Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry took a sledgehammer to the defensive line during the offseason.
Out are defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn, along with defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi. In are - take a deep breath - defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley, along with defensive tackles Malik Jackson, Sheldon Day, Tommy Togiai, Malik McDowell, Andrew Billings and Damion Square.
Whether or not those changes result in a better output from the defensive line will not be revealed until this fall and there are still questions. Can Clowney stay healthy for a full season for the first time since 2017? Will McKinley finally live up to the potential that made him a first-round draft selection? Has McDowell finally matured? How will Billings play after sitting out last season? Does Jackson have enough left in the tank?
Despite all that uncertainty, optimism is certainly high in Berea for the defensive line, and that optimism is shared to a certain extent by Pro Football Focus, which ranks the Browns defensive line at No. 11 in its latest rankings of the league’s units:
Jadeveon Clowney has seemingly gone from being overrated to underrated in the span of a few seasons. Injuries hindered his impact in stops with Seattle and Tennessee, but he has still been disruptive when healthy. Across the past five seasons, Clowney ranks in the 86th percentile at the position in pass-rushing grade and in the 97th percentile in run-defense grade. Clowney’s presence should keep teams from focusing all of their attention on Myles Garrett, creating more one-on-one opportunities for both players.
Jordan Elliott is a name to watch in his second season out of Missouri. He earned PFF grades of at least 85.0 in each of his final two college seasons and could earn a more prominent role on Cleveland’s defensive line in 2021.
The defensive line will have a different look to it come the fall and hopefully those renovations will provide better results. In addition to some new faces, the line should benefit from an improved secondary, which can make life easier on the pass rushers.
Being ranked at No. 11 might not sound very exciting, but given that Cleveland’s offense should be among the league’s best units, simply being average along the defensive line might be good enough for the Browns.