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2020 Cleveland Browns Positional Breakdown: Defensive Line

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The seventh installment for the 2020 Cleveland Browns Positional Breakdown will feature the defensive line that, while formidable, upgraded in the off-season. If there’s one group that can make the Browns 2020 season successful on the defense, it’s the men up front.

Myles Garrett (Signed until 2021, Free Agent 2022)

2020 Contract: $9.676M

It would be a travesty if Myles Garrett wasn’t the first player mentioned in the 2020 DL breakdown. Garrett comes into the 2020 season looking to right the wrongs that happened last season that saw him miss six games. Garrett will be dialed into helping the Browns make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Despite playing in only 10 games last year, Garrett still managed to rack up 9.0 sacks, a very impressive feat. There was a chance he could have finished with 12-14 sacks last year. His final line was ranked T-21st by all defensive ends last year according to Pro Football Focus. He even had 15 solo tackles and four combined tackles last year to boot, forcing a fumble as well. Garrett is a guy that really no quarterback wants to deal with even after seeing his 60-inch box jump during the offseason.

If that doesn’t put the fear in a person, no one knows what will. Garrett with a full season ahead of him after getting his fifth-year option picked up for the 2021 season looks to be a man on a mission. Expect one heck of a 2020 season for Garrett that may include another Pro-Bowl and maybe even a Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Adrian Clayborn (Signed until 2021, Potential Opt-Out in 2021, Free Agent in 2022)

2020 Contract: $2.25M

A key free-agent signing for the Browns this off-season was getting defensive end, Adrian Clayborn, on a two-year, $5.75M deal with a potential opt-out before the 2021 season. Clayborn brings veteran leadership to a room that already is pretty solid. Granted, Clayborn might be seeing a backup role with guys like Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon as the starters for the 2020 season.

Unfortunately, last season for the defensive line took a nosedive once Garrett and Vernon weren’t available to play for the Browns. Both were out on different circumstances but it hurt the defensive line nonetheless for the last six games of the season. The Browns going into 2020 wanted to make sure that the defensive line was taken care of depth wise if anything happened to Garrett or Vernon.

Clayborn was a good option overall as he did manage a 71.7 player grade last year according to Pro Football Focus. Clayborn last year did manage to finish with 11 solo tackles and 4.0 sacks in 15 games played last year. Expect Clayborn to get some playing time as a backup to either Vernon or Garrett on the edge when those guys get breaks. Not a bad move to bring in a solid veteran to backup a formidable positional group.

Olivier Vernon (Signed until 2020, Free Agent in 2021)

2020 Contract: $15.5M

When people want to talk about the Browns defensive line, especially on the defensive end, they can’t talk about Myles Garrett without bringing up Olivier Vernon.

In his first year with the Browns, Vernon only played in 10 games with the team. That aside, the stats show there’s a lot to like when it comes to how Vernon played in 2019. He managed to get 20 solo tackles and 4.0 sacks in those 10 games for the Browns. That ranked him T-56th in tackles and T-69th in sacks according to Pro Football Focus for all DE’s last year. Plus, PFF gave him a player rating of 80.4. Think about that in terms of 10 games played and what it would have been like if he didn’t get hurt.

Browns fans can expect a massive year for Vernon going into his second year with the Browns, and the last year of his current five-year contract. This could be a season for Vernon to show that he should get paid after his 29-year-old season. There’s been speculation if the Browns would keep him if the team signed free agent Jadeveon Clowney. Although, keeping Vernon would be cheaper for the Browns since Clowney has been looking for a contract between $18-$20M a year whereas Vernon is only $15.5M this year. But, if the Browns do keep Vernon after this year that number could be higher.

Despite all of the contract stuff, expect Vernon to have a solid season where he could play in all 16 games if he stays healthy and with offenses double-teaming Garrett as well. Vernon could get between 6.0-8.0 sacks this year if he plays in every game and proves that he deserves to get paid after this season.

Chad Thomas (Signed until 2021, Free Agent in 2022)

2020 Contract: $1.113M

The 2019 season for Chad Thomas was an interesting one for the Browns second-round pick back in 2018. After Vernon and Garrett were both out, he managed to start in five games last year but did manage to play in all 16 games for the Browns. He finished the year with 17 solo tackles and four sacks. For a guy getting those kinds of numbers after playing in 16 games would be a good thing; unfortunately, Pro Football Focus only gave him a player grade of 47.8

It does seem odd to appear that Thomas would get a 47.8 even though Vernon got an 80.4 after getting only three more solo tackles and the same number of sacks. Although, when diving deeper it does make sense since Thomas playing in more games than Vernon and had three fewer solo tackles with six more games played. Overall Thomas is a good defensive end, but the defense did struggle on the run and passing game defensively with those two guys out.

Thomas is going into the third year of his rookie contract, and with the addition of Adrian Clayborn could take the 2020 season as a year to grow more and be a solid backup to Vernon or Garrett as the season progresses. Thomas does have a potential upside; he just needs more time to grow and get used to the NFL and being in that room will help him in many ways.

Andrew Billings (Signed until 2020, Free Agent in 2021)

2020 Contract: $3.5M

The Browns didn’t stop at getting only Clayborn In free agency, picking up defensive tackle Andrew Billings as well. The Browns signed Billings to a one-year, $3.5M deal after playing with the Cincinnati Bengals since 2016.

Billings last year for the Bengals had 28 solo tackles and two sacks which ranked T-32nd (tackles) and T-53rd (sacks) for all defensive tackles according to Pro Football Focus. What makes the Billings singing interesting is the fact that the Browns also have Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi as their main starters. Billings does have the talent and could be a key depth piece to give Richardson, and Ogunjobi rest during the season and/or if anything happens to them. The defensive tackle spots could be something to watch for during the 2020 training camp and the season as well.

Jordan Elliott (Signed until 2023, Free Agent in 2024)

2020 Contract: N/A

As of this article, Jordan Elliott hasn’t signed his rookie contract but is expected to be signed with the Browns until the 2023 season is completed.

Back around the draft when the Browns first got Elliott, it was a head-scratcher of a move by the team. In reality, the Browns got a key piece on the defensive side of the ball for the future. In a room that already had Richardson, Ogunjobi, and Billings, why go after a DT? Simple: it was for depth and someone they can see who could become a starter one day.

The Browns picked a kid who can be a force to be reckoned with the right coaching in Cleveland. If Elliott gets the right coaching in that defensive line room while being with Ogunjobi, Billings, and Richardson; he will be a force in the future. Elliott being held in high regard in terms of pass-rushing coming out of college is something to take notice of.

While Elliott will get mainly backup playing time for the Browns, he will be gaining a vast amount of knowledge for the future with the groups around in not only on the defensive line but as a defensive tackle as a whole. Browns fans should keep an eye on Elliott in 2020, he could prove why the Browns picked him at 88 in the draft.

Larry Ogunjobi (Signed until 2020, Free Agent in 2021)

2020 Contract: $2.378M

What else is there really to say about Larry Ogunjobi than just someone you cannot take your eyes off of, unless you’re Myles Garrett of course, but nonetheless, Ogunjobi is sensational.

Ogunjobi is, unfortunately, going into the last season of his rookie contract that he signed back in 2017. Last season, Ogunjobi had 33 tackles and 6.0 sacks which were ranked T-20th (Tackles) and T-14th (Sacks) amongst all defensive tackles in the league by Pro Football Focus. The Browns will have a decision to make after this season to re-sign Ogunjobi and all signs point to the Browns making that move.

Ogunjobi will be entering the season at age 26, so he still has many years of playing under his belt. He proved last year that he is a defensive tackle who can make plays on a defensive line that also has Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon. Outside of Ogunjobi and Richardson, the Browns signed Andrew Billings to a one-year deal as a backup and drafted Jordan Elliott, who will need time to grow.

When, not if the season is done and Ogunjobi proved that he still has a lot left in the tank, the Browns better make a move to keep him in Cleveland. Keeping Ogunjobi on the line with Garrett, Vernon (hopefully), and Richardson will make the defensive line a force to be reckoned with, one teams would hate to face.

Sheldon Richardson (Signed until 2021, Potential Opt-Out in 2021, Free Agent in 2022)

2020 Contract: $13.66M

When mentioned earlier of Larry Ogunjobi was sensational, well in terms of Sheldon Richardson, this guy is a stud to the Nth degree.

Sheldon Richardson had a 2019 season that anyone would love to have on a year-in, year-out basis. Last season, Richardson had 49 solo tackles, 4.0 sacks, and three forced fumbles. When looking at those stats ranked by Pro Football Focus across the whole league for defensive tackles; he ranked 3rd in tackles, T-23rd in sacks, and T-1st in forced fumbles. For him to be ranked top three in tackles and T-1st in forced fumbles on a line that has Myles Garrett is unreal.

What’s most impressive was that all of those stats came as a 29-year-old in his first for the Browns. Better yet, the Browns have him locked up till the end of the 2021 season as long as the team doesn’t opt out before the season starts. Richardson could have another solid season if he stays healthy like he did last year and if both Garrett and Vernon play the whole season in 2020.

The defensive line is stacked when looking at it with the names of Garrett, Vernon, Ogunjobi, and Richardson. If Richardson plays like he did last year, there’s no reason that he couldn’t finish either first or second in tackles as a defensive tackle in the league. There’s even a chance he could get between 5.0-7.0 sacks as well. Expect a monster year for Richardson in Cleveland.

Summary 

Overall, when looking at the 2020 Cleveland Browns defensive line on paper and tape as well, it’s clear this line is formidable. If all of the starters stay healthy and play the full 16-game season, there’s no reason why they won’t be in the top-10 in the league.

When a team has the line of Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, and one Myles Garrett, any offense will have trouble stopping them. If they get better rest with the help of the offense having long drives, there’s a chance for the defensive line to have a monster year as a group, not just individually.

Furthermore, the Browns in the off-season even upgraded the depth of the line as well after they saw what happened last year. The additions of Andrew Billings in free agency and Jordan Elliott in the draft only helped the team backing up that starting defensive line group. Cleveland fans can expect a massive year for the defensive line if everyone stays healthy and plays in every single game. There’s no telling how the stats will look once the 2020 season is over for the Browns with this line.

Zach Martin
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