Playing The GM Game: Fixing The Bottom 4 Teams
Someone has to finish last, and the Browns have chosen to be that someone for quite a while. Including this year, the Browns have finished with 5 or less wins in 8 of the last 9 seasons. Joining the Browns in the basement of the league are the San Francisco 49ers, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears, who all look to start filling roster holes this offseason, especially on defense, where this upcoming draft is loaded with defensive talent. Let’s take a look at the positions of need for these bottom four teams.
Positional needs: EDGE, DI, S, C
EDGE: The Browns are deploying mid-season acquisition Jamie Collins as an edge rusher, as of right now, and that is not his strength. When Collins is allowed to play in space, or in coverage on a running back and tight end, that is when he excels. He is not the biggest linebacker, but he is an incredible athlete and would be best lined up as an inside linebacker, alongside emerging inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who excels as a run stuffing inside linebacker, but has struggled in coverage. That would leave both 3-4 outside linebacker positions open, and this is a good offseason to address that position. There are a plethora of options in free agents, both young emerging stars and reliable veterans, as well as in the draft. The inside linebacking core has the potential to be one of the best in the league, but they will need those edge rushers to hurry the quarterback going into next year.
Potential FA targets: DeMarcus Ware, Nick Perry, Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones
Potential draft targets: Myles Garrett, Tim Williams, Derek Barnett, Carl Lawson
DI: Danny Shelton has taken a big step forward, becoming the anchor of the middle of the defense, that a nose tackle needs to be. He has not graded out well in the pass rushing department, Pro Football Focus grades him as the 29th best pass rusher, but that is not his job as a nose tackle. That is Jamie Meder and rookie Emmanuel Ogbah‘s job, and they have both graded poorly overall, as they are the five-techniques that are supposed to push the pocket up the middle. The Browns need better production from that position, and expect them to address that in free agency and/or the draft.
Potential FA targets: Calais Campbell, Chris Baker, Nick Fairley
Potential draft targets: Jonathan Allen, Caleb Brantley, Montravius Adams
S: The secondary, in whole, could use more talent, but especially at the safety level, where both Ed Reynolds and Ibrahiem Campbell have struggled mightily. Jordan Pryor, who was placed on Injured Reserve earlier this season, had been playing well as the in-the-box safety, but they could use a free safety with range, that can make plays in the back end. Current starting free safety Ed Reynolds has struggled mightily in coverage, where PFF ranks him 72nd out of a qualified 88 safeties in coverage. A free safety, who has range, in the backend can help tremendously in keeping the big plays to a minimum. There are not many options in free agency, but the draft has a good amount of depth at the safety position. Look for the Browns to target that need.
Potential FA targets: Eric Berry, Rafael Bush
Potential draft targets: Jabrill Peppers, Jamal Adams, Marcus Williams
C: The Browns have quietly started to build a solid offensive line, and it is headlined by 9 time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. He is the model of consistency and the parts alongside him have become legitimate starting caliber players. Although starting guards Joel Bitonio and John Greco have been placed on IR, they were playing very well this year and should be back starting next year. Where lies a problem is the starting second year center Cameron Erving, who many thought was a reach with the 19th overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. He has graded out horribly, according to Pro Football Focus, where he is ranked 38th out of 38 qualified centers. Although it may be rather quick to move on from your first round pick after two years, he has not been performing up to the task, and it may be time to at least give him some competition.
Potential FA targets: A.Q. Shipley, J.C. Tretter, Joe Hawley
Potential draft targets: Ethan Pocic, Pat Elflein, Tyler Orlosky