Free agency is an important aspect of any NFL team and can provide a club the ability to fill some glaring holes. But every head coach and general manager is quick to access that the best method to build a proficient caliber team at all positions is through the annual college draft.
The first three rounds of the draft are critical to the success of any franchise. That is not to say that good - or even great - players cannot be found in the later rounds.
However, the first three rounds are vital to the foundation of every NFL club. Each team must hit on those first three players in those vital opening rounds and continue to be successful in subsequent years to build a core nucleus for a successful squad.
Think about it: if the Browns kept all three players from those first three rounds for five consecutive seasons, those 15 players would represent 28 percent of the 53-man roster. And the bonus is that each player would be under 30 years of age. A very solid core indeed. Two more years would make up almost 40 percent.
Defensive tackle Jordan Elliott falls into that 28 percent. He was taken in the third round of the 2020 draft out of Missouri. Last season, he was projected as cracking the starting lineup only to have Malik McDowell edge him out to his normal reserve role.
For this year, Cleveland did not re-sign Malik Jackson and then McDowell was released upon his arrest. Elliott, age 25, benefited and started all 17 games. He played on 703 defensive snaps (64.55%) second only to DE Myles Garrett among all defensive linemen.
His 2022 stats are as follows: 36 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 missed tackle, 8 pressures, 2 sacks, 1 knockdown, 5 hurries, 3 QB hits, and 2 pass defenses.
Elliott’s 2023 salary (including prorated signing bonus) is $1.38 million. He is in the final year of this four-year rookie deal.
Stay or Go?
DT Jordan Elliott
President: Susquehanna Valley Browns Backers
The Browns’ defense had two major problems in 2022. Stopping the run and terrible late-game errors in the defensive backfield. It’s hard to not throw most of the blame on the coaching staff – especially former DC Joe Woods. That problem has been addressed, with the recent hiring of Jim Schwartz as DC. One of his strengths is coaching defensive linemen. That’s a huge plus for the Browns.
The question now is “Where does Jordan Elliott fit in 2023?” The Browns really must “re-size” in the middle of the defensive line. There is a glaring need for one or two-run stuffers. The staff MUST address this in the off-season, or Schwartz will have to work a miracle with the D-line. These guys will likely be playing only on first and second down, or short-yardage situations. An effective run stuffer doesn’t necessarily make a ton of tackles. They’re needed to protect linebackers from downfield linemen and are most effective if they can occupy TWO guys. The Browns have fast and aggressive linebackers, but they’re not very big and cannot fend off linemen that are able to work their way through to the second level.
Right now, Elliott is the biggest of the interior linemen and arguably the most productive, having led the group in tackles. He’ll probably be a swingman. He can play the run, but he won’t eat up two blockers. As such, while he’ll play on early downs occasionally, his real value is in passing situations – second and third-and-long. I expect he’ll be used there more often. That’s where his aggressive gap-shooting style can disrupt opposing quarterbacks and occupy running backs held in to block and keep them from releasing as safety valves. A strong 4-man pass rush with an occasional blitz should allow for more man-to-man coverage, especially on third-and-long. If the DBs only need to cover for two or three seconds, we can get away with two safeties on top or only one, if we need to have Owusu-Koramoah spy the QB.
Schwartz is going to make the call, but adding all of the above to his less-than-$1,400,000 salary, it’s pretty clear to me that Jordan Elliott is a keeper for 2023. If he’s held out of a lot of the early downs, I can see Elliott recording 5 or 6 sacks in 2023. A strong start next season could prompt the Browns to make a move to lock him up for a couple more years since he’s entering Year 4 of his rookie contract and is eligible to become an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2024.
DBN Staff Writer
The fact that Elliott is in the final year of his contract and is being paid just over a million is why the Browns have retained him. Analytics states don’t pay defensive tackles much. Talent-wise is another issue.
Remember how just about every opponent ran all over the Browns this year? Most of that was up the gut. Who plays in the middle? Elliott does. His Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade this year was a paltry 40.4 and ranked 47th in tackles among all defensive tackles in the league. 32 teams times two DTs per starting unit equals 64 guys, so he was in the lower third as far as production. His best game was against Houston where he garnered a 66.4 PFF grade. Well, who doesn’t shine against the Texans?
DC Joe Woods did play Elliott quite a bit, but that does not correlate to outstanding production. A quick review of his stats shows that this athlete will get pushed to the side and not man his gap more often than he is providing minimal running lanes.
Now with Jim Schwartz coming in as the new DC he has a system where he has featured a pair of defensive linemen as his set pieces and then filled in with more than competent players for this group. While with Philadelphia, those two were a DE plus a DT.
Currently, Cleveland has Myles Garrett as one of these two guys. So the big question is who will become the second featured defender? It will be interesting to see how the current group is evaluated or if the other main player is taken in this year’s NFL draft or brought in via free agency to bookend Garrett.
Or, is that player Elliott?