Back in 2020, the Cleveland Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens and hired Kevin Stefanski away from the Minnesota Vikings. Then, Andrew Berry was brought back to Cleveland to become their new general manager in place of the departed John Dorsey.
At the time, the squad was in dire need of both offensive tackles, a backup quarterback, another stud pass rusher, outside linebacker help, plus safety. OT Jedrick Wills was taken in the first round. In Round 2, Berry selected S Grant Delpit out of LSU.
Delpit was the third safety taken behind Xavier McKinney and Kyle Dugger. The very next pick after Delpit was Antoine Winfield, Jr. going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The scouting report on Delpit was that he was an aggressive striker with good upside who had a willingness to rush in. He never had an issue with hitting but he had tackling inconsistencies. While at LSU, he was a two-time All-SEC selection, named Unanimous All-American, was a national champion, and won both the Jack Tatum Trophy and the Jim Thorpe Award (for top defensive back).
Delpit was hurt his entire rookie season in Cleveland with an Achilles tendon tear. When he did return, he had a knack for coverage but wasn’t very good at tackling whatsoever. He not only missed tackles, but when he did engage, he either would grab a player’s waist and attempt to sling him down or would jump on shoulder pads and ride the player for additional yardage. As his seasons rolled along, this was a constant.
In his first full season in 2021, Delpit had 66 total tackles with nine missed tackles which calculated to 12% of attempted tackles.
All the while, Winfield was having a great career early having been named to the PFWA NFL All-Rookie Team, made the Pro Bowl in 2021, and helped Tampa win a Super Bowl. With Delpit injured early and not being a solid tackler, there was a lot of chatter that Cleveland had picked the wrong dude.
However, during the bye week last season, Delpit was shown how to tackle low and affect the player’s legs in order to bring him down. This process worked, and towards the end of last year, he became one of the team’s best tacklers.
Last year, Delpit finished with 105 total tackles which placed him 47th in the league. Again, he missed nine tackles but his miss percentage was just 7.9%. This season, Delpit is tied with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in team tackles with 21, but more importantly, he has missed just two tackles. He also leads the team in interceptions (1).
This has all the markings of a breakout season for Delpit.
Browns’ new DC this year Jim Schwartz, puts a lot of emphasis on the safety play and prefers the free safety and strong safety play their natural positions but likes the versatility that Delpit brings in being able to play box, strong safety, or even linebacker.
The results have been excellent for Delpit as he is currently the fourth highest-graded safety this season with an overall Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 85.1. As Schwartz has utilized him in different locations for exceptional matchups, his coverage grade is 87.9.
Delpit is also now known as one of the team’s best tacklers especially in run support.
According to PFF, he is allowing just four yards per reception with his coverage and then has allowed only minimal yards after the catch. His 4.52 speed in the 40 is one of the tools that allow him to recover well.
So far under Schwartz, Delpit has been asked to zone cover, work the box, cover tight ends, blitz, cover receivers, and help with run support. He has also been asked to shut down some very good receivers. In Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, his man was Tee Higgins, their WR2. In the past two seasons, Higgins had gained 2,110 yards with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. With Delpit’s coverage, Higgins gained a mere 19 yards.
2023 is also Delpit’s contract year. As a rookie, he had inked a four-year deal for $7.465 million with $3.938 guaranteed and a $2.989 signing bonus. His base salary this season is $1.628 million.
This year, Delpit is taking the next step forward. A lot of safeties that garner interceptions are usually stationed in the box. But Delpit already has one pick and missed two other opportunities. He has five defensive stops, good enough for sixth in the league. And so far, he has zero defensive penalties. He also has one fumble recovery, one QB hit, one tackle for loss, and has come close to several sacks.
Delpit is trending as one of the best safeties in the NFL. And this comes from a position that Berry brought in prized free agent Juan Thornhill from the Kansas City Chiefs, and then signed veteran Rodney McLeod. Before training camp began, there were whispers if there was going to be room for Delpit with all the safety talent in the group.
And now that the season is four games old, Delpit has played 211 snaps or 97.59% of defensive plays. No other safety has played that much: Thornhill 72.22%, McLeod 47.69%, Hickman 4.63%, and Bell 2.31%. In fact, no other defender has played more snaps.
Grant Delpit in coverage this season:— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) September 28, 2023
89 coverage snaps
8 receptions allowed
22 yards allowed
Is Delpit possibly the best safety in the league? There really isn’t an argument that he is. Atlanta Falcons’ safety Jesse Bates is currently the standard for excellence. But as the season unfolds, it is assumed that the gap will decrease.
There is no doubt that Delpit has emerged as one of Cleveland’s defensive bright spots this year. And with him being in his final year, what should the Browns do?
Extend his contract. When? Last week.
Schwartz has basically unleashed the elite talent that was resting inside Delpit. No other player in the defensive backfield has taken more strides than Delpit this year.
He is being used with his versatility with most of this time used as an overhang linebacker. He now can exploit certain matchups in coverage and with his 6’-3” frame has been able to unleash his aggressive nature in the tackling game.
Offensive coordinators must now game plan for Delpit while opposing quarterbacks must identify his presence as he comes to the line of scrimmage. He has truly given Schwartz the flexibility needed for the back end of the defense.
Berry’s game plan going forward needs to be to lock this talented defender sooner rather than later.