clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL offseason: Who will become the most significant new player for the Browns this year?

Our experts debate what NFL free agent move, NFL draft pick or trade acquisition will make the biggest impact

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns knew that a 7-10-0 season wasn’t going to cut it. Head coach Kevin Stefanski was NFL Coach of the Year in his first season of 2020. That squad went 10-6-0 and broke a 19-year playoff drought, then defeated division foe Pittsburgh Steelers in their first playoff game and won and then had a shot at knocking off the Kansas City Chiefs.

After a stellar first season at the helm, Stefanski’s teams have gone 8-9-0 and then last year’s seven-win season. New coaching staffs are supposed to do the opposite: begin with minimal wins, and then build until they finally have a good team that can compete for the division title and make a playoff run.

So far, the team of GM Andrew Berry and coach Stefanski have done the exact opposite. This much is certain: if it’s another sub-par year, heads will roll.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
Maurice Hurst
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Berry has done his best to correct some very glaring needs this off-season. First and foremost was the abysmal condition of the defensive tackle group. Free agent Dalvin Tomlinson was signed away from the Minnesota Vikings. Trysten Hill and Maurice Hurst were also signed during free agency. Siaki “Apu” Ika was drafted in the third round out of Baylor University. Michael Dwunfour was signed to a reserve/futures contract during the winter.

Several defensive ends have been brought in including Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, undrafted free agent rookie Lonnie Phelps from Kansas University, fourth-round rookie Isiah McGuire of Missouri, and Za’Darius Smith who Berry got in a trade with the Vikings.

At linebacker, Berry signed undrafted free agent rookie Mohamoud Diabate plus former Indianapolis Colts special teams ace Matthew Adams.

In the defensive secondary, Berry was very busy gathering talent to compete for roster spots. He signed three safeties in Juan Thornhill, Rodney McLeod, and undrafted rookie free agent Ronnie Hickman. Cornerbacks brought in include rookie free agents Caleb Biggers and Cameron Mitchell, plus free agents Mike Ford and Chris Westry.

On offense, receiver Elijah Moore was obtained in a trade with the New York Jets, Marquise Goodwin was inked during free agency, and Cedric Tillman was a third-round pick from the University of Tennessee.

Along the offensive line, two rookies were drafted, both from Ohio State: OT Dawand Jones, and center prospect Luke Wypler. OG’s Colby Gossett and Wes Martin were signed in free agency along with OT Hunter Thedford.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
Nate McCrary
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

At quarterback, the Browns brought back Josh Dobbs and drafted Dorian Thompson-Robinson out of UCLA in the fifth round. TE Jordan Akins was signed away from the Houston Texans to compete as he rejoins Deshaun Watson, his former QB.

With the running back group, the new players are undrafted rookie free agent Hassan Hall of Georgia Tech and free agent Nate McCrary.

That is a lot of new bodies. So, we wondered out loud because that is what we do sometimes, which of these new guys at the end of the 2023 season will be the most successful? Who will become the most significant to which every Browns fan will declare that Berry hit the jackpot on that player?

Here at DBN, we love a good debate. We assembled a bevy of talented qualified Browns’ writers to take on this subject and submit their favorite to be this year’s best new player.

WR Elijah Moore

Jake Amstel

President: Browns Backers with a Twist - Cleveland, Ohio


Elijah Moore will be the most significant on the Browns’ offense in 2023. Moore brings unique speed that will best fit the offense in several roles. Deshaun Watson’s ability to scramble and keep the play alive will allow Moore to use his speed and improvise to get open. Moore will be able to be used for big plays and attacking the soft spots of the defense as Amari Cooper will play the tactician role.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Look for Moore to be used as an alternative to the run game. With Kareem Hunt no longer on the team, Nick Chubb will still need rest and Moore can be used in a variety of ways to spell Chubb. Moore’s speed can be used for an end-around and screens. Moore will also be used for fake end-arounds and moving prior to the snap to shift the defense and open up lanes for Chubb.

Moore will be the most significant new player on the Browns’ offense in 2023 due to his versatility benefiting multiple areas.

S Juan Thornhill

EZ Weav

DBN Staff

I went with Juan Thornhill for tangible and intangible reasons. It made sense to move on from John Johnson, as he was sort of a mismatch for what we’re about to be doing (as well as what we had him do while here). So we needed to get a more traditional free safety for the (presumptive) increase in single-high stuff our new defense figures to feature with regularity.

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

Now I’m not going to pretend that I know how much better or worse he is than his predecessor; most people that talk about defensive back play are pretty much guessing. Regular broadcast view (which is the almost universal way people watch) shows you nothing of what’s happening in the secondary until the ball gets there. And even those that take the extra step of watching A22 can’t really know what a guy was supposed to do on a given play because they can’t know what the coverage rules are for that player - on that play. Defensive coordinators are constantly trying to confuse seasoned, experienced and highly-capable QB’s and offensive coordinators. The average layperson stands no chance.

I digress, but the point here is Thornhill should be able to make the defense stronger just by being in the right position (something previous defenses have struggled with in recent years). He’s certainly got the range to play center field. As a starter for a team that’s been to three Super Bowls in the last five years (winning two), he’s not been a liability, so his play on the field should be competent at worst.

But intangibly, I think he’s already (whether he meant to or not) sort of assumed the role of culture-changer. Thornhill has been pretty vocal in not wanting to sign on to the negative attitudes of many in the fanbase. I realize this has rubbed some people the wrong way but he’s right to be looking at it the way he is.

It’s not like I don’t understand how challenging it’s been to follow this Browns team. I personally have about 30 years in (give or take three). I understand the proclivity to take a ‘hope for the best, expect the worst’ sort of mindset - as a fan. I think we get a little overboard with it (the Detroit Lions do exist, after all) but I understand why, the Jets game from last year certainly did a lot of damage in that regard.

Slide center bar to reveal full images
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images and Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

But none of that is on Juan Thornhill. All that dude knows is that he’s just come from an organization and a culture that was about winning. He came here because he sees the same potential. In just about everything in life, attitude is key, and so Thorny is not trying to let the bad attitude of a lot of Cleveland fans (deserved or not) to deter his enthusiasm for what he thinks this team can be.

And that can also be infectious. Because how can we possibly overcome all these years of doom and gloom if we don’t believe that we can? Juan Thornhill doesn’t have to care about Red Right 88, the Rudd helmet toss, the Jets’ game last year, or nine million other things which have vexed us over the decades. That isn’t his burden. It may be ours, but I applaud him for not letting that funk get on him.

So as I say, he should at very least be a competent player on the field, but his largest contribution (IMO) is going to be in helping other defenders not succumb to the negativity and really believe we can be a champion. Sure many in the fanbase won’t believe it until they see it, and that’s totally fine. However for the players, it’s good for them to believe it now, and Thorny seems to be leading the way in that regard.

DT Siaki Ika

Ken MacDonald

President: Ottawa Browns Backers - Ottawa, Ontario - Canada


Okay, DBN fans, Browns Backers Worldwide, and Browns Nation. Here is a little fun from Dawgs By Nature. I was given the opportunity to give my thoughts on who would become the most significant player for Cleveland this year. I am going on a limb and taking a dark horse (or dawg shall we say). The one that intrigued me the most was defensive tackle Siaki Ika. He was a third-round pick for the Browns in the 2023 NFL draft. He fills a big need as a run stopper which we are so desperate for.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

So this is how it happened. It is April 28th and our second pick of the draft is due to be selected. Social media is already a blaze with the first pick being a receiver. DT, LB, and S are the cries of the internet draftniks but a beam of scarlet and silver is shining right into the eyes of Buckeye Browns nation. OT Dewand Jones is available. We want a Buckeye, we want a new LT! Jed Wills has been a punching bag for Browns fans and social media has found the answer for the 98th pick in the 2023 draft. Troy Vincent walks up to announce the choice and, what?? The Browns take Baylor defensive tackle Siaka Ika. Did we screw it up again?

Ika started his college career at LSU in 2019 and witnessed cool Joe Burrow puffing big stogies in his miraculous year that ended with a National Championship. He entered the transfer portal four games into his junior year to make a surprise move to Baylor. The move proved to be good for both parties, Ika anchored the D-Line and Baylor made a run for the Big 12 Championship.

He was stuffing the run and getting pressure on the passer. Ika finished First Team All-Big 12 and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year. His last year of college saw him awarded First Team All-Big 12 and finish Third Team All-American. The Browns added him with the 98th pick in the draft and what they got was a 6’-3”, 335-pound mountain of a man to fix the porous run defense. At the point Cleveland was in the draft, his measurables matched what the Browns needed. The run-stuffing pedigree is exactly fit for the deficiencies of this team especially the first five games of this schedule. The roster needed to beef up and it was evident to me sitting on the visitor's side of the Cleveland – Philadelphia Eagles preseason game last year. I was in awe of seeing the massiveness of the Eagles’ linemen. Go figure they made it to the Super Bowl.

The Browns’ new DT Ika has the traits that make scouts salivate. He has the ability to fire through blockers with excellent hip explosion and leverage with a punch that can drive through linemen. Most pundits agree that he has a quickness at the snap of the ball to get penetration and ruin plays. His size allows him to shed blockers while not allowing opposing blockers to engage him so he really gets to shoving them around first. The pass-rush ability he demonstrated is a testimony to his above-average athleticism for a player his size.

The weaknesses are teachable. I feel these are attributes that will be remedied by a good coach. The areas of improvement are as follows: double team recognition and technique to take them on, losing sight of the ball, keeping head up during engagement, and lastly - balance.

All the college cred is great and he physically passes the eye test but this is the NFL and in Jerry Glanville’s words it can mean ‘Not For Long’. The Browns are building for the future but I am curious, does this draft pick kinda remind you of someone? Maybe new to the team? Maybe, Dalvin Tomlinson? In this year’s free-agent splash, we got to stop these running backs acting like bowling balls, smashing through our linebacker’s corp-like bowling pins. He will not only be a mentor but check this out.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Baylor at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tomlinson came out of college at the same height 6’-3”, but 25 pounds less at 310. His prospect grade from was 6.1 and Ika graded out slightly better at 6.23. They were drafted in the second and third rounds, respectively. Tomlinson looks to have been regarded in much the same way as Ika. I don’t think you could have a better teacher-to-student combo which should accelerate Ika’s development. Players listen to successful players and while I think Ika can follow in the footsteps of Tomlinson’s career with his guidance, players also respect Super Bowls. Schwartz now brings in a ring with his bravado. He is arguably one of the best DL teachers. His specialty is sending DT’s to the Pro Bowl. I am sure anyone reading this article caught the on-camera giddiness of the new coach upon the announcement of this draft pick. His scheme is also player friendly.

Why will Ika succeed as the most significant player for the Browns this year? IKA IS IN A GREAT SITUATION. Having Coach Schwartz as a teacher really does not get any better for his development. Schwartz’s reputation for developing DT’s is second to none. If we have Tomlinson as a willing mentor, he can show how he made his mark in the NFL by stuffing the run and getting some pressure up the middle much like Ika is projected to be. Our newly-drafted DT has the motor, athleticism and driving strength that can’t be taught. His strengths outweigh his weakness and both can be coached up by DT guru Schwartz.

Ika has the ability and size to roll right in Schwartz’s scheme right now. With the talent and coaching, Ika will become the most significant new player for the Browns. The run-stopping ability will be an immediate upgrade over last year’s abomination. Whether he pairs with Tomlinson or keeps him fresh by getting him off the field with quality snaps. His addition enhances the ability to stop the run and will allow for Myles, Z’Darius, and Ogbo to get to the passer and turn some of these one-score losses into one-score wins. As you can see, His presence will be significant but not possibly not measurable.

WR Cedric Tillman

Matt Wood

DBN Staff

Tillman is my choice for a few reasons. First, he’s talented. If it wasn’t for injuries in his final college season, Tillman easily could have been a first-round pick in 2023. When he was healthy in 2021 he was incredibly good. And even more so, he was big in big-time moments. The best two teams Tennessee played that season were the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia (they ended up playing the National Championship Game). Tillman torched them both. Against Bama, he put up seven catches for 152 yards and two TD’s. When he faced Georgia he rung up 200 yards. So he wasn’t just beating up the little guys in the Vols’ high-powered attack, he did it against the best of the best in the SEC.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

He also gets it done with something that translates to the pros: size. He is 6’-3” and 215 pounds and has shown an ability to use his body to help shield defenders and make contested catches - something he will need to do in the NFL.

Tillman will have a chance to make some noise early. Cooper was out in minicamp and should be eased into work come camp. Elijah Moore seems to be more of a functional slot/RB/mismatch weapon for the offense from the early looks. Could Tillman take that window of opportunity and explode through it?

It’s not as if rookie WR’s coming into the league need long ramp-ups anymore. Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Justin Jefferson, Jamar Chase, etc. are just a few. Granted they had much more fanfare entering the league but none of them, outside of Chase, had the talent of Watson throwing them the ball.

Tillman is poised to show why the Browns are okay passing on DeAndre Hopkins because he will make an impact for the Browns this season.

DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Angeline Adams

Administrator: Cleveland Browns We Bark Together Facebook fanpage


Listen! It’s no secret that Cleveland fans have been panting for another prolific pass rusher with that DAWG in him, ferociously feral, crouched tight to hunt and dominate the edge opposite league superstar Myles Garrett. Well, on a clear path to line depth, the Browns pulled the trigger immediately in the free agency sure shot of DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. He’s my pick for holding a significant edge among newbies who’ve landed in The Land.


Fresh off earning a late-bloomer starting spot on the Houston Texans, Ogbo brings solid skills to further illuminate Cleveland Browns Stadium. At 6’-1” and 253 pounds he’s athletic and extremely aggressive off the line. He’s a backfield disruption! Okoronkwo can rush both edges with an agile, accelerated first step and spectacular spins for pressure, hitting quick speed bursts to gobble up gaps and overwhelm offensive linemen on both the pass and run. Cleveland’s defense under Schwartz will provide an outlet for Ogbo’s aggression to be regularly focused against quarterbacks.

Ogbo’s hands and powerful wrists shouldn’t be underrated. They are major weapons in his arsenal and not just in terms of strength but in the intelligent way he uses them to consistently shed and elude blocks and offensive linemen. Smart hands trump strong hands and he has both.

When Ogbo gets low he’s a problem for tight ends and running backs. He’ll be a DAWG fit for the pack with his insatiable appetite who plays with a hunger to stay in the hunt. Ogbo doesn’t just give up on a play but fights through blocks to reach his target. He’s also versatile with strong inside play to consistently beat out right tackles by coupling his quickness with his agility to dip his shoulder and utilize flexibility in his arms. He also reacts smartly with a fast mentality to adjust and adapt for productivity in the backfield.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Okoronkwo is a rising star with Super Bowl experience and a ring from his time with the Los Angeles Rams. Per “NFL Next Gen Stats” in 2022 he had the third-highest pressure rate which was 16.4% among all defenders with 200+ rushes.

Among the most beneficial resources for Ogbo is his direct access to the masterful game of Garrett. Being mentored by Myles is a milestone in Okoronkwo’s maturation and he is focused on assisting Myles by using his skills to “crush the pocket” as he promised in a recent interview. The skinny is simply pound for pound; Ogbo in “The Pound” is a RUSH!

DE Za’Darius Smith

Barry Shuck

DBN Staff Writer

I already know who the Browns’ MVP will be this year: DC Jim Schwartz. Yeh, I know - not a player. But he has revamped every defense he has touched and made it Top-3.

Did you read what Tony Fields said about the Browns’ defense this year? He gave a really good catchphrase about this year’s group. He said, “Turn it up!”

But this article isn’t about who will be the best player in 2023. The question raised to all of us writers was: Who will become the most significant new player for the Browns this year?

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Some of the features of Schwartz’s defenses are that he will blitz only occasionally, his corners must play man, and he will take two defensive linemen and make them into household names. One is already well-known in Myles Garrett. The other? Former Vikings EDGE rusher Za’Darius Smith (6’-4”, 272 pounds).

This dude is a beast off the edge. Now the Browns are his third franchise and you may ask if he is so special why would those clubs move on from him? The answer is different with all three of his former teams, and why Cleveland traded for him.

Coming out of the University of Kentucky, teams weren’t exactly knocking the door down to draft him as he was finally taken in Round 4 by the Baltimore Ravens. His 4.73 40 time did not help his cause, but his 11 sacks in his final two seasons did. After four seasons, a mere 16 starts, and 119 total tackles sprinkled over those years, the Ravens allowed him to test the free-agent waters. His next team was the Green Bay Packers.

In Green Bay, he busted out for 13.5 sacks followed by 12.5 sacks. But he injured his back which eventually became a surgery that landed him on IR. Facing a $27.7 million cap hit, the Packers sent Smith, well, packing.

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Which brings us to the Vikings. They inked him to a huge three-year $42 million deal with visions of downed quarterbacks everywhere. He did come through with 10 sacks and 44 tackles. But Minnesota found themselves in cap Hell and began to allow certain players to move along. Smith was one of those. All Cleveland gave for this sack master was two fifth-round draft picks.

Smith’s last three seasons (when he has been fully healthy) he has come through with double-digit sack numbers. Now melded with Schwartz with the All-World Myles Garrett manning the other side, what I see is total jailbreak for this Browns defensive line.

Let this soak in a bit. In the last three seasons, Garrett has totaled 44 sacks. In his last three healthy seasons, Smith has totaled 36 sacks.

Any questions?


Qué decir tu? Which of the featured new players do you think will ultimately become the most productive in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    WR Elijah Moore
    (186 votes)
  • 9%
    S Juan Thornhill
    (46 votes)
  • 2%
    DT Siaki Ika
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    WR Cedric Tillman
    (14 votes)
  • 3%
    DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
    (19 votes)
  • 42%
    DE Za’Darius Smith
    (207 votes)
485 votes total Vote Now