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Browns will need to draft a linebacker this year

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That depends on Joe Schobert and if he signs elsewhere

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Christian
Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) tackles TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Shawn Robinson (3) 
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Middle linebacker Joe Schobert has been a workhorse for the Browns ever since he was drafted in the fourth-round of the 2016 NFL college draft out of the University of Wisconsin.

But now, Schobert is an unrestricted free agent. The Browns have an opportunity to sign and retain him, but that time table is very short. Free agency begins March 16 unofficially and officially March 18. If Cleveland can get a deal done before then, Schobert would remain a Brown. If not, he will then test the market and in all likelihood be signed by another club.

Of the Top 100 free agents this year, Schobert is listed as the 33rd top guy and the number two rated linebacker behind ILB Corey Littleton of the Los Angeles Rams.

Schobert has been a roller coaster in the run game, but make no mistake he is a beast in pass coverage. Pro Football Focus has him listed at 87.7 in this department with help from his four interceptions. He had 133 total tackles, 13 pass defenses, two sacks and two forced fumbles this past season.

His banner year was 2017 when he was the co-tackling NFL leader (144) and made the Pro Bowl. While with the Browns he has 408 total tackles among his four seasons.

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns
Outside linebacker Christian Kirksey #58 with Joe Schobert #53
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Schobert’s backer mate, Christian Kirksey, was placed on IR in mid-September last year with a chest injury which then elevated LB Willie Harvey from the practice squad. Kirksey was voted on as a captain and is seen as a valuable asset to the defense after being taken in the third-round of the 2014 draft. He had 138 tackles in 2017 and then followed that up with 148 tackles the following season.

Adarius Taylor signed a two-year deal in March 2019 to compete for the strongside backer and depth after spending most of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a special teams guy. But Taylor has played sparingly.

And then there are the three young bucks. Rookie Mack Wilson has stood out as the most promising and saw plenty of game action last year as Kirksey’s replacement. Tae Davis was claimed from the New York Football Giants and made his assertion as a special teams ace. Sione Takitaki showed glimpses of splendor at times, but also was inconsistent when he received opportunities to perform other than on special teams where he excelled.

If Schobert leaves, could Kirksey return along with Wilson? Kirksey has played inside under former head coach Mike Pettine in the 3-4 defense and became the starting weakside LB under Hue Jackson when DC Gregg Williams installed the 4-3.

While at Alabama, Mack played inside backer in their 3-4 base defense and was mainly inserted as the Will in his rookie campaign with the Browns, so the versatility is there. He is a sure tackler and exceptional in coverage. Expected to be taken no later than the middle of the third-round, Cleveland was gifted his services in the fifth-round and perhaps he plays with a pretty large chunk of wood on his shoulder.

The Browns should look into bringing in a solid run-stopping linebacker through this year’s draft. New DC Joe Woods plays a basic 4-3 and will need another capable body. Below are some suggestions in each round. The linebacker rankings on DraftCountdown.com were used for each player’s position rankings. Understand, the below list is not a representation of which linebackers are the best in this year’s draft, just which linebackers are expected to be available when the Browns pick in each round.

Iowa State v Oklahoma
Linebacker Kenneth Murray #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners wraps up quarterback Brock Purdy #15 of the Iowa State Cyclones
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Round 2, pick #41

ILB Kenneth Murray – 6’, 1” 234 pounds

College: Oklahoma (junior)

40 time: 4.57

Total tackles career: 334

Awards: Defensive Freshman-of-the-Year (2017), Second-Team All Big 12 (2018), First-Team All Big 12 (2019), Butkus Award finalist (2019)

DraftCountdown.com ILB ranking: 1

Very good tackling abilities with great speed that can grind another gear if needed. Has some difficulty shedding blockers at times, but will win with leverage. Is a very tough man in general and extremely aggressive. Three-year starter in college. Able to get into zone drops easily and is phenomenal on guarding tight ends but was rarely utilized covering any other position while in college. Would be a steal at number 41.

Appalachian State v South Carolina
Akeem Davis-Gaither #24 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Round 3, pick #74

OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither – 6’, 1” 215 pounds

College: Appalachian State (senior)

40 time: 4.58

Total tackles career: 201

Awards: Second-Team All Sun Belt Conference (2018), First-Team All Sun Belt Conference (2019), Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player-of-the-Year (2019)

DraftCountdown.com OLB ranking: 10

A bit undersized but has tremendous speed and is very good in coverage. Probability is more suited to the weakside backer position at first. Excellent support in the run game and is not shy about throwing his body around. Two words to describe him: aggressive and physical. Usually takes the bait on showing run which will get him out of position at times. Was one of the darlings at the Senior Bowl and is called “a riser” on draft boards. Great range, instinctual, a downhill thumper and is a top cover linebacker.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Cincinnati at Ohio State
Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Malik Harrison #39
Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Round 3, pick #90

ILB Malik Harrison – 6’, 3” 245 pounds

College: Ohio State (senior)

40 time: 4.64

Total tackles career: 205

Awards: Honorable Mention All Big 10 (2018), First-Team All Big 10 (2019)

DraftCountdown.com ILB ranking: 2

Intelligent player with good instincts to the ball. Quick with very good speed. Has great strength and is able to shed blockers who have 20 pounds on him. Good instincts on blitz packages. Is a bit slow on his first step recognizing run or pass, but has adequate recovery skills and is rarely out-of-position. Not very good in coverage especially with larger tight ends and will need quite a bit of coaching in this respect. Looks like a hitter and is with his stout frame. Another one who shined at the Senior Bowl and came from a tough conference. Very true tackler and would fit better at the Mike position where he is not expected to drop back in coverage the majority of his snaps.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Bowling Green at Oregon
University of Oregon LB Troy Dye (35) puts a tackle on Bowling Green RB Andrew Clair (1)
Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Round 4, pick #105

OLB Troy Dye – 6’, 4” 226 pounds

College: Oregon (senior)

40 time: 4.62

Total tackles career: 398

Awards: Three Time Second-Team All-Pac 12 (2017-2019)

DraftCountdown.com OLB ranking: 12

Has the speed to chase down players and quick. Excellent pass rusher when called upon. Needs to add more body mass to catch up to his height so that much larger linemen don’t move him around and out of the play. Very good on run support but pass rush is his strength. Excellent blend of speed, coverage skills and finishing are his hallmarks. Four-year starter in college with very good production. His pass coverage abilities are elite.

Miami v North Carolina
Shaquille Quarterman #55 of the Miami Hurricanes
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Round 6, pick #167

ILB Shaquille Quarterman – 6’, 2” 240 pounds

College: Miami (senior)

40 time: 4.78

Total tackles career: 356

Awards: Second-Team All ACC (2017), Two Time First-Team All-ACC (2018-2019)

DraftCountdown.com ILB ranking: 10

Very durable as evidenced by his 52 college starts. His focus is to be involved in every single play and has great physical aspects. Impressive tackler but has issues getting separation with larger blockers and will need to improve the angles towards his target. Probable strongside backer, he is not a good pass rusher unless he is free on certain stunts. Four-year starter in college. Categorized as a three-down linebacker, he has excellent leadership and character.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Wyoming at San Diego State
San Diego State Aztecs running back Juwan Washington is tackled by Wyoming Cowboys linebacker Logan Wilson
Photo by Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Round 7, pick #221

ILB Logan Wilson – 6’, 2” 248 pounds

College: Wyoming (senior)

40 time: 4.76

Total tackles career: 418

Awards: Second-Team All MWC (2017), First-Team All-MWC (2019), Butkus Award finalist (2019)

DraftCountdown.com ILB ranking: 5

Going into the Senior Bowl, the name Logan Wilson wasn’t on anybody’s list. However, when scouts and coaches left town they had this guy’s name marked through in yellow highlighters. Went from probable undrafted free agent and no combine invitation to being selected in the final two rounds and now a combine participant. The best way to describe his game is productive and a steady tackler. Four-year starter in college. Very good instincts on running downs and is able to get to his man quickly. Has decent speed for his size and nobody is going to outwork this player. Not great in coverage and is a better run support guy. Only Butkus Award finalist who did not play for a Power 5 school.

Poll

What round do you think the Browns should draft a linebacker?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Early rounds 2-3
    (111 votes)
  • 51%
    Mid-rounds 4-5
    (151 votes)
  • 6%
    Later rounds 6-7
    (19 votes)
  • 3%
    Do not draft a linebacker
    (11 votes)
292 votes total Vote Now