We continue WFNY’s grading period of the 2017 Cleveland Browns season by taking a look at one the Browns better positional groupings within the defensive line, the defensive tackles. It’s no secret the Browns, under Sashi Brown, wanted to build their defensive line in order to establish the foundation necessary to compete consistently. With the success of the Eagles, Vikings, and Jaguars this season, it seems like it was a wise idea.
Overall the Browns controlled the run game in 2017, as they finished seventh in yards allowed and second in yards per attempt in the NFL. It was a welcome difference for Browns fans as they had grown accustomed to watching the the team struggle to consistently stop opposing rushing attacks. The foundation is there for the Browns interior defense, and the core is very young moving forward.Let’s take a look at how the position graded out in 2017.
Overall Grade: B+
Danny Shelton: B
81.5 PFF Grade, 34 tackles, six tackles for loss
Trevon Coley: B-
68.9 PFF Grade, 41 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks
Larry Ogunjobi: A-
82.0 PFF Grade, 32 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack
Caleb Brantley: B-
73.0 PFF Grade, 18 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks
Jamie Meder: C+
74.8 PFF Grade, 13 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Top Grade: Larry Ogunjobi
The interior defensive line was young, but productive. Between the group they accounted for 138 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and five sacks. The unit helped anchor a group of line play on both sides of the ball that kept the Browns in games. Larry Ogunjobi received the highest grade as he not only flashed the necessary skill in both phases, but he was a game changer when he got his opportunities. Ogunjobi only played in 14 games, but battled groin issues mid-season. When at full strength the time before and after the injury, Ogunjobi showed an explosive quickness off the ball, speed within the interior, and a strength to displace his opposing player. There many NFL minds who think Ogunjobi could be the next big thing at the position in the NFL if he continues his growth in 2018.
Biggest Strength: Young Talent
The Browns might have the best young interior defense in the NFL if you base it on age. The oldest player in the position group’s first two rotations will Danny Shelton, who will be 25 at the start of next season. Ogunjobi, Caleb Brantley, and Trevon Coley will all be just 24. Jamie Meder will be 27, but he is there for the depth he provides if injuries occur. Greg Williams gave first team reps to Shelton and Coley, and rotated Brantley and Ogunjobi in. The competition for snaps within the group will be fierce next season as all four provide the ability to start and put up quality numbers.
Biggest Need: Development
This isn’t the first or last team to have young talent within a position group up front. The biggest thing for this group is how Gregg Williams will use them going forward, and the Browns overall plan to keep them developing. It is very clear the talent is there, and the effort from the group was always top notch. The plan for the group will be the key. Far too often they asked Shelton and company to drop off the line in pass coverage, and this caused a lack of production for the defense as a whole. The best course of action is to let this group continue to develop a consistent interior pass rush, as the five sack number was not enough.
The Browns interior defensive line exceeded expectations, but it also fair to say that the group can be, and should be better in 2018. The group was young, and flashed the necessary skill set to control the run game, but if the group wants to be among the NFL’s elite they will need a higher pass rush percentage. Luckily, as we showed earlier, the group has enough youth to develop. Next year will be key as the group as the majority of the core will be in their second or third year, and Danny Shelton will need to continue to keep making strides in his overall game. There is more than the naked eye can always see with the production of defensive tackles as their responsibility don’t always show up in the stat sheet. This group has a knack for doing their job, and it will keep showing itself in the long-term and immediate future. I expect big things from the Browns interior defensive line in 2018.
The Browns will add a piece to this group in the draft, but I expect all within the group to return. The future for Meder is unclear. Also, Larry Ogunjobi will have a top 10 defensive tackle season in the NFL next season.