The Browns defensive line saw a lot of change last season and this coming this season will see even more. With the change to Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, the Browns defensive line will have a slew of different looks including playing in a four-man front. Last season, Danny Shelton, Jamie Meder, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, Xavier Cooper and Stephen Paea saw the majority of snaps on the defensive line. Tyrone Holmes and Gabe Wright saw limited action, while Desmond Bryant missed the entire season and Nate Orchard missed most of the season with injuries. I have included players who lined up at outside linebacker this season because next year these players will likely go to defensive end. So with that, let’s take a look at what happened to the Browns defensive line in 2016 and what needs to happen going into the 2017 season.
Defensive Linemen on the roster: Danny Shelton, Emmanuel Ogbah, Xavier Cooper, Jamie Meder, Carl Nassib, Stephen Paea, Desmond Bryant, Nate Orchard, Tyrone Holmes, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Trevon Coley, Dylan Wynn and Gabe Wright.
Danny Shelton: Notched 59 tackles, one tackle for loss and one and a half sacks.
Emmanuel Ogbah: Posted 53 tackles, four tackles for loss, three passes defended and five and a half sacks.
Xavier Cooper: Notched 20 tackles.
Jamie Meder: Posted 48 tackles, three tackles for loss, one pass defended, one sack and a blocked field goal.
Carl Nassib: Notched 20 tackles, four passes defended and two and a half sacks.
Stephen Paea: Posted 12 tackles and a half sack.
Nate Orchard: Posted four tackles.
Tyrone Holmes: Notched six tackles and a sack.
Gabe Wright: Posted four tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass defended.
The center of the defensive line was manned by second-year nose tackle Danny Shelton. After a so-so rookie season, Shelton made a huge jump in Year 2, showcasing a lot of what people expected from him coming out of college. He was able to take on multiple blockers in the middle of the defense, allowing his teammates to go free behind him. He was hard to handle one-on-one, with the ability to push defenders back into the backfield and force runners to go another way. He still has some work to do to get better, but Shelton’s ability to stuff the run makes him the centerpiece of the interior defensive line for years to come.
One of the unsung guys on the defensive line this season was Jamie Meder. Besides Emmanuel Ogbah and Danny Shelton, Meder played the next most snaps on the line. He does not impress with speed or penetrating ability. But, he can take on blocks and play a solid role on the line. He should not be playing the third most snaps on the defensive line, but he can be a nice rotational role player for the Browns next season.
Emmanuel Ogbah started off a little bit slow in his rookie season, but as the season went on, he continued to get better. Ogbah is a physical freak with the ability to chase down plays from sideline to sideline. Once he moved back to playing with his hand on the ground, he seemed to play better, especially rushing the passer. He became the only real consistent pass rushing threat for the defense. Ogbah needs to improve on his run defending skills to be a more complete defender. Ogbah is a building block in the front seven with the potential to be a really good edge defender in the very near future. He should fit in nicely as a defensive end in Greg Williams’ defense.
Carl Nassib started off the season with a bang, but an early season injury seemed to derail his season. He is a player with good length and athleticism. He showed his ability to keep his motor going and continue to pursue the play. But when he broke his hand, missing time and then having to play with the club on his arm hurt his development in his rookie season. This offseason will be big for Nassib and his development.
Xavier Cooper is a defensive lineman who can penetrate and make plays in the backfield. He was largely used this season as a pass rusher, which allows him to utilize his skillset. He is not a starting caliber lineman, but a player who is best used in a rotation. He is a situational defensive lineman who is one of the few Browns linemen who can rush the passer.
Stephen Paea was a solid pickup this season, adding some depth to the defensive line rotation. He possesses good strength and quickness, with the ability to penetrate to the backfield. But, he is a rotational lineman, who is best suited in limited snaps.
Desmond Bryant missed the entire 2016 season with an injury. He could be a vital cog next season on the defensive line. He can rush the passer and great size and athleticism that the team lacks on the defensive line. But, he is a question mark until the team can see what he has left after the injury.
Nate Orchard is a player who might be gone this offseason after the switch to Greg Williams defense and the potential additions to the defense this offseason. Orchard is more of an outside linebacker than a defensive end, so he could struggle to find a spot on the team next season. Orchard is not a great run defender, posing his biggest threat as a pass rusher. It will be interesting to watch what happens to him this offseason.
Tyrone Holmes showed glimpses during the season in what he could bring to the team. He showed the ability to get pressure on the quarterback. He could be a good backup pass rushing specialist to rotate in on passing downs. Gabe Wright played very few snaps, while Nile Lawrence-Stample, Trevon Coley, and Dylan Wynn did not see the field in 2016. Those four will have a hard time sticking with the team this offseason.
The Browns defensive line will likely see a huge shakeup this offseason. Right now, the Browns have two cornerstones on the line with Danny Shelton in the middle and Emmanuel Ogbah on the edge. The rest of the group is a hodgepodge of rotational defensive linemen. The Browns are missing two starters on the defensive line. If the Browns can fill these two spots, the Browns defensive line becomes a strength because the rest of the group becomes rotational linemen as they should be. Change is coming at this position.
Youth and Rotational Linemen
The Browns are filled with youth on the defensive. Only two linemen, Desmond Bryant and Stephen Paea, are over the age of 25 years. The Browns two building blocks on the line, Danny Shelton, and Emmanuel Ogbah, are both 23 years old. This means the unit has a lot of potential and development that could rise this position up even more.
Besides youth, the Browns have a lot of solid rotational defensive linemen. These rotational players are huge for the depth of the position. But right now, these players are being used in larger roles, which makes them more of a liability than an asset. If the Browns can fill the two open starting spots on the line, these rotational linemen become very valuable.
The Browns tied for second last in the league in sacks with just 26 sacks this season. Much of the blame of this can be put on the Browns defensive line. The only real consistent pass rusher on the line was Emmanuel Ogbah. Xavier Cooper has that ability, but he is far too inconsistent. The Browns need to get more linemen who can get after the quarterback. Without pressure, the quarterback was able to cut the Browns secondary up all season.
To Do List
- Draft Myles Garrett
This is the easiest thing to do. He is there for the taking at No. 1 in the 2017 NFL Draft. He is the best player in the draft, and he fits a huge hole in the Browns defense. He gives the defensive line a consistent pass rusher and a great complement to Emmanuel Ogbah. Draft him!
- Find a starting defensive tackle alongside Danny Shelton
The Browns do not have a starting quality defensive tackle to play alongside Danny Shelton. This player will most likely need to fill the three-technique on the line. This player will need quickness and penetrating ability to complement Shelton. In free agency, the Browns could target Kawann Short or Calais Campbell. In the draft, the Browns could look at Malik McDowell or Solomon Thomas to fill this need.
- Re-sign Jamie Meder
Jamie Meder is an exclusive restricted free agent this offseason. The Browns should look to re-sign Meder. He provides valuable interior defensive line depth with the experience of starting this past season. Meder would fit nicely as a rotational backup defensive tackle for the team.