The Cleveland Browns kicked off the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft on Friday night by selecting Oklahoma State edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, a move that was a surprise even for him, who noted afterward that the Browns did not show any interest by way of meetings or interviews before the draft.
The Ogbah selection makes sense. The Browns need to beef up their pass-rushing production, which produced just 29 sacks in former defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s system in 2015. The man tasked with that, new coordinator Ray Horton, was with the team in the same capacity in 2013 when the team had 40 sacks. With Ogbah on the team (and Paul Kruger moved back into a pass-rushing role), Cleveland could easily surpass their sack total from Horton’s last tenure and be a formidable quarterback-pressuring unit again.
While Ogbah served as a defensive end in college, Horton runs a 3-4 system which will require Ogbah shifting to outside linebacker. This won’t be as difficult a transition as it sounds—NFL defenses these days run sub packages such as nickel and dime 60 to 70 percent of the time and the concept of a “base” defense is falling out of fashion. In the pass-heavy NFL, the key for anyone on the edge is affecting the quarterback, and Ogbah can certainly do that. In three seasons at Oklahoma State, he amassed 26.5 sacks, including 12.5 in 2015 and 10 in 2014. He also has 95 solo and 38 assisted tackles in his career, and 35.5 tackles for a loss.
With head coach Hue Jackson saying Friday that Ogbah can be a three-down linebacker, his presence in Cleveland will certainly reshape their group of outside linebackers. Ogbah makes eight on the Browns’ current roster with more potentially to come. But it’s the starters and established veterans who need to watch out for Ogbah, not just during the 2016 season but in the future.
Ogbah’s immediate impact is not good news for Armonty Bryant, who despite being a talented player has off the field issues that have cost him the first four games of the upcoming season. Bryant also has a cap hit of under $700,000 this season and no dead-money charge if he’s released; if the Browns brass views him as more trouble than talent, then the Ogbah pick could move him off the roster quickly. Another player immediately threatened is Scott Solomon, a favorite of the previous regime but who also ended 2015 on injured reserve after a less-than productive season, with only two games played and no starts. His cap hit is just north of $1.6 million this year and, like Bryant, has no dead money attached.
But the Ogbah pick also affects the long-term prospects of other Browns outside linebackers, namely Kruger and Barkevious Mingo. Kruger will serve as a full-time, three-down linebacker this year with edge rushing his specialist and has no worries of being released in 2016. Next year, though, could be another story. Though Kruger is under contract through the 2018 season, his cap hit rises from $7.7 million this year to $8.2 in 2016, but his dead-money charge is only his prorated signing bonus of $1.2 million. He is also 30 years old. While it’s possible that Kruger could play out his entire contract with the Browns, he would need to have a significant bounce-back under Horton in 2016 to prove he’s worth that kind of money in 2017.
With Mingo, things get even trickier. As of now, the 2013 first-round pick has not had his fifth-year option activated, making him an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. And, with the Browns picking Ogbah this year, they may have no reason to keep hold of Mingo for a year or more in the future. If Kruger and Ogbah have the outside linebacking jobs locked down, there becomes less and less room for Ogbah to get on the field. He will have value as a coverage linebacker, long considered his biggest strength, but until he can prove he can do the other duties required of an outside backer, the minimal-trick pony may not warrant a fifth-year option worth a whopping, fully-guaranteed $11.9 million.
Like with the Corey Coleman pick in the first round, the Browns found a perfect match of need and talent. And like with Coleman, the selection will cause some necessary changes all along the roster. While Coleman’s impact on the team’s other wide receivers will mostly be immediate, Ogbah’s ability to reshape the team’s crew of current outside linebackers could reverberate from 2016 all the way to 2018. But the main goal is to impact the performance of Cleveland’s defense in a positive way as quickly as possible. Ogbah’s presence should do just that.