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What are the Browns options on replacing Anthony Walker?

Middle linebacker position has a vacancy

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Very, very sad news about Browns MLB Anthony Walker with the torn quad tendon in his left leg. He injured it in the Thursday Night victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and after an MRI the quadriceps tendon tear was revealed for the six-year veteran. Just a horrible injury to a team-first guy who was having a terrific season.

Walker is now ruled out for the year.


Before the game against the Steelers, Walker was listed in the Top-10 of defensive players in the league on the Pro Football Focus grading system with a 90.8 rating. His stats for the year included 13 total tackles, four tackles for loss, 3 starts and two batted passes. The Browns defensive captain has had three seasons where he has had over 100 tackles including 113 last year.

In the same game, JOK was injured but is expected to return. His PFF grade also ranked him in the Top-10 at 91.4 giving Cleveland two linebackers in the upper echelon of defenders.

So, with the news that Walker is out for the year, now what? What are the Browns’ options?

Current roster

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Jacob Phillips

When the Browns selected Jacob Phillips out of LSU in the third round in 2020, they knew he was a productive middle linebacker with speed who could make plays from sideline-to-sideline.

Like most other rookies who are defensive players, he played mainly on special teams but did make an appearance in nine games with three starts. At times he was sidelined with knee issues. Phillips had 25 total tackles, one batted pass, one tackle for loss, one QB hit and well, not much else. It was a learning curve year for the young man.

Phillips (6’-3”, 229 pounds) did take a detour along his journey. In just his second year with Cleveland, he had a biceps injury just as the season was about to unfold when he reached out to grab a passing player. That placed him on IR to which he missed the first 12 games. . His sophomore season was supposed to become his contributor year and yet it wasn’t with the biceps issue. That abbreviated year Phillips netted just 17 tackles and two tackles for loss.

One thing for certain: Phillips is completely healthy and has bulked up quite a bit. His natural position is in the middle.

During training camp Walker was sidelined with a groin injury to which Phillips got all of the first team defensive reps as the MIKE linebacker.

Phillips played on 123 defensive snaps last year good enough for 10.98% of defensive plays. He also had 24 special teams snaps (5.65%).

During the off-season, Phillips got with the trainers and remained in the area. The result was added muscle to his lean frame plus he is now on a plant-based diet.

The added weight makes him appear beefier which leans towards an imposing physique. Basically, he has re-built his body. But the added bulk has not affected his speed. What it should do is increase his stamina during games plus the hope that his tackling abilities will provide quite a bit more punch.

During the off-season as well as training camp, Phillips was in every meeting and knows exactly what the defense is doing. To play that MIKE linebacker role, you have to know what you’re doing inside and out because you’re directing traffic oftentimes. Phillips became a student of the game. The big question now is, is he ready to become the full time starter?

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Sione Takitaki

Takitaki (6’-1”, 238 pounds) came to the Browns in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft out of BYU where he played middle linebacker. As a four-year starter and captain of the defense he had 237 career tackles with 32.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.

While with Cleveland he has established himself as a special teams demon, but plays sparingly on the regular defense. He does have 22 NFL starts and 137 total tackles to date.

Through the first two games he graded out at 80.7 on PFF, fourth highest on the Browns roster. He can be physical and is very good dropping back in coverage. His contract comes up after this year and the talk is whether an extension is eminent for the under-appreciated linebacker.

Takitaki has been a steady presence on the defense but to date has been a situational role player. With the fact that DC Joe Woods plays a lot of 4-2-5, this eliminates Takitaki in favor of another cornerback or safety. He did manage to play 285 defensive snaps last season.

He can be a disruptor in the run game and has graded out fairly well in this aspect. He is better dropping back in coverage of the tight end with a respectable 73.4 PFF grade last year.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Kunaszyk

Originally undrafted in 2019 after a fine career at American River College and then California, Kunaszyk (6’-3”, 235 pounds) was named First Team All Pac-12 and Second Team All-American after registering 143 tackles his final year at Cal. He spent time with Carolina and Washington before coming to Cleveland. He is a devout Christian with plans to become a pastor once his football career is over.

Kunaszyk has played in 29 NFL games with zero starts in four seasons. He has 16 total tackles and not much else as far as stats. After landing on the practice squad, he was one of two players the Browns would make active for games and then elevated him permanently September 21.

He is known as a film junky and studies all the time. His 40 time of 4.82 is a negative but is a hard worker and hustles non-stop.

Free agents

NFL: Denver Broncos at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. Johnson – Denver, age 30

Johnson (6’-2”, 255 pounds) was with Denver for four years and has 249 total tackles with 34 NFL starts and 4.5 sacks. He tore a pectoral last year in Week 6 and the club never re-signed him. Had 124 tackles for a full season in 2020. Despite dipping into his 30’s Johnson is an excellent linebacker.

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Joe Schobert - Denver, age 28

Schobert (6’-1”, 240 pounds) was a tackling machine when he played for Cleveland from 2013-2019. He was allowed to sign elsewhere as an analytics release with a huge contract looming, which he got from Jacksonville. He was with Denver this year but has since been waived.

While with Cleveland, Schobert had 408 total tackles including leading the league in 2017 with 144, his only Pro Bowl. Not a big sack guy and will miss some tackles, but will make many more and would help this defense.

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Dont’a Hightower - New England, age 32

The seasoned veteran for New England in now on the other side of 30 and has some miles on him, but remains in good physical condition and is a player. Taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, Hightower has won three Super Bowls with two Pro Bowls and named Second Team All-Pro in 2018.

He has 569 career total tackles with 114 NFL starts, 27 sacks plus 43 tackles for loss. Would be a leader in the locker room and a veteran presence on the field. Was a 2020 opt-out, but had 64 tackles last year and started every game.


What do you think is the best method to replace Anthony Walker?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Jacob Phillips
    (711 votes)
  • 2%
    Sione Takitaki
    (30 votes)
  • 1%
    Jordan Kunaszyk
    (12 votes)
  • 22%
    Bring back Joe Schobert
    (253 votes)
  • 9%
    Sign another free agent linebacker
    (101 votes)
1107 votes total Vote Now