It took two years of trying, but Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry finally landed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney this offseason.
The pairing of Clowney with Myles Garrett gives the Browns a solid foundation at the position, one that the team hopes will push them one step closer to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance.
Garrett and Clowney are also two of the league’s top 32 defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus’ preseason positional rankings.
Garrett finds himself at the top of almost every significant pass-rush grade category since entering the league as the No.1 overall pick back in 2017. He ranks in the 98th percentile in pass-rushing grade, pass-rush grade on true pass sets and pass-rush grade without play action. Garrett is one of the position’s best athletes and can win his individual matchups in various ways. He will enter the 2021 season with another former No. 1 overall pick across from him on the defensive line in Cleveland, as well.
Clowney’s stock across the league is seemingly at a low point as he comes off two injury-limited seasons with Seattle and Tennessee. It’s worth remembering that Clowney is still one of the most disruptive edge defenders in the league when healthy, though. He has been a 95th-percentile run defender at the position since 2014 and put up pass-rushing grades of 75.0 or higher for the first time in his career in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The key for Cleveland will be keeping him healthy on what appears to be a much-improved defense following this offseason.
As long as Clowney can stay healthy, the Browns should be able to cause some issues for opposing offenses from the defensive end position, especially if Takkarist McKinley and Curtis Weaver, among others, can provide some quality depth.
Unfortunately, the situation is not as stout along the interior of the defensive line, where no one from the extensively rebuilt position group lands in PFF’s rankings of the top 32 players at the position. (Although old friend Sheldon Richardson, who is currently a free agent, checks in at No. 31.)
There are, however, several names on the list that the Browns are going to have to contend with this season: Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 2); Cameron Hayward (No. 3), Stephon Tuitt (No. 11) and Tyson Alualu (No. 29), all of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Kenny Clark of the Green Bay Packers (No. 8); Calais Campbell of the Baltimore Ravens (No. 10); Akiem Hicks of the Chicago Bears (No. 15); Dalvin Tomlinson (No. 17) and Michael Pierce (No. 26) of the Minnesota Vikings; Shelby Harris of the Denver Broncos (No. 18); and D.J. Reader of the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 21).
Good thing for the Browns that they have the league’s best offensive line, including a pair of top 10 guards in Joel Bitonio (No. 4 in the PFF rankings) and Wyatt Teller (No. 9), and center JC Tretter (No. 4) to deal with those interior defenders on a weekly basis.