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What to expect from the Browns defense 2023 Edition: Our experts predict

With so many new bodies and a new DC, hopes are high

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

The Cleveland Browns did quite a bit of roster reshuffling during the off-season.

Not much was tinkered with as far as the offense goes. RB Kareem Hunt was not re-signed. Deshaun Watson’s tight end from the Houston Texans Jordan Akins was signed. A trade was made for former New York Jets receiver Elijah Moore while Marquise Goodwin was inked away from the Seattle Seahawks. Various backup offensive linemen have been signed to compete for backup positions and quality depth. QB Josh Dobbs and Kellen Mond were inked in free agency to compete for the backup signalcaller along with draft pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett
Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

The defense, however, has been transformed - and should be after being ranked #28 in the league last year. DC Joe Woods was shown the door to which veteran coach Jim Schwartz was hired to take his place and revitalize this side of the ball.

GM Andrew Berry’s mission was to change the look of the defense and either signed, tendered, drafted, or re-signed six defensive tackles, eight defensive ends, seven linebackers, four safeties, and six cornerbacks. From the end of last season until this week, Berry has also waived eight players from this group of defenders.

That is a lot of transactions. But changes needed to be made, and firing Woods was the first step.

With all this upheaval, how is the defense shaping up for 2023? How will Schwartz impact this group? Will the changes in personnel affect the win column? Which group will be the most affected by the new guys brought in?

And good news just yesterday. The Browns inked an instant starter in DT Shelby Harris.

As the main title reads, what to expect from the Browns’ defense in 2023?

Dawgs By Nature has assembled a bevy of talented writers to discuss this very subject. Each writer took a single defensive position with their analysis of their assigned unit.


EZ Weav

DBN Staff

Of all the rooms on the team, the DT room from last year was probably more maligned than any other. While I’d agree this is appropriate for the most part, a lot of it I think has to do with a misunderstanding of (in particular) what our run-game struggles were actually about.

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

And this is not to say that our run-defense woes from last year were not at least in part due to the relative talent within the unit. I just don’t think it was the primary factor, but rather that when we lost MLB Anthony Walker (our green dot) that’s when the sieve opened up wide.

That said, the DT room has certainly been addressed.

For different reasons, gone are Taven Bryan & Perrion Winfrey. The big name in free agency that was brought in is Dalvin Tomlinson from the Minnesota Vikings. A large commitment was made to facilitate his services and he brings not just the benefit of his ability, but can also be a veteran voice in a room that hasn’t had much of that in recent years.

Cleveland also brought in former Las Vegas Raider Maurice Hurst, Trysten Hill from the Dallas Cowboys, and in the draft added rookie Siaki Ika out of Baylor University. Rounding out the room is Michael Dwumfour, a second-year player out of Rutgers, and veteran holdovers Jordan Elliott and Tommy Togiai. Both Elliott and Togiai would seem like they would have to take a leap in development under Jim Schwartz if they are going to make it.

Without knowing the extent of the Alex Wright injury (because I can see him moving inside quite a bit) I’m going to say we go into the season with just four DT’s. On the surface, Tomlinson and Hurst could be the starters, then Ika back them up. It’s possible that Elliott, Togiai, or both, could wind up as one of the six positions on the practice squad which can be allocated to players without experience limitations. Chances are they’d clear waivers easily and wouldn’t have to protect them from being signed away.

Newly-signed veteran Shelby Harris was also signed and has an opportunity to make this team. He has been a productive player who has 24.5 sacks, 261 total tackles, and 40 tackles for loss in his career. He is 6’-2” and weighs 290 pounds as he enters his ninth season along with 64 NFL starts. Harris is a better run defender than a pass rusher. The signing puts Elliott or Hill or Hurst on thin ice. Don’t be surprised when Harris beats out Hurst and starts alongside Tomlinson.

DT room Final 53-man roster prediction: Dalvin Tomlinson, Maurice Hurst, Siaki Ika, and Shelby Harris


Ali Hysong

Here We Go Brownies! Podcast


In what has felt like a weak spot in the roster for the past few years, Andrew Berry and his squad have finally surrounded star DE Myles Garrett with high-end talent and depth in the defensive end room. While the defensive end room has suffered early injuries in both Alex Wright and Isaiah Thomas, there is still a lot of optimism surrounding the talented pass rushers.

It’s not crazy to expect this group to drastically improve from where they were a year ago. There is a legitimate possibility that Garrett and Za’Darius Smith can be one of the league’s most dominant pass rush duos, as long as health is on their side. Not only can we expect the defensive ends to perform at a much higher level, but we as fans can also raise our expectations for the defense as a whole. Here’s what to expect from each player in this group:

Myles Garrett

Start off with the star of the show, Myles Garrett. It should be of the expectation that Garrett finishes the season as a top contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Given his elite play-making ability from Garrett himself, along with the deadly combination of Smith and Ogbo Okoronkwo, a 20+ sack season for Garrett is certainly within the realm of possibility. In 2022, Garrett finished with 16 sacks on the season despite facing the most double teams of anyone in the league and still maintained a win rate of 22.5%. As long as Myles can remain healthy, expectations for DPOY are not hyperbole.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
Za’Darius Smith
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images
Za’Darius Smith

Smith brings something to the table that the defensive end room has had little of, a veteran presence with an All-Pro resume. Last year in Minnesota, Smith recorded 10 sacks on the season, along with 15 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. Smith also brings versatility to the table, which is something we fans haven’t been used to over recent years. He isn’t just a one-trick pony, you can expect to see him all over the line of scrimmage and even off of the ball. His versatility and flexibility will give DC Jim Schwartz a mold of clay to be aggressive and create unique matchups along the line of scrimmage.

Ogbo Okoronkwo

I mentioned it at the top, not only did the Browns improve their overall talent in the defensive end room but also their depth. I would expect Ogbo to not only be a key rotational piece for this room but also play the best football of his career in 2023. Ogbo didn’t really hit the ground running in the NFL until last year in Houston where he registered five sacks on the season and was third QB pressure rate at 20.5%. My expectation is he has a breakout year and can be a complementary piece to Garrett for seasons to come.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
Isaiah McGuire
Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Isaiah McGuire

Although the Browns lost two talented young defensive ends to injury (Alex Wright and Isaiah Thomas), you still feel really good about the depth and a lot of that is due to the optimism surrounding fourth-round rookie, Isaiah McGuire, out of Missouri. At Mizzou, he registered 40 tackles, 14 TFLs, and 8.5 sacks in 2022. McGuire’s 6’-4”, 274 pounds frame will allow for continued flexibility and versatility along the defensive line. You can expect a powerful and physical player at the point of attack as well as several pass rush moves, especially a violent chop to displace the blocker’s wrists. While his run-stopping ability will need work, his power and physical presence will be fun to watch during his rookie season.

DE room Final 53-man roster prediction: Myles Garrett, Za’darius Smith, Ogbo Okoronkwo, Isaiah McGuire, Sam Kamara

On Injured Reserve: Isaiah Thomas, Alex Wright


Howie Smith

President: Susquehanna Valley Browns Backers


Is this an appropriate title for this analysis? “Breaking Down … Safeties.” How many times did we see that last season? You can blame the players, the departed DC Woods, or the exceptional play by our opponents (not!). Face it – the two safety positions were NOT strengths of this defense in 2022.

Rodney McLeod

Will 2023 be any different? One can assume that things MUST get better. The addition of Juan Thornhill, the likely starter at free safety, and Rodney McLeod, a 12-year veteran who played for new DC Schwartz, is a solid start to shoring up the positions.

Gone is John “I thought you had him” Johnson, a 17-game starter who had all of one pick in 2022 and was torched on multiple occasions. The Browns don’t need him or his salary. Say “Goodbye” to Ronnie Harrison, who saw only 25% of the defensive snaps last year. His most memorable play was on the Kansas City Chiefs sideline where he was ejected for shoving a Chiefs’ assistant coach. Not a smart move with Grant Delpit ruled out at game time and rookie CB Martin Emerson as the emergency backup at safety. Oh, and the opponent had Patrick Mahomes slinging it, so you really needed all hands-on deck.

Thornhill and McLeod are locks to make the final 53-man roster. As is Delpit who is a salary cap bargain as he is in the fourth year of his rookie deal. Delpit should be able to focus more on disruption as he is expected to play closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s more of a hitter and, at 6’-3” and 210 pounds, he can lay the wood. His height should help against the tight ends he will be asked to cover. Staying on plan and not getting late-hit or head-shot penalties when hitting will help his cause. Delpit can get a little loose at times. Schwartz will have none of that.

With three of the likely five roster spots taken, who gets the last two? D’Anthony Bell didn’t play a lot in 2022, but his PFF grade was a bit ahead of Ronnie Harrison – that is significant. Of the remaining prospects, Bubba Bolden spent last year on the Seattle Seahawk’s practice squad, but is loaded with physical talent. Can he be coached up to make the 53-man roster? Nobody knows, but he never donned a Seahawk gameday jersey last year. We’ll know soon.

Cleveland Browns v Jacksonville Jaguars
D’Anthony Bell
Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Ronnie Hickman, an undrafted Ohio State rookie, will also be fighting for a spot. Another athletic guy, he looks to be the type to naturally move into Delpit’s strong safety spot near the line, should the need arise. I think having a year under his belt gives the fourth slot to Bell, although it’s not given with a new DC and system. I give Hickman a slight advantage over Bolden. His tackling ability should make him a good producer as he should be a fit on special teams. Bolden may be destined to start the season on the practice squad, but his size and speed could prove useful at some point in 2023.

S room Final 53-man roster prediction: Juan Thornhill, Rodney McLeod, Grant Delpit, D’Anthony Bell, and Ronnie Hickman, Jr.


Matt Wood

DBN Staff

Lord knows that there has been enough ink spilled on the addition of Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz so it’s not as if I will be breaking any news here, but you could make a real argument that outside of QB Deshaun Watson, there may not be a more important figure for Cleveland this season.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

In 2022 you could almost set your watch to a few different things for the Browns’ defense. Backbreaking conversions on third-and-anything over seven yards, defenders looking at one another with arms spread wide asking “Who was supposed to have him?!” as a WR celebrated another third-down pick-up. Lastly, a post-game press conference with Joe Woods and Kevin Stefanski telling everyone they need to limit big plays. Almost every dang week it seemed.

So, what does Jim Schwartz bring?

Obviously, a lot more man coverage in the back end, which will hopefully benefit the Browns CBs who have at times excelled in that role. Also, the promise of a rebuilt DL being turned loose. Can Schwartz get Myles to an even higher level as he has done for so many DLs in the past? Schwartz in the past has relied on his DL to create havoc for offenses and if he can unlock that for Cleveland and this group we may see the best of 1995 yet. A scary thought for the rest of the AFC North. I am also excited to see how Schwartz will utilize Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah now that the Browns have added some serious girth to the DT position.

If Schwartz can even elevate the Browns’ defense to a decent-to-good level, the Browns will be a much different football team this year.


James Cooper

Susquehanna Valley Browns Backers

Cleveland Browns v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

I expect that the cornerbacks will benefit greatly from the defensive line additions. I also believe that the cornerback play will not only improve but will be able to help defend the run in a meaningful way this year. With the new DC Schwartz, it appears the Dawg Pound is back.

Mike Ford, Chris Westry, and Gavin Heslop could make the team as special team participants or at the very least the practice squad. Ford was signed to this roster specifically to play special teams.

CB room Final 53-man roster prediction: Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Martin Emerson,

Caleb Biggers, A.J. Green, Cameron Mitchell


Barry Shuck

DBN Staff Writer

The Browns have revamped their defense in several position groups.

The linebacker group, however, is almost exactly the same as last year. The only new guys are special teams ace Matthew Adams, and rookie free agents Cam Bright, Mohamond Diabate, and Charlie Thomas III.

In the Kevin Stefanski/Andrew Berry era, Cleveland has had a different number of linebackers they retained each year. In 2020, they kept seven, then six, and finally last year only five were retained regularly. This is mainly because then-DC Joe Woods played a lot of 4-2-5 and at times only installed a single linebacker on the field whereas the other backer was usually a safety or another cornerback.

NFL: NOV 27 Buccaneers at Browns
Sione Takitaki
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since 2020, only Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips have remained on the roster whereas all the others have found employment elsewhere.

For 2022, it was the season of injury for this group. JOK, Anthony Walker, Phillips, Takitaki, and Jordan Kunaszyk all found IR their new home. In their stead, the Browns resorted to bringing in guys via trade such as Deion Jones, or players who they had earlier cut such as Tae Davis, or even found dudes off the street like Reggie Ragland and Jermaine Carter.

Before the Hall of Fame Game against the New York Jets in Canton, Ohio, the First Team depth chart was listed as follows: Anthony Walker Jr, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Sione Takitaki. Which is difficult to fathom since two of these bodies are still not ready to play. This will come into play at the final cutdown.

The purpose of Matthews and Kunaszyk being on the roster is both are exceptional on kickoff coverage and punt coverage teams. Takitaki and Fields were also excellent special teams players, but if either becomes one of the starters then they won’t be installed on that unit any longer.

Let’s begin with the projected starting unit.

Walker had a season-ending torn quad tendon injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, it has been a steady diet of rehab. His goal has been to get himself ready to go for the regular season, even if he doesn’t know the exact timeline to get there. Will he be ready? If not, when? In March, the Browns inked him to another one-year deal. So, with all this uncertainty, Walker is a maybe.

JOK was also hurt last year in Week 7 when he suffered an ankle injury. He was able to return in mid-November and is a go for this year. The issue for him has been he is susceptible to being pushed around because of his light frame. He was instructed to beef up this year and add to his 221 pounds. By the opening weekend, will the coaching staff be satisfied with his new body? If he continues to be moved out of harm’s way consistently, the question may be will the coaches insert someone else?

Takitaki started last year and just like JOK and Walker, he was placed on IR with a torn ACL in Week 13. During the spring, Cleveland gave him a one-year extension. During the off-season, he focused on his rehab process which appeared to go well. His goal was to get back to physical form and at some point, this year make a big comeback.

Both Walker and Takitaki are in training camp, just not on the practice field except for walkthroughs. The timeline for recovery for each player is different, and oddly enough, neither was added to the PUP list. Whether they’re fully back next week or if it takes another month, the coaching staff views those walkthroughs as imperative for both players as they get mental reps.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
Anthony Walker
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Which is where the depth comes in. At this juncture, there aren’t any alarm bells going off with the coaching staff as far as having able bodies to plug in. The Browns like who they have.

Jacob Phillips would become the obvious choice for Walker in the middle, with Fields ready to take Takitaki’s outside backer spot. If both Walker and Takitaki aren’t ready for Week 1, the inconsistent Phillips will make this roster otherwise I see Cleveland moving on. Kunaszyk is a seasoned veteran and the rookie Charlie Thomas has been a demon in practices as well as strong tackling in the Jets game. Adams could become a viable option, but his specialty is special teams and would be inserted only in emergency situations such as what happened to this group last year. Adams was signed specifically to play special teams.

This entire group was in flux last year, and until these injuries are completely healed, Cleveland just may have a repeat with guys being inserted on a consistent basis. Then again, once the injury bug leaves the room, according to Schwartz, the group looks strong.

LB room Final 53-man roster prediction: Anthony Walker, JOK, Sione Takitaki, Tony Fields, Jordan Kunaszyk, Mathew Adams

If Walker and Takitaki are still rehabbing on the final cutdown day, then: Anthony Walker, JOK, Sione Takitaki, Tony Fields, Jacob Phillips, Charlie Thomas. Then place Walker and Takitaki on IR, which protects both and frees up two roster spots to bring back Kunaszyk and Adams.


O que diz você? Which defensive group do you predict will become the strongest unit?

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