Browns Roster Breakdown: Defensive Line

Aug 23, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon (54) celebrates with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (98) after sacking Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (not pictured) during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

While we wait to see if Andrew Berry has a Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen signing up his sleeve, we take a look at the Browns defensive line. Berry added depth in the offseason in hopes of making this group more effective in 2020. Myles Garrett will be back from his suspension to start the year, and Olivier Vernon is healthy, so that will also ramp things up. Chad Thomas showed some signs, and newcomer Andrew Billings started for the Bengals. Berry’s signing of veteran pass rusher Adrian Clayborn might end up the most important. The injury to Vernon and Garrett’s suspension was a killer last season, so Clayborn becomes a vital signing for 2020.

Myles Garrett

Garrett is the engine that this line runs on. With him on the field, teams have to account for him on every down. By doing so, another player along the defensive line will have an advantage. The goal for Berry and his staff is to make sure that Myles plays to his peak performance, and that means lowering his snap count a bit. Clayborn can help with that and still be a capable threat getting to the quarterback. After everything that happened in 2019, expect Myles to come back even more motivated to prove he is one of the best defensive ends in football on and off the field.

Sheldon Richardson

Richardson had a solid first season with the Browns. He accumulated 62 total tackles, four for loss, three sacks, and three forced fumbles. His 73.9 grade from Pro Football Focus was his highest since 2016. The hope is that Richardson will have another solid year giving the Browns a deep defensive tackle rotation. The front office is attempting to ensure that by adding Billings to take some of the pressure of the starters.

Larry Ogunjobi

Ogunjobi’s statistics from last season show another solid year for the young defensive tackle. He had 50 total tackles, ten for loss, and 5.5 sacks. Pro Football tells a different story as his run-stopping grade dropped from 70.8 in 2018 to 60.2 in 2019. Per Pro Football Reference, his missed tackle rate increased from 5.5% in 2018 to 9.1% in 2019, fortifying the PFF grade. If Ogunjobi is to take the next step and become a superstar, he must consistently stop the run at a high rate. He has already shown his ability to get to the quarterback and make big plays. Ogunjobi is in a contract year, so expect him to come into camp ready to have a big season.

Olivier Vernon

Vernon was having a solid year until injuries slowed him, then cost him six games. This cycle has been a recurring theme for Vernon over the last few years. He hasn’t played a full season since 2016, so the Browns’ signing of Adrian Clayborn is essential. Vernon is still a very good end when healthy, but it seems inevitable that he will hit the injured list at some point in 2020. Could being in a contract year push him? If a better opportunity comes around before the season will the Browns cut ties on his $15 million? Only time will tell.

Potential Top Backups

Andrew Billings

The Browns signed Billings to a one year deal in free agency to deepen the defensive tackle rotation. Billings spent his first three years in Cincinnati after being drafted in the fourth round. Over the last two seasons, Billings started 30 of 32 games totaling 67 tackles, 12 for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Billings should provide quality depth, and at only 25 could prove to be worth extending out in 2021.

Adrian Clayborn

Clayborn epitomizes the word professional. Clayborn brings an unselfish player that knows how to do his job. He can step in and start if needed because of injuries if needed. He is also one of the most effective pass rush specialists in the NFL. Clayborn could end up being a very valuable player for the Browns in 2020.

Jordan Elliott

Elliott was drafted with the 88th pick in the third round by the Andrew Berry led Browns front office. Per multiple reports, most felt the talent level warranted at least a second-round pick. Pro Football Focus went a step further and rated him a top 25 player in the 2020 Draft. The point here is that the Browns drafted a talented player that could be a future starter in the third round. With Ogunjobi in the last year of his deal and Sheldon Richardson, a possible cut candidate in 2021, Elliot may end a more important pick than realized.

Chad Thomas

Thomas showed some flashes last season after spending his rookie season on the sidelines. In 16 games last season, eight as a starter after the Myles Garrett suspension, Thomas racked up 26 tackles, six for loss, four quarterback hits, nine pressures, and four sacks in 465 snaps. He did only grade out at 47.8 overall per PFF in his first real season of play. Thomas is only 24 and should get a chance to improve even more in 2020.

Trying to make a name

Eli Ankou

Ankou signed in 2019 and has totaled 26 tackles and one and a half sacks in three NFL seasons. With the players signed this past offseason, Ankou will likely be on his fourth team in four seasons. He would have to impress big to make the roster.

Daniel Ekuale

Ekuale was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Browns in 2019. He was able to get into seven games last season but never made a real impression. Ekuale’s best chance to stay with the Browns in 2020 will be the practice squad.

Porter Gustin

Gustin got onto the field for six games in 2019 and registered 13 tackles, one for a loss, and one sack. Those numbers in only 225 snaps should at least get him to camp this year. Gustin may not make it on the Browns, but 31 other teams might be interested if he can have a strong preseason.

Trevon Young

Young was taken in the sixth round of the 2018 draft by the L.A. Rams. Young made it into two games in 2019 and ended up recovering a fumble. Young is a camp body that will need to impress just to get a practice squad invite.

Justin Zimmer

Zimmer was signed late in 2019 and made it into two games for the Browns. He will have a climb ahead of him if he even makes it to camp. Zimmer did have five tackles and one for a loss in those two games last season.

Undrafted Rookies

George Obinna

In 2019, for the Sacramento Hornets, Obinna recorded 46 tackles, 14 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. The Browns are giving him the chance to show he can be on an NFL roster if he does not make this one. For an undrafted free agent, that is all you can ask. The practice squad is the ceiling in 2019.

Jeffery Whatley

Whatley comes out of Southern Alabama, where he had 39 tackles, four sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and was a second-team All-Sun Belt selection in 2019. Just like Obinna, he is playing to get noticed and has a long climb up this roster. Also, like Obinna, the best chance for Whatley to stick with the Browns is the practice squad.

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