The Cleveland Browns have made some significant investments into the defensive secondary the past few years.
The NFL Draft brought cornerback Denzel Ward in the first round of 2018, cornerback Greedy Williams in the second round and safety Sheldrick Redwine in the fourth round of 2019, and safety Grant Delpit in the second round of 2020.
Via free agency, the team added cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Terrance Mitchell, and safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, among others.
But the biggest addition may be the scheme that new defensive coordinator Joe Woods is bringing to town.
That may be the biggest takeaway from the rankings of the league’s secondaries by Sam Monson at Pro Football Focus, who puts the Browns at No. 13.
The #Browns secondary is a work in progress, but the biggest impact could come from DC Joe Woods' scheme & coaching. If he works his magic, their DBs are certainly not short on talent, with four former 1st- or 2nd-round picks potentially starting.https://t.co/pXEVWLMZIl— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) July 28, 2020
Individually, Monson starts off with a nice tip of the hat to Ward, who in his first two seasons has allowed just a passer rating of 64.9 when targeted, and who simply needs to stay healthy to stake his claim as one of the league’s best cornerbacks:
Cleveland’s defensive backs have not been put in the best position to succeed in recent years, despite some significant draft capital thrown at the secondary. However, Denzel Ward has still shown some very impressive play. In the NFL, Ward has allowed a 64.9 passer rating when targeted, with fewer than 50% of the passes thrown his way being caught. He has been one of the better man-cover corners in the league and had four games last season with fewer than 20 receiving yards allowed.
Williams is a bit of a different story as opposing quarterbacks were more eager to target him as opposed to Ward in 2019. Williams allowed a passer rating of 91.5 when targeted and came in at No. 108 in PFF’s coverage grade, according to cleveland.com.
But that is where Woods can be a difference maker, according to Monson:
New defensive coordinator Joe Woods will be tasked with further developing Greedy Williams — a second-round draft pick last year. Williams excelled in man coverage in college at LSU, and Woods has extensive experience playing man coverage and matchup coverage shells within his coaching history. Williams struggled as a rookie, allowing a 91.5 passer rating when targeted, but if he can be better supported by the scheme, he could be in line for a major improvement in Year 2.
Monson does not have much to say about the safeties, outside of the fact that there will be competition for playing time:
Safety is an area where the team now has intense competition for playing time, with new faces joining from both free agency and the draft. Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo add veteran experience to the group, while rookie Grant Delpit gets to reunite with his college teammate from LSU a year later. Second-year player Sheldrick Redwine flashed some impressive play as a rookie and will be looking to try and steal playing time, but he may be facing an uphill battle given the investment in more proven or highly-touted options.
The #Browns deployed five DBs on 83.8% of snaps last season, 7.7 percentage points more than any other team. The Vikings, where Kevin Stefanski arrives from, were No. 5 on this list & the 49ers, where DC Joe Woods arrives from, were No. 6.https://t.co/ptTc193xjW— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) July 28, 2020
One of the biggest impacts Woods will have on the secondary may come from the personnel packages he uses.
As Monson points out in a different article, teams used five defensive backs on 55.6 percent of all the defensive snaps last season, and packages featuring six defensive backs are growing in popularity.
No team used five defensive backs more in 2019 than the Browns, who deployed that personnel grouping on 83.8 percent of their defensive snaps. Interestingly, both Woods (San Francisco 49ers at No. 6) and head coach Kevin Stefanski (Minnesota Vikings at No. 5) were with teams that joined the Browns in favoring five defensive backs last season.
With the Browns linebacker situation currently ... unsettled ... it should come as no surprise to see the Browns employing five or six defensive backs more often than not under Woods.
The Browns have built a nice group of young and talented players in the secondary and Woods might prove to be the key to helping that talent maximize its potential.