In order to successfully compete in the AFC North each and every year, the Cleveland Browns need to address their defense. The Browns ranked 21st in total defense this past season and 16th in total yards allowed according to pro-football-reference.com. These statistics were good for third out of four teams in the AFC North.
The Browns’ defense was certainly hurt by COVID-19 this year, as both Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward missed games as a result of catching the illness. With an offseason that should be devoted almost exclusively to the defensive side of the ball, the Browns have the tools to greatly improve their defense heading into next year.
The strength of the Browns’ defensive unit this year was their defensive line, as Garrett, Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson led the way in both sacks and quarterback hits. However, the Browns will most likely need to find a replacement for Vernon who is a free agent this offseason and is coming off of a torn Achilles tendon which he suffered in the last game of the regular season. Finding another pass rusher opposite Garrett will be one of the positions the Browns will need to address.
The back seven of the Cleveland defense is where the Browns need to make some significant upgrades in order to improve their chances for next season. Despite B.J. Goodson looking like a keeper at linebacker, the Browns would be smart to look to add another game changer at that position. The Browns struggled mightily at covering the middle of the field, as opposing tight ends feasted against Cleveland linebackers. Adding a linebacker that can cover tight ends in space would help take the Browns’ defense to the next level.
Cleveland’s defensive backfield was the weakness of their team this year, as both cornerbacks and safeties dealt with various coverage issues at many points. Denzel Ward missed four games due to injury and COVID-19 and Greedy Williams did not play at all this year with a nerve issue in his shoulder. Additionally, second round draft pick Grant Delpit missed the entire season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in training camp. This forced veteran Andrew Sendejo into the starting lineup, a player who struggled mightily in coverage over the course of the season. The Browns will be in need of another starting caliber cornerback, as starters from this past year, Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson, are both free agents.
The Cleveland defense shows promise, with building blocks Garrett and Ward leading the way. In a division that has been historically ruled by defense, the Browns will have to add a combination of free agents and draft picks in order to improve on their rankings from this past year as a unit. While the Browns do not pick until the 26th spot in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft, they should still be able to add a defensive starter, whether it be another pass rusher, a linebacker or a cornerback.