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Cleveland Browns Rookie Spotlight: Jacob Phillips

The Cleveland Browns front office decided that Joe Schobert was too expensive and that Christian Kirksey had run his course. The decisions to let Schobert walk and cut Kirksey created a void at linebacker that the Browns will fill with young talented but raw players. Currently, the team will count on B.J. Goodson, Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson, Willie Harvey, Jermaine Grace, and finally, third-round pick Jacob Phillips to get it done in 2020. That is a group that will need to prove something for sure. It is also a group that provides the chance for Jacob Phillips to have a potential impact as a rookie.

Why Jacob Phillips, but not Zack Baun?

The Browns had a chance to take one of the top linebacker prospects in the draft with their first third-round pick. Zack Baun was available, but the Browns chose to pass on him for a trade down. That decision was more about the offer than the player. Adding a 2021 third-rounder to move down 14 slots this year was to much value for the Browns front office. The Browns still needed a linebacker, and Phillips was the top one on their board at 97. They filled a need and got high value by waiting to fill that need later in the draft. In the end, it all had to do with value and nothing to with the players.

Jacob Phillips
Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill (8) is tackled by LSU linebacker Jacob Phillips (6) during the first half of their NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. LSU won 36-13. (Source: Rogelio V. Solis)

Jacob Phillips 2019 Season

Phillips was part of a powerhouse LSU team that rolled their way to an NCAA Championship last season. He was a team leader on defense and led the team 113 total tackles. Phillips also had 7.5 of those tackles for loss, one sack, one pass defended, and a forced fumble. Tackling is where Phillips excels with only a 2.5 percent miss rate in 2019 per Pro Football Focus. As a matter of fact, PFF had him as the best tackler in college football last season.

As sure a tackler as they come, Phillips led all FBS defenders who attempted at least 55 tackles with a missed-tackle percentage of just 2.5%. He limited himself to just two missed tackles on his 79 total attempts, missing just one tackle in run defense and one tackle in coverage as he was a solid asset for the Tigers’ defense all season.

-per PFF

While Phillips’s strength is getting opposing players on the ground, covering them is a different story. He was one of the worst graded linebackers in college football in coverage. He has the athleticism to be better but lacks the fluidity and processing skills at this point in his development. Phillips has a high ceiling but will need coaching and to get his head in the playbook if he is to take his game to the next level.

What to expect in 2020?

Phillips will have every chance not only to see significant time but become a starter. Andrew Berry has made it clear with his moves that linebacker is not a priority. Therefore, the door is open for Phillips to make his presence felt. There is no question that Phillips has the talent to be a good player, but with a lot of issues surrounding his ability to process and his lack of skill in coverage, it is best to limit him during his rookie season. Using him in the box making plays downhill at linebacker is about the best that should be expected.

He should also be able to impact special teams with his straight-line speed and tackling ability. The linebacking core is thin, and anything could happen, but Jacob Phillips has a lot of development ahead to be heavily counted on in 2020. It might be best for Andrew Berry to spend a little more for a veteran to fill the void.

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