What do the Denver Broncos pass rushers, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line, and the Cleveland Browns linebacker corps have in common? Three are established as elite NFL units. So what are the Browns linebackers even doing in the same sentence, you ask?
At least one NFL analyst, NFL Network’s Chris Wesseling, included them as the seventh deepest positional unit in the NFL.
Wesseling largely basd his opinion on presuming two things. First, that former Patriot Jamie Collins is able to stay healthy and be a big time contributor for Gregg Williams this season. And second, that newly-signed former Eagle Mychal Kendricks is going to fit in and excel in Williams’ scheme.
Here’s his reasoning:
Surprised to see the Browns on this list? Me too. Run defense tends to be a tad overrated in today’s pass-happy NFL, but Cleveland deserves kudos for finishing behind only the Broncos in opponents’ yards per carry (3.4) last season. While former Patriots star Jamie Collins headlines the linebacking corps, he was outshone by tackling machine Joe Schobert, who mans the middle of coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense. That duo is complemented by two-down dynamo Christian Kirksey, who offers sideline-to-sideline range as a run defender. To that mix, the Browns have added speedy former Eagle Mychal Kendricks, coming off one of his finest seasons with the reigning Super Bowl champions. It will be interesting to see how Williams manages to incorporate four run-and-chase linebackers into three starting spots.
The Browns linebackers were already becoming a formiddable group, but new general manager John Dorsey stacked the deck by adding Kendricks. Before Dorsey taking the job, and even with Collins out last season, the group already sustained high-level play despite rolling with young and inexperienced players filling in for large stretches of last season.
Most of that is due to Joe Schobert’s emergence. Schobert has been lauded as one of the “most intelligent” players Browns defensive coaches have ever seen. Those smarts have helped him reach absurd levels of success early in his career, leading to his impressive and sizable leap from his rookie season to 2017.
We have talked about how Schobert, Kendricks, and Collins are slated to have big seasons, but Chris Kirksey remains a key player for the group. Although Wesseling identified him as a two-down specialist, Kirko is suited for all three downs, and he can really fly in pass coverage as he does in sideline-to-sideline pursuit.
This group is coming together at the perfect time for a Browns defense that has added much-need secondary help. If they can find a way to generate more quarterback pressure without needing to send additional pass-rushers, we could very reasonably expect to be talking about more Browns defensive groups belonging on this list at this time next year.