UCLA), Vernon Butler (LA Tech), Austin Johnson (Penn State), Adolphus Washington (Ohio State).

Conclusion:

The Browns have to find a way to pressure the quarterback, but must also improve dramatically against the run. The big question is what kind of resources the Browns will use to improve the defensive line when there are so many other holes to fill. If Ray Horton had his way, I’m sure the Browns would be pulling the trigger on one of the top rushers in the draft.


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