The linebacker group for the Cleveland Browns this year is almost the same roster as in 2022. The familiar nameplates remain such as Anthony Walker, JOK, Sione Takitaki, Jacob Phillips, Tony Fields II, and Jordan Kunaszyk.
Gone are Deion Jones and Tae Davis, but in their stead is special teams ace Matthew Adams, and two undrafted free agent rookies in Mohamond Diabate and Charlie Thomas III.
Who are these three guys? And do any have a chance at being a 2023 roster member?
Adams was signed in free agency from the Chicago Bears but previously played for the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, he is listed as a linebacker and has had some defensive snaps in the past, but his specialty is as a special teams demon.
Cleveland brought in Bubba Ventrone to be their new special teams coach this year. Ventrone was a former Browns special teams ace himself, so he knows a thing or two about what works and what areas need to become ramped up.
Ventrone’s units with the Colts were often Top-5 in the league. He did not come to Cleveland to under perform or not have the right personnel in place in order to dominate this aspect of the NFL game. He elevates every position from punter to kicker to long snapper to gunners to blocking patterns to kick blockage prevention.
So, Adams (6’-0”, 229 pounds) came over five weeks after Ventrone was signed. Basically, he is Ventrone’s secret weapon – and security blanket. He has 81 special teams tackles in four seasons. Anytime a player makes more than 15 tackles in s single season on punt and kickoff returns it is considered successful. Adams had 26 tackles just last year alone.
While playing for Ventrone and the Colts, Adams tallied 351 special teams snaps in 2021 for 79.05% of special teams snaps and had a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 90.8. There is abundant trust between Adams and Ventrone. Last year’s greatest snap gatherer for the Browns was Kunaszyk who had 317 snaps (71.4%). Other key contributors to this unit in 2022 were D’Ernest Johnson, Fields, D’Anthony Bell, Takitaki, A.J. Green, and Ronnie Harrison.
The Browns signed Adams and Kunaszyk, plus CB Mike Ford, Jr. specifically to help special teams. Makes no sense to bring in a coach of Ventrone’s credentials and then not stock his units with a particular breed of talent.
When the last cut down list is being hashed out, you can bet that Ventrone will be fighting for Adams to make the final roster. GM Andrew Berry signed him knowing his value on special teams, and that Adams would generally be limited to those snaps unless a repeat of last year occurs with all the injuries.
The expectations for this group in 2023 are high. Ventrone will place his stamp on this unit and continue to become one of the league’s best. Adams was supposed to be his starting point.
#Browns Stefanski said LB Matt Adams will be out for weeks with a calf injury. He’s in a boot— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) July 27, 2023
But recently, Adams suffered a calf injury, left practice with the trainer and was later seen in a walking boot. His prognosis is to miss several weeks of practice.
He is already viewed as a specialist. Now, his reps are limited as well as his amount of time to prove to this coaching staff his worth.
Diabate (6’-3”, 221 pounds) grew up in Auburn, Alabama but attended Florida before graduating from the University of Utah. For his college career, he had 228 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, one interception, 24 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and two batted passes. His senior year was the most productive with 58 tackles and five sacks.
He went undrafted in the 2023 NFL draft despite having a sixth-round projection accessed on him. He runs a 4.52 in the 40, has a vertical jump of 34” and a broad jump of 132”.
Diabate (pronounced MAH-mood DEE-ah-BAH-tay) has 29 college starts and is an every-down linebacker. He can go sideline to sideline with quickness and is very athletic. He possesses decent coverage skills and can stay with running backs, but the larger larger tight ends give him fits.
A stout tackler, he doesn’t allow many yards after the initial hit. He also has decent closing burst and sack abilities. His best attribute is he is a very good run defender.
The knock on him is his pursuit angles aren’t always the best routes. He also has an issue with shedding blocks from much larger offensive linemen, plus when plays flow out wide he should play more with agility and can be slow to get into pursuit speed. He also has limited instincts. Overall, he is a much better run defender and pass rusher than he is in coverage.
The Browns need linebackers who are good against the run. A good portion of Diabate’s college tackles were for loss of yardage.
Diabate is a Muslim who is strong in his faith. He is the son of immigrants from Mali in West Africa in 1988. At age 15, he had a temperature of 104 which in the end acknowledged he wasn’t as devout as he could’ve been at the time. He was able to sit down for a whole week in bed and just think about how his life was going and if football would still be a part of it. Diabate realized that football was temporary and he had to get stronger to do something that was not temporary. Something that was everlasting, and that was religion and Allah.
Is he a developmental player? Yes. Can he make this final roster? Again, yes.
A look at several final 53-man roster projections have him making the team: Jared Mueller with Dawgs By Nature and Matthew Peterson of Browns Report. Others have him being cut, and then assigned to the practice squad such as Zac Jackson of The Athletic, Chris Easterling from the Akron Beacon-Journal, and Cleveland.com’s Dan Labbe.
Charlie Thomas III
Thomas (6’-2”, 207 pounds) comes to the Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent from Georgia Tech. He was an outstanding high school safety for Thomasville (Georgia) High School. He was named Two Time All-Region and Two Time All-State. He runs a 4.6 in the 40 and also played for the school’s basketball team. He squats 400 pounds with a bench of 250 pounds.
He is also a very intelligent man and was a member of the National Honor Society. His Twitter handle is @L3G3ND_25 while you can find him on Instagram at @charlie_.thomas.
The college offers poured in from Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Missouri, Georgia State, Western Kentucky, Colorado State, Florida State, South Alabama, Tulane, and Troy. He chose to remain in-state and attend Georgia Tech.
The coaching staff at Tech switched him from safety to outside linebacker. Thomas made six starts as a true freshman and played in all 10 games. In the next two seasons, he tallied seven starts but played in every game. He showed great versatility playing a wide variety of positions such as defensive back, linebacker, and even defensive line over the course of the season.
COVID provided an extra season. In his junior year, he made eight starts at linebacker and was named Honorable Mention All-ACC. In his senior year, now his fifth season, he started every game with 112 tackles, two sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions. He was named Third Team All-ACC.
In his college career, Thomas recorded 313 tackles (37 being for a loss), seven forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 10 sacks, four interceptions, and five pass deflections.
He graduated from Georgia Tech in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and while he pursues his NFL dream, Thomas has plans for graduate studies in history, technology, and society as well as graduate school to pursue an MBA.