At last, we are on to our final positional preview for Cleveland Browns training camp! We will take a look at the safeties in two parts; part one will look at the starters and the two players most closely behind them on the depth chart.
1. Jabrill Peppers - Starting Strong Safety
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 213 lbs | Age: 22
Experience: 2 years | College: Michigan
It took long enough.
After seeing Jabrill Peppers stuck as the deep free safety for most of 2017, Gregg Williams has finally come around on the obvious decision to move him to the box as a strong safety in 2018. Williams will tout the invaluable position versatility that Peppers now has as a result of last year, but I don’t care what he says, it was his worst personnel decision by far last year.
Peppers needs to be near the line of scrimmage where he has a better chance at making an impact on the ball as opposed to dictating whether teams throw it deep or not. According to Pro Football Focus, Peppers played 88.2% of his snaps at free safety from Weeks 1-15 as a rookie, with poor results (i.e. remember how many poor angles he took when having to come up to make a tackle in the open field). However, in the final two weeks, only 32.1% of his snaps were at free safety due to an injury to Derrick Kindred, and Peppers responded with “his best run-defense grade of the year” in Week 16 and an interception to go along with a solid outing in Week 17.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. Damarious Randall - Starting Free Safety
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 196 lbs | Age: 25
Experience: 4 years | College: Arizona State
The Browns acquired Damarious Randall from the Packers this offseason and made the immediate decision to switch him from cornerback to free safety. The past three years, he has mostly played cornerback in the NFL, but has experience at the safety spot from his college days at Arizona State. The Browns’ front office is also familiar with Randall.
In terms of his personality, there is no doubt that Randall isn’t afraid to be a talker. He mixed it up on social media last year regarding Josh Gordon after the two faced each other in Cleveland. Then, this offseason, he openly cheered for Steph Curry against the Cavaliers, and had his “jersey promise” tweet go so viral that it became the most viral sports tweet by an athlete of all time.
I personally liked some of the feisty play I saw out of Randall last year. I don’t know how that translates to the free safety spot where he will be lonely without a player within 30 yards of him. The main element I am looking for is how his open field tackling is if Randall ends up being the last line of defense. Here is what the Browns’ defensive backs coach said about Randall a few weeks ago:
“He is a highly confident guy. I think that going out there and having played corner and in this league at a high level, he understands more things about route splits and spacing and what offenses are doing to try to attack you from a wide receiver standpoint and a coverage standpoint. I think that just blends to his ability to be even better at the free safety position. As we all know, he can run. He can cover space. He is smooth as an athlete. He has good instincts. I think one year in junior college, if I remember correctly, he had 10 interceptions. He has high ball production in his past playing at that positon. I think as we go forward here, and he continues to get comfortable again at that position, those things are open to find.”
Final Roster Odds: 99%
3. Derrick Kindred - Backup Strong Safety
Height: 5-10 | Weight: 210 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: 3 years | College: TCU
Make no mistake about it: Derrick Kindred is still in Gregg Williams’ plans on defense. Even though we were up in arms about Jabrill Peppers not being the starting strong safety last year, the truth is that Kindred did a fine job as the starter in his own right.
This offseason, Williams said Kindred was “one of the best strong safeties he’s had the chance to coach in his career in the run game and zone pass game.” Kindred was one of the Browns’ top-5 graded defenders last season and is definitely a force as a run-stopper. The task for Williams will be how he finds playing time for both Kindred and Peppers. This is a great case where Williams should see it as a blessing rather than a curse, because he can substitute and mix-and-match to keep guys fresh. I think there could be times we also see three safeties in the game, with Peppers playing more of a specialty role depending on the package.
Final Roster Odds: 99%
4. Derron Smith - Backup Safety
Height: 5-10 | Weight: 200 lbs | Age: 26
Experience: 4 years | College: Fresno State
Derron Smith was a 6th round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2015, so Hue Jackson had some familiarity with him. He only had 13 career tackles with Cincinnati before picked plucked off of their practice squad in mid-November of 2017. Smith played in 7 games with the Browns, registering 4 tackles.
The Browns will be looking for a backup free safety in camp this year, but Smith won’t have much of a leg up for that spot compared to the four undrafted rookie free agents who will appear in Part 2 of our safety preview. Smith has primarily been a special teams contributor, but maybe a change of scenery and being in camp with the team for the first time will help him make more of an impression.
Final Roster Odds: 30%
How should the playing time be distributed between Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred
This poll is closed
Peppers should receive all of the SS snaps
Mix it up a bit, alternate them, etc.
Kindred should see more snaps with Peppers rotating in