Pro Football Focus has been ranking all 32 teams in the NFL by positional units as part of their season preview. First, let’s look at the defensive side of the ball from an AFC North perspective, where the groupings were broken down by “front seven” and “secondary.”
Front Seven Rankings
- Cincinnati Bengals (14th)
- Baltimore Ravens (19th)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (25th)
- Cleveland Browns (32nd)
The Browns were ranked 32nd, and that was before PFF knew about Desmond Bryant’s torn pectoral. At the time of their writing last week, they had penciled in Bryant, Danny Shelton, and Jamie Meder to start up front, with Nate Orchard, Paul Kruger, Christian Kirksey, and Demario Davis to start at linebacker. Their key stat last year was that Cleveland generated pressured on only 32.3% of passing plays in sub-packages, which was the fifth-worst rate in the NFL. That’s something Ray Horton will definitely be looking to improve upon. If there is any optimism for the Browns’ front seven, PFF says it’ll be the competition at outside linebacker, where they also decided to include DL Carl Nassib:
The battle at outside linebacker could prove to be the spark this defense needs; there is talent and potential production there, with the likes of Nassib (Penn State), Orchard, Mingo, and Ogbah (Oklahoma State). If that competition drives the whole group forward, rather than just finding a winner for playing time at two spots, this could be the production that drives the Browns’ front-seven off the bottom of the league.
- Cincinnati Bengals (11th)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (21st)
- Baltimore Ravens (24th)
- Cleveland Browns (25th)
The AFC North doesn’t feature a dominant secondary in 2016, but if Cleveland can rebound from a disastrous 2015, they could easily jump ahead of Pittsburgh and Baltimore:
Last year, Haden looked far from the top-tier cornerback that he may have been a few years ago before missing the second half of the season, and his status for the start of the year remains in question. Tramon Williams has continued to be a consistent defender since coming over from Green Bay, while K’Waun Williams put some good stuff on tape as a role player in his two years. The Browns will need Poyer and Campbell to step into larger roles at safety, but the team also brought in Rahim Moore (Texans) as competition and depth.