The focus for the Cleveland Browns this offseason has been simple: Improve the defensive line and add weapons for the offense. The big, shiny parts of the NFL have been under the microscope for GM Andrew Berry and he has come out swinging starting with the hiring of DC Jim Schwartz and the signing drafting and trading for both defensive linemen and pass catchers.
While those areas, along with what version of QB Deshaun Watson, will get the attention, the development of younger players on the roster will also be important. With draft picks traded away from the last two seasons, third-round selections CB Martin Emerson and WR Cedric Tillman lead each draft class.
Pro Football Focus named Emerson the Browns “breakout candidate” for 2023:
Another rookie cornerback, Emerson played a significant role for the Browns all season, as he finished the year with the seventh-most snaps among first-year cornerbacks. And he also quietly put together an impressive season. He earned a 72.5 PFF grade, which ranked 23rd among cornerbacks, and he forced an incompletion on 20% of the passes into his coverage, the ninth-best rate at the position.
It will be interesting how Schwartz uses his cornerbacks this season. Denzel Ward leads the way on the outside while Greg Newsome II has bristled at only being used on the inside under Joe Woods last season. It is possible that Schwartz is more creative to allow his corners to mostly follow receivers whom they match up best with.
For Cleveland’s secondary, Emerson’s size provides a different dynamic. A physical, aggressive corner, he can help take away some of the taller threats on the outside.
With a better defensive line and more use of man coverage, Emerson will truly have a chance to break out this season with more pass breakups. He may not get national recognition at the end of the season as interceptions are more likely in zone coverage than man but that lack of recognition won’t matter if the Browns defense is as upgraded as we think.
Who do you think the Browns top “breakout candidate” is in 2023?