With our linebacker previews complete, it is time to turn our attention to the cornerback position. This will be broken down into three parts, starting with Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Terrance Mitchell, and Kevin Johnson.
1. Denzel Ward - Starting Cornerback
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 190 lbs | Age: 23
Experience: 3 years | College: Ohio State
After a Pro Bowl rookie season, Denzel Ward had a bit of a sophomore slide in 2019. He missed four games near the beginning of the year to injury before returning and finishing the season with 42 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 11 passes defended. Those stats were pretty similar to what he had as a rookie, but he didn’t look as comfortable in the defense after coming back from his injury, until closer to the end of the season.
With that said, Ward still remains very good when he’s placed into man-to-man coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a 44.9% completion rate when targeting Ward in 2019, which was the lowest rate in the NFL. I’m being a little critical of Ward, but that’s just because I know how important it is for the rest of the defense that he play like the elite-level talent we know he can be. Ward can be physical against the run, but that is an area I’d like to see him improve on in 2020. Ward is undoubtedly the Browns’ top cornerback, and if history is any indication, opposing quarterbacks will continue trying to target other cornerbacks instead.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. Greedy Williams - Starting Cornerback
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 185 lbs | Age: 22
Experience: 2 years | College: LSU
Like Ward, Greedy Williams suffered an injury at the beginning of last season, forcing him to miss 4 games. As a rookie, Williams played in 12 games, logging 47 tackles and 2 passes defended. Much of the concern when he was drafted was related to his tackling ability or willingness to stick his nose in the run game, but those are the things that actually ended up being his strengths.
Tackling was a major concern for Greedy Williams coming into his rookie season. He responded well.— OBR Film Breakdown (@TheOBRFilmBDN) June 9, 2020
▪️70.9 PFF tackle grade: 5th best among all rookie corners (T-25th in NFL).
▪️ 8 "stop" tackles (constitute a "failure" for the offense) 2nd among all rookies. (First in stop %) pic.twitter.com/jQqrxOxWIB
Williams’ coverage grade from Pro Football Focus didn’t fare too well. The issue I recall with him is that while his coverage was tight, he never got his head around to locate the ball. And then, when things got rough, teams could throw heaves downfield to draw a penalty on Williams for getting a little handsy with receivers. Williams is in no danger of missing the roster, but even last year, I advocated for Terrance Mitchell to receive a lot more snaps on the defense. I think this offseason should continue a competition between the two.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. Terrance Mitchell - Backup Cornerback
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 191 lbs | Age: 28
Experience: 7 years | College: Oregon
When the Browns signed Terrance Mitchell in 2018, he was a player who quickly caught my eye. He never lacked confidence and accepted the challenge of being a physical press coverage cornerback. He also showed a good knack for poking/punching the ball out to force fumbles. Last year, when the team drafted Greedy Williams, I thought it would be a loss for the team to just cut off Mitchell’s playing time entirely — why not give both of them reps as an outside corner throughout the season? It didn’t work out that way. Unless Williams was hurt, Mitchell barely played on defense.
For the season, Mitchell finished with 21 tackles, 1 interception, and 3 passes defended. Pro Football Focus had him graded as the team’s second best cornerback, only behind Ward. I’d love to see if Mitchell was good at playing in the slot, but previous staffs haven’t given him that opportunity. I think Williams is the favorite to win the other starting job opposite Ward, but don’t count Mitchell out.
Final Roster Odds: 90%
4. Kevin Johnson - Competing for Nickelback
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 185 lbs | Age: 27
Experience: 6 years | College: Wake Forest
No, the wide receiver has not come back to the NFL to play cornerback — Cleveland signed the new Kevin Johnson this offseason. Johnson was a 1st round pick in 2015 by the Houston Texans, but injuries hurt his career there. He missed 10 games in 2016 due to a broken foot, and then was placed on IR in 2018 for the final 15 games after a concussion.
He signed with the Bills in 2019 and played in all 16 games, registering 33 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 passes defended. Although Johnson doesn’t have a lot of experience as a slot cornerback in the NFL, it seems like Cleveland signed him with the hopes that he can be a factor there and with his versatility.
Kevin Johnson has played a lot of snaps inside & outside in his career. Versatile CB that Browns were lacking since cutting Carrie.— Brendan Leister (@BrendanLeister) March 19, 2020
During 2019 he played 105 snaps covering the slot & 243 outside.
Finished 14th amongst all CBs who played 20% of snaps in coverage grade in 2019.
DBN’s Mike Krupka broke down some film on Johnson and why he figures to be the opening day slot corner:
Kevin Johnson Video Thread Part I— + x (@HawaiiBrownsHui) March 29, 2020
Former 1st round pick in 2015
2019 PFF coverage grade: 73.6
40 targets, 24 receptions, 312 yards 0 TD, 4 PBU, 0 INT
KJ figures to be the opening day starter at Nickel but he's versatile. The hope is he can build upon a strong 2019 #Browns pic.twitter.com/9KI7Wnsl8g
Final Roster Odds: 95%
Who will the Browns’ starting cornerback be besides Denzel Ward?
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Who will be the Browns’ nickel corner?
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