Browns offseason priorities: Defensive line. Focus is on getting Myles Garrett some help

Nate Ulrich Dan Kadar
Akron Beacon Journal
View Comments
Finding a bookend pass rusher opposite defensive end Myles Garrett is a top priority for the Browns this offseason. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Editor's note: The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the NFL Scouting Combine in its traditional form this winter. In its place, over the next two weeks, we offer our own position-by-position look at some draft prospects who might be on the radar of the Browns and break down each position group on their current roster. Here's a look at defensive line:


The Browns are not likely to re-sign Olivier Vernon as he works his way back from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in the Jan. 3 regular-season finale, so replacing him with a high-quality starter opposite All-Pro end Myles Garrett figures to be General Manager Andrew Berry's top priority this offseason. It's vital because of the dual-threat quarterbacks the Browns must beat in the AFC to reach their first Super Bowl. One of them — the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson — shares a division with the Browns and went 2-0 against them in 2020. “The Ravens want to get on the edges. They want to get Lamar on the edges. They want to break contain,” NFL Network analyst and former New England Patriots and Browns edge rusher Willie McGinest said last month during a videoconference in the buildup to the Super Bowl. “His speed, his explosiveness, he's a run threat, even on the pass plays, because if the receivers are covered, he's liable to take off. You've got to be disciplined enough to make sure guys aren't undisciplined in their rush and they don't give him a lane to run through. If they're trying to get outside, you've got to maintain contain.”

Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson gives the Browns a strong veteran presence in the middle of the defensive line. [Jeff Lange/BeaconJournal]

On the roster

Garrett and tackle Sheldon Richardson are the returning starters. Andrew Billings is a projected starter at tackle who signed as an unrestricted free agent a year ago and opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns. Tackle Jordan Elliott was a key backup last season. Others under contract are ends Curtis Weaver, Joe Jackson, Cameron Malveaux and Trevon Young. The Browns tendered Porter Gustin last week as an exclusive-rights free agent. The same can't be said for fellow reserve end Adrian Clayborn because the Browns released him Tuesday.

Expiring contracts

Like Vernon, tackle Larry Ogunjobi is a starter who's not expected to return as an unrestricted free agent. He will likely receive a nice payday elsewhere shortly after free agency begins March 17. The Browns like backup tackle Vincent Taylor, probably enough to retain him on a cheap deal as an unrestricted free agent. Backup end George Obinna is an exclusive-rights free agent, so he'll be back if the Browns want him.

Level of need

On the edge, it's urgent. With Billings, the Browns have an in-house starter to replace Ogunjobi. End is a much different story. With the Arizona Cardinals winning the J.J. Watt sweepstakes, the Browns are poised to pursue other veterans in free agency, with Carl Lawson, Trey Hendrickson, Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney among the names to watch. And even if Berry were to secure a veteran end, it wouldn't be shocking if he stacked the ultra-important position by picking another pass rusher as early as the first round of the April 29-May 1 draft.

Potential first-round targets

Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye could fit the mold of what the Browns are looking for in the first round of the NFL Draft. [USA TODAY Network]

Kwity Paye, Michigan: An athletic marvel, Paye might be a player the Browns would have to trade up to acquire. Although he only played four games in 2020, Paye has more than enough impressive tape that shows off his burst, power and closing speed.

Gregory Rousseau, Miami: For underdeveloped players with size and athleticism in the draft, there’s always a perception of upside. That’s the case with Rousseau, who sat out last season. In 2019, the 6-foot-7, 253-pound Rousseau had 15.5 sacks. His length is obvious, but he’ll have to add some bulk in the NFL.

Jaelen Phillips, Miami: A UCLA transfer, Phillips is a tough evaluation because he’s struggled with a series of injuries, including multiple concussions that nearly led him to leaving football. But he was on fire last season for Miami, posting eight sacks in 10 games showing off a fast first step and good flexibility to dip around the corner.

Joseph Ossai, Texas: At Texas, Ossai played the standup Jack edge rusher role, so he’s not for everybody. But in that role, he could rely on his speed, both off the snap and closing on the ball carrier. He needs to play with more power, but he shows the type of effort coaches love.

Jayson Oweh, Penn State: Oweh is pure tools. He’s still considered a top prospect despite not registering a sack in seven games in 2020. But as a pass rushing prospect, he has length, speed and explosion. It just has to be coached up heavily.

Names to know later in the draft

Vanderbilt defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo could be an option for the Browns later in the NFL Draft. [USA TODAY Network]

Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt: At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, Odeyingbo is a monster. Despite playing 44 games at Vanderbilt, his technique and pass rush plan is still raw. But he’s the type of developmental defensive end you don’t want another team to coach up.

Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma: Perkins does everything well — he’s a quick pass rusher and showed in 2020 he can set the edge against the run — but he’s on the small side. Listed by Oklahoma as being 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, Perkins will need to add some bulk to handle NFL blockers.

Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest: A year ago, Basham may have been in the first round discussion. But a down year, which showed him as an ordinary pass rusher, knocked him back some. He’s a stellar run stopper on the edge, though.

Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina: A consensus All-American in 2020, Jackson is productive of an edge player as you’ll find in this draft. He had 26.5 sacks and 44.5 tackles for loss in his career. That’s thanks to a powerful bull rush and the quickness to shoot gaps. He specializes at getting to the inside and using his effort to close out on the ball.

View Comments