clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Browns position battle: Safety D’Anthony Bell vs. Ronnie Hickman vs. Tanner McCalister vs. Nate Meadors

The last spot is up for grabs

Washington Commanders v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The 2023 edition of the Cleveland Browns will have a very good thing in place: a terrific defensive backfield.

GM Andrew Berry is a former defensive back and so he knows that his team must have a good core with pass defense.

Cornerback was a strength last year and will be one going forward. But what about the safety position?

First off, DC Joe Woods was fired and is now with the New Orleans Saints in the same capacity. DB coach Jeff Howard left to become the linebacker coach with the Los Angeles Chargers. The assistant DB coach, Brandon Lynch, is now the cornerbacks coach this year.

Lynch is not the DB coach, but he coaches strictly the cornerbacks. This year, the Browns broke down the defensive backfield coaching jobs into two separate units. Berry then hired Ephraim Banda as the safety coach.

Splitting the coaching duties into two units with other groups is nothing new. Every team has a QB, RB, TE, O-Line, and WR coach. But usually, on the defensive side of the ball, it has been pretty much stayed as DL, LB, and DB coaches with some groups having an assistant. So, for Cleveland to break down the defensive backfield into two groups is something different.

Coach Banda

Banda is an excellent safety coach. He teaches aggression and has experience being a DC at the college level. Known as a hard worker, Coach Banda may be the second-best defensive coach on the staff behind new DC Jim Schwartz.

Berry inked Juan Thornhill away from the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency, then signed veteran free agent Rodney McLeod as a coach on the field. Former Brown Nate Meadors was brought back to compete along with undrafted free-agent rookie Tanner McCalister.

Holdovers from last year’s unit include D’Anthony Bell, Grant Delpit, and practice squad member Bubba Bolden. Free safety John Johnson was released in March while Ronnie Harrison was not re-signed. Bolden was in training camp this year but was released when the club placed LB Jacob Phillips on IR and then inked Meadors to take Bolden’s spot.

Thornhill, McLeod, and Delpit are locks to make the final roster. Last year, DC Woods kept five safeties on the roster because he specialized in the 4-2-5 and used an extra safety either as one of the linebackers or as one of the five defensive backs. Later in 2022, safety Richard LeCounte was released making four on the roster, which is usually the norm for most clubs.

Will the Browns keep five safeties again this year? Doubtful with Schwartz being a 4-3 guy. And so now, there is fierce competition for that last safety spot. These four young players will get every opportunity to make their mark on the coaching staff.

Washington Commanders v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

D’Anthony Bell

6’-1”, 211 pounds

Age: 26

College: West Florida

Draft: 2022 Undrafted

NFL games played/starts: 16/2

Career total tackles: 14

Career sacks: 0

2022 PFF grade: 48.0

Bell is a special teams demon which may be the final factor to sway the coaches to keep him. Of the four remaining safeties, one of the oldest, has the only starts from this group and is the only one to have been graded out by Pro Football Focus.


During the preseason, Bell has been used quite a bit on regular defensive sets. Against the Eagles, Bell did not come off the field on defense and had the third most tackles with five. Against the New York Jets he netted a single tackle while in the Washington Commanders contest Bell was tied with the most tackles with five.

The Browns are giving Bell a good hard look this year just like last year’s training camp. He is an excellent tackler and seems to put himself in a good position to help the run support game.

His nickname is “the Hitman.” Bell’s calling card is his aggressiveness and no-fear attitude. He has the ability to lay opposing players out. After only one season he has shown good progression in his development.

Cleveland Browns v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Ronnie Hickman, Jr.

6’-1”, 207 pounds

Age: 21

College: Ohio State

Draft: 2023 Undrafted

NFL games played/starts: 0/0

Career total tackles: 0

Career sacks: 0

2022 PFF grade: Rookie

While there are four players vying for one position in this group, it should come down to either Hickman or Bell.

Hickman has shown great awareness on the field during preseason games. He has three interceptions to show for his field prowess. He was predicted to be a sixth-round talent but went undrafted. His childhood nickname is “Rocket,” but the media is calling him “Ronnie Pickman” because of his thefts.

Remember former Browns safety, Felix Wright? He went undrafted, then tore up the CFL, and was signed by Cleveland. He toiled for three seasons on special teams and nickel situations. Then one year he had nine interceptions and led the NFL. He just had an eye for where he was supposed to go on passing downs. He came to the distinction of leading the league in picks during a long journey. Hickman is that kind of player.


While with Ohio State, Hickman had a reputation for being an aggressive tackler and a fierce competitor. Physically and mentally, he is showing he belongs on the field. In his final year of college, he led the team in tackles with 99, was a Second Team All-American, and graded out overall at 84.8.

So far in preseason Hickman’s tackle totals have been: Jets (1), Commanders (2), and Eagles (5).

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Tanner McCalister

5’-11”, 191 pounds

Age: 23

College: Ohio State

Draft: 2023 Undrafted

NFL games played/starts: 0/0

Career total tackles: 0

Career sacks: 0

2022 PFF grade: Rookie

Hickman’s college teammate McCalister is competing against him once again for playing time. This time, in a paid position.

McCalister began at Oklahoma State for his first three colleges seasons before transferring to Ohio State. While at Oklahoma State, he was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic Team all three years. He was a fifth-year senior taking the extra COVID year. His career totals are 147 total tackles, four interceptions, 13 batted passes, zero sacks, 45 tackles for loss, and played in 52 games.

He is a hustler and was a dominant defender in the Eagles preseason game.

The undrafted free agent isn’t shy about his talents and is gifted athletically. McCalister’s role with the Browns should be similar to what he was in college as a nickel safety or slot cornerback.

Against Philly, he played almost the entire game on defense and had the second most tackles with seven, one sack, plus one tackle for loss. Most likely a practice squad candidate.

So far in preseason McCalister’s tackle totals have been: Jets (1) and Eagles (7).

NFL: Cleveland Browns OTA Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Meadors

5’-11”, 194 pounds

Age: 26

College: UCLA

Draft: 2019 Undrafted

NFL games played/starts: 3/0

Career total tackles: 2

Career sacks: 0

2022 PFF grade: no grade

Meadors has been with the Browns before after 30 starts with UCLA. He had been on the roster of three other clubs before landing with Cleveland in 2021. That year he was on the practice squad, then in the off-season signed to a reserve/futures contract, then cut during training camp last year.

He then was on the practice squad of two more NFL clubs before settling in with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL. On August 13, 2023, he signed on with the Browns once again when Phillips was placed on IR. Meadors had started three games with the Minnesota Vikings in 2020, his second season in the league.

While with St. Louis, Meadors had 38 total tackles including 11 in a single game. He started eight of nine games and also netted two interceptions.

With his time in NFL training camps, Meadors has learned whatever was presented to him and tried to remain consistent. He is detail-oriented, runs the 40 in 4.68, and is aggressive. He had to be as he is the oldest of five brothers.

Even though he reported to camp late, Meadors is hoping this time he will end up with a roster spot. If not, the practice squad still keeps him in the game and out there in case the Browns need another safety.


Assuming the Browns keep four safeties, which of the four profiled should make the final roster?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    D’Anthony Bell
    (119 votes)
  • 82%
    Ronnie Hickman, Jr.
    (633 votes)
  • 1%
    Tanner McCalister
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Nate Meadors
    (7 votes)
768 votes total Vote Now