In a base 3-4 defense, the linebackers are tasked with very important roles. On the outside, 'backers need to bend the edge and get after the quarterback while keeping maintain so running backs can't bounce outside. On the inside, 'backers are called to stop the run, rush the A gaps and cover backs and tight ends in pass coverage.
While the Browns have had decent play from this important position group, they have lacked the kind of explosive performance necessary.
On the Roster for 2016:
Paul Kruger - Kruger has been the Browns best pass rush over the last few seasons but is better suited as the #2 threat.
Karlos Dansby - The veteran Dansby should be around another year and has played well in the Browns old 3-4 system. Still could have another year left on the team.
Christian Kirksey - Kirksey alternated starting in the middle for the Browns. He has speed in coverage but needs to bulk up some. In new DC Ray Horton's scheme, Kirksey could play the Star position, a kind of third safety.
Barkevious Mingo - This should be an interesting year for the high draft pick. Mingo was drafted to play in Horton's system now gets a chance once more. Will he find more time on the field? Will he be healthy? Will he shed the "bust" label?
Nate Orchard - Orchard started to put it together late in the season but still has some development left to do. In the new system, Orchard should be able to excel.
Who Could the Browns Lose:
Armonty Bryant - Bryant is suspended for 4 games and could be cut quickly.
Tank Carder - Carder is a free agent and could see his special teams skills overlooked with the new coaching staff.
Scott Solomon - "Bloodbath" is set to be a restricted free agent. He should return but his fit with the new system will be scrutinized.
Craig Robertson - Robertson was originally thought to be the fit at the Star position. He has struggled some but is expected to return.
Dansby or Kruger could be asked to restructure their deals so even more need could be seen at this position.
Is the Need: Low, Medium or High:
Very difficult here. On the one hand, the Browns have some talent with their 5 linebackers that should return and even depth with Robertson and Solomon back. On the other hand, the Browns lack explosive players that can bend the edge. Instead, they need to scheme to get after the QB. A high-end talent on the outside could be great but the depth of talent is very good.
Need = Medium
Top Free Agents at the Position:
This is one area the Browns could invest some money in to bring in a starter, or at least a pass rush specialist. Who are some of the top names available in free agency?
Von Miller - Technically Miller is a free agent. He is Franchised and isn't going anywhere.
Nick Perry - Perry could be moving on as the Packers have a lot of money tied up elsewhere. Similar to players the Browns have currently, Perry has never been great (3.5 sacks last year) but is good.
Bruce Irvin - Signing players who were successful in a great system is risky. Irving has a jump off the edge that could make him worth it.
Danny Trevathan / Brandon Marshall - inside backers, who could replace Dansby if he was cut, Trevathan and Marshall can do a lot of things and at least one is likely going to move on as Denver has higher priorities in free agency.
Zach Brown - Another not so overly impressive player but could be of interest to Horton who coached him with the Titans.
Top NFL Draft Prospects:
There are surprisingly few top prospects at the position, especially on the edge. Noah Spence, Myles Jack Reggie Ragland and Jaylon Smith, before his injury turned out worse than expected, were all sitting at the top of the list. Darron Lee is shooting up draft boards while fellow Buckeye Joshua Perry is likely to go near the second round.
The Browns will have to spend a first or second round pick to get any of those guys. There is some depth but no can't miss prospects expected beyond those.
The Browns have an okay linebacking corp. Can Horton scheme around it to make a huge impact or do they need to bring in someone whose talent can make the difference?