The Browns will have three new defensive linemen this year. Did you notice?
DT Larry Ogunjobi was allowed to sign elsewhere and took a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. DE Olivier Vernon wasn’t re-signed, and is currently unemployed. DE Adrian Clayborn was waived March 9. And DT Sheldon Richardson was expected to be back, but was cut the day after Cleveland signed DE Jadeveon Clowney as a key free agent acquisition.
That leaves DE Myles Garrett as the only defensive line starter from the 2020 playoff season. Before free agency and the NFL draft, the only other players on the roster were DE’s Joe Jackson, Curtis Weaver and Cameron Malveaux and DT Andrew Billings. GM Andrew Berry has been busy in an attempt to replenish this group.
First, DE Porter Gustin was tendered. Next, DE Takk McKinley was signed on the second day of free agency. Five days later, DT Malik Jackson was signed. Then on April 14, Clowney and DT Sheldon Day were brought into the fold as Gustin signed his exclusive rights deal.
Next up: draft day 2021. Ohio State DT Tommy Togiai was taken in the fourth-round. Not to be content, Berry then inked free agent veterans Malik McDowell and Damion Square on May 3 and 4, respectively. And on the Monday after the draft, Florida State DT Marvin Wilson and DE Romeo McKnight out of Charlotte were signed as undrafted free agents.
This tabulates to eight defensive ends plus eight defensive tackles - not that some (or most) of these players cannot play either inside or outside. In fact, Weaver is currently being slotted at linebacker.
Plus, isn’t there rumors that Richardson is tabulated to return to the roster?
Scouting reports and the draft
Prior to the NFL draft, DT Tommy Togiai (6’-2”, 300 pounds) was ranked as the third best defensive tackle in this year’s group behind Levi Onwuzurike of Washington and Alabama’s Christian Barmore while Marvin Wilson (6’-4”, 303 pounds) was ranked 11th.
The Draft Network gave this scouting report on Wilson:
“Marvin Wilson was a highly-touted high school recruit and had exciting flashes of next-level potential throughout his time at Florida State. He aligned primarily on the interior for the Seminoles but played some 5-technique in 2020. His best fit at the next level comes for an even front defense that features him on passing downs where he illustrates good hand usage, quickness, and urgency when rushing the quarterback. Wilson is a capable run defender but has some issues with anchoring and contact balance due to a top-heavy frame and narrow lower body. It’s apparent that Wilson has natural athleticism and power, but his body composition and playing with inconsistent leverage rob him of those qualities. He would be well-served to clean up his frame to allow his natural gifts to shine with more consistency. It’s clear that Wilson can take another step forward and develop into a balanced defender that is a featured part of an NFL defensive line rotation if everything comes together.”
Having said all that, Wilson was basically considered a rotational defensive tackle at the next level. Togiai was projected to be drafted in Round 3 while Wilson had a 5-6 round prediction. When it was all over, Togiai was selected in the fourth-round by the Browns while Wilson went undrafted.
Here is Togiai’s scouting report on Pro Football Network:
“Quick, explosive interior lineman who plays like a strong 3-technique tackle. Fires off the snap with a great first step and plays with excellent lean and proper pad level. Gets leverage on opponents, moves well laterally, and pursues the play down the line of scrimmage or outside the box. Works his hands throughout the play, jolts blockers with a violent punch, and knocks them back off the ball. Consistently doubled by opponents in the middle of the line. Lacks bulk and gets tied up in blocks too often. Turned in just one year of big-time production for Ohio State before turning pro.”
So, basically Togiai had just one good year.
So why exactly is an article being dedicated to these two players if: a) one is an undrafted free agent that apparently nobody wanted, b) the other dude is a one-hit wonder, and c) together they are two defensive tackles in a room of eight when traditionally the Browns only keep four on the final roster.
Glad you asked.
To start at the end sometimes you have to start at the beginning. Let’s take a look at each player’s history and development that enabled them to get into Browns training camp.
Togiai grew up in Pocatello, Idaho where not much ever happens. But he was a big guy very soon and while playing for Highland High School, he ballooned to 295 pounds. He was rated a four-star recruit, the fourth best defensive tackle prospect in the nation and named the Idaho State Journal 2017 Football Player-of-the-Year regardless of position. In his career, he had 93 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles plus an interception while Highland captured two 5A State Championships in three seasons.
His final play as a high school football player came on a fourth-and-one play with 26 seconds remaining in the State Championship Game holding a slim 14-8 lead. Togiai came up with the sack that sealed the win.
For his efforts that year, he was named the Gatorade Football Player-of-the-Year for the State of Idaho. Then he accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
“In all the years I’ve coached, Tommy Togiai is the best I’ve seen,” said his high school coach, Gino Mariani as quoted from the Gatorade honor. “He has great technique, size and ability, and he plays from sideline-to-sideline. He splits double and triple-teams. He’s demonstrated abilities I’ve never seen before.”
Idaho is quite a few miles from Columbus, Ohio, but Ohio State found him and signed him to an offer.
On Togiai’s official visit to Columbus, he and his parents Tala and Jodi had seats at Ohio Stadium against Oklahoma who was quarterbacked by Baker Mayfield. They tailgated and roamed the streets before the game, a 31-16 Oklahoma victory. On the plane ride home, despite having other official visits scheduled to Michigan, USC, Penn State and Oregon, Togiai had decided Ohio State is where he wanted to be.
“Ohio State was the school to beat from that point on,” Jodi Togiai explained. “We knew the visit went well. I had to build their trust and make sure that was the right place for him. It took me a little longer to make sure what they were saying was true.”
In his freshman year at OSU, he arrived as a man-child and actually played in 12 games and netted 10 tackles. He started the next two seasons and had 39 total tackles with three sacks. Last year he was named Second Team All-Big 10. Unfortunately, he was forced to miss the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship because of protocols involving COVID-19.
Wilson is a Texan. And Texans know a thing or two about football.
He played for Episcopal High School in Bellaire, Texas as the youngest of four children. His older brother Jonathan is handicapped, so Wilson grew up learning patience. struggles and the never-ending ability to stay the course despite obstacles. Wilson is very close to his mother Syble Ned.
Wilson was a standout athlete and an award-winning poet. By the time his senior season rolled around, he was rated a five-star recruit. During his high school career he racked up 71 tackles for loss and 42 sacks. No, that is not a misprint.
There was a laundry list of colleges who wanted him to play at their school including LSU, Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oklahoma, to name a few.
He claims he chose Florida State because of head coach Jimbo Fisher, but word is out that during his official visit they served him a recipe of honey fried chicken which is only served after a win to FSU coaches, players, support staff and their families. But Fisher has made it a standard for incoming recruits.
“The best meal I had by far was when I was at Florida State,” Wilson said as quoted in the Tallahassee Democrat. “They had this thing called ‘honey fried chicken.’ I was like, ‘that sounds kinda suspect,’ so you know I got like one piece. I bit into that one piece of chicken and went and grabbed the pan and put it on the table. We killed that whole pan of honey fried chicken. That’s probably the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life.”
That recipe has grabbed fame as the tool needed to snare the highly-recruited Wilson who was elected captain two seasons at FSU. He had a solid career with 42 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss his sophomore year. In his junior campaign, he had 44 tackles with five sacks and showed consistency as a run stopper who could also apply pressure into the pocket.
At this point, Wilson was projected to be a second or third-round pick coming out of his junior year, but decided to remain in school.
Going back to Florida State for his senior season was a mistake. His numbers were down before suffering a season-ending leg injury that netted him playing only six-games in which he had only 17 tackles and one sack.
Undrafted a deterrent?
Not so fast. Remember Pittsburgh Steelers’ LB James Harrison? He haunted the Browns for years, yet wasn’t drafted. And there have been others throughout the course of NFL lore: QB Tony Romo, WR Victor Cruz, RB Arian Foster, WR Drew Pearson, OG Larry Little, K Adam Vinatieri, DB Donnie Shell, TE Antonio Gates, CB Willie Wood, QB Warren Moon, CB Emlen Tunnell, and QB Kurt Warner, to name a few.
After last year’s NFL draft, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper put out a “way too early” Top-10 draft “watch list” prior to the pandemic year of 2020 (see chart below). QB Trevor Lawrence from Clemson was ranked Number 1, but look who Kiper had listed as Number 9.
Coming out of his junior year, Wilson was perceived as a very valuable defensive lineman who could change the outlook of any defensive scheme. So the fact that he went undrafted does not mean he can’t find his place with Cleveland - this chart kinda swings towards the other way.
After this year’s draft, now-undrafted free agent Wilson had numerous offers from multiple clubs. Cleveland won a tense bidding war for Wilson, considered one of the top players to not hear his name called in the seven-round draft. According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, Wilson was inked to an unusually huge rookie free-agent deal that included a $30,000 signing bonus plus $162,000 in guaranteed base salary. For being undrafted, those numbers are gigantic and a rarity.
But it isn’t like the current Browns’ roster doesn’t have its share of guys who went undrafted out of college: TE Stephen Carlson, OG Blake Hance, QB Case Keenum, S Jovante Moffatt, LS Charley Hughlett, RB D’Ernest Johnson, WR KhaDarel Hodge, WR Alexander Holllins, TE Kyle Markway, C Anthony Fabiano, K Cody Parkey, OT Alex Taylor, DE Porter Gustin, P Jamie Gillan, OT Chris Hubbard, CB Robert Jackson, KR JoJo Natson, S Elijah Benton, WR Ja’Marcus Bradley, TE Jordan Franks, OG Cordel Iwuagwu, CB A.J. Green, DE Cameron Malveaux, LB Montrel Meander, FB Johnny Stanton, and WR Derrick Willies.
Yes, this list contains the majority of athletes assigned to last season’s practice squad, but there are several names listed that were members of the 2020 53-man roster and some even start or provide key roles.
Future of the Browns
Both Togiai and Wilson represent where the Browns wish to grow into for the long-term. Each is young, are high-character and had productive college careers.
They also bring into the fold another aspect of GM Andrew Berry’s plan: they play a position that is not highly-regarded financially within the organization.
Cleveland is a heavy analytics team. And analytics push Berry to pay the starting quarterback, star-caliber receivers, both offensive tackles, productive pass rushers and shut-down cornerbacks all day long without question. However, every other position is viewed as interchangeable parts which require lesser pay.
Heavy analytics is the complex process of examining big data to unveil information that will help organizations make informed business decisions. The Browns are one of those organizations. The data reveals information that allows Cleveland to come up with an effective strategy that hopefully will allow them a competitive advantage over other NFL clubs.
And some of that discovered strategy is not the most popular. That is why the big contracts that are doled out are to players at only certain positions.
The franchise did not think twice about letting Sheldon Richardson go despite being a very good run stopper. He was signed by then-GM John Dorsey to a three-year deal for $37 million with an average salary of $12.33 million per season. That was before analytics was even a word uttered by the organization. He was cut with one year left on that contract.
But analytics says to not pay premium salaries to certain positions – such as defensive tackle. Either sign a seasoned veteran to one-year deals for minimal money, or bring in young guys who are drafted in mid-to-late rounds or even undrafted; and then pay those guys to fight over who will start in actual games.
And so far, that theory is clearly visible in black-and-white: Jordan Elliott third-round ($1.147 million annually), Togiai fourth-round, in addition to the undrafted Wilson who signed for $192,000. Plus, every veteran defensive tackle is currently signed to one-year deals: Malik Jackson $3.75M, Andrew Billings $3.5M, Damion Square $1.75M, Sheldon Day $990,000, while Malik McDowell’s one-year contract amount is still undisclosed.
Togiai, Wilson and Elliott represent the future of the defensive tackle position on the field for the Browns.
And, also on payday.