You may remember back in 2010 (you know the last time there was a complete overhaul in Berea) we wanted to give incoming President Mike Holmgren a hand evaluating the roster. We are nothing if not equal opportunity. The Browns have a completely new group in charge this year. Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner and Ray Horton take over a 5-11 team. They have plenty of important decisions to make about the roster between now and the 2013 NFL Draft. WFNY wants to offer our assistance with The Banner Position Reports. Previous reports: LB, QB, RB
In 2012, only 7 teams in the NFL allowed more passing yards than the Cleveland Browns. This came just one year after allowing just the 2nd fewest passing yards. So why the drastic change? A lot goes into raw passing yards allowed stats. It’s not just on the DBs, but it’s a combined effort between getting pressure on the QB, forcing opponents to be one dimensional in any way possible, and of course, defending opposing receivers.
The Browns have certainly been active the last couple years under Tom Heckert in trying to address the secondary, bringing in guys like Usama Young and Dimitri Patterson and drafting Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade, and Eric Hagg. The results have been somewhat mixed, but lets see if we can’t look a little more in depth at any potential issues with the Browns’ DBs.
The 2012 Season (stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com):
Consistency was something that plagued the Browns’ secondary all season. Whether it be due to injury, poor performance, or suspension due to substance abuse, the Browns just couldn’t keep anything even close to resembling a cohesive unit playing together in the secondary.
We already mentioned the Browns’ poor passing yards allowed number, but how much of that is the fault of the DBs? Upon closer review of some of the passing metrics, it appears the Browns’ secondary wasn’t actually horrible. In terms of Net Yards Gained per Pass Attempt, the Browns’ defense was 15th in the NFL at 6.1 NY/A. When you use Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt, which adjusts for the projected “value” of a Passing TD allowed, the Browns rank 14th in the NFL at 5.8 ANY/A. The Browns were 12th in the NFL with 17 interceptions, with 11 of those coming from the secondary.
The Browns’ poor passing numbers are the result of two things. One, they gave up the 5th most pass attempts in 2012 and two, they allowed the 10th highest Completion Percentage in the NFL.
When trying to figure out the reasons for this, you likely have to consider defensive pass rush, the LBs’ ability to cover TE’s and WRs over the middle, the secondary’s ability to cover WRs, and the DBs’ ability to create turnovers via Interception.
When it comes to pressuring the QB, the Browns were pretty mediocre last season. They were 14th in the NFL in sacks and 18th in Sack% (number of sacks per pass attempt). Not great numbers, and obviously the Browns need a better pass rush. Certainly an upgrade in pressure on opposing QBs would theoretically help the DBs and make the pass defense numbers look a lot better.
The LBs weren’t too great at defending opposing TEs last year either. According to Football Outsiders the Browns were 20th in the NFL in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) in defending opposing TEs. Of course, the interesting thing about that is that the Browns allowed the 9th fewest attempts to TEs in the NFL and the 5th fewest receiving yards to TEs in the NFL. So while the Browns didn’t give up a ton in terms of raw numbers, they were pretty inefficient overall in defending TEs.
They didn’t fare much better in defending WRs. They were 17th in defending opposing #1 WRs, 24th against #2 WRs, and 25th against all other WRs. This slide really shows the lack of depth at this position. Joe Haden is a pretty good CB and there was a discernable difference in the team with him as opposed to without him. The fact that he only played 11 games plays into that 17th ranking against #1 WRs. Had he played all 16 games, that number would have likely been better.
While Joe Haden and TJ Ward are the leaders of the secondary and the Browns can feel good about those positions, there is still a lot of room for some much needed help in the secondary surrounding that foundation.
Contract Situation (via RotoWorld.com)
Banner Report Advisory Alert: Elevated
Usama Young injured his thumb and missed the last 5 games of 2012, but he was having a pretty nice season before the injury with 3 INTs and 1.5 sacks. It would seem pretty obvious that he’ll be back starting at FS beside Ward for 2012. So if those two safeties can stay healthy, the Browns should be ok there. The depth behind them is a little thin, with Eric Hagg and Tashaun Gipson, so adding a solid backup wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Where the Browns need the most help is at CB. Sheldon Brown played his heart out for the Browns last season for sure, but at 34 years old and a free agent, the Browns don’t seem likely to re-sign him. That leaves just Buster Skrine and Trevin Wade to join Haden in the CB corps. Skrine and Wade are both intriguing young players who have a little upside to them, so perhaps the Browns will be ok with letting them fight it out for the #2 and #3 spot behind Haden. But what happens if Haden gets hurt or, heaven forbid, suspended again? Asking Skrine and Wade to be the top corners might be a bit much.
It’s my belief that the Browns for sure need to add a CB to replace Sheldon Brown first and foremost, and then a little later I think adding another Safety for depth is a good idea as well. CB may not be as big of a need as, say, LBs are in switching to the 3-4, but CB is a big enough need that it’s a position the Browns definitely might address with their first round pick in the draft.
2013 Draft Class (via Mel Kiper Big Board)
2013 Top Unrestricted Free Agents (via Scouts Inc)
I debated a long time between whether to consider the threat status here to be Elevated or High. I went with Elevated because at the end of the day, the Browns do have 3 of the 4 starting positions secured. It’s just that adding a CB has to be one of the Browns’ highest priorities.
The good news is the Browns have tons of cap space to use and a high draft position at their disposal. The perfect fit for the Browns would be to draft Dee Milliner. However, most mock draft have Milliner going at #4 to the Eagles (of course), and if Milliner is off the board, taking a LB with the #6 pick is a no-brainer.
I expect the Browns to take at least 1 CB in this draft and perhaps a Safety as well, but we might see them take a CB with one of their mid round picks.
The most likely scenario that I see is the Browns using free agency to pick up a starting CB. Antoine Cason is probably the most intriguing possibility. Toni Grossi has reported that the Browns are high on Cason, a former first round pick. Cason would give the Browns some much needed size at CB and he’s a young (27 years old), versatile player who is also capable in stopping the run. If the Chargers can’t or don’t re-sign him, I expect the Browns to pounce all over him.
There have been plenty of rumors linking the Browns to Greg Toler, who played under Ray Horton in Arizona. Chris Houston might be a nice fit as a 2nd corner beside Joe Haden. Obviously stealing Keenan Lewis from the Steelers would be attractive to Browns fans. Grimes is another smaller corner, but there’s no denying his talent.
There are plenty of options here. Assuming Milliner does indeed go before the Browns can get to him, I think the ideal scenario is to sign a starting CB in free agency (I like Cason the most, personally), and then draft a CB who can compete with Skrine for the nickel slot.
As for Safety, the free agency class is deep here and supposedly in the draft as well. Despite the positional depth, a lot of these free agent Safeties are looking for huge contracts. The Browns could use free agency to sign someone like Goldson or Moore and strengthen the Safety position. The Browns could probably price either one out of the 49ers or Falcons’ price range. It might not be a bad idea, but I’m not sure I see the Browns taking this route.
Once again, we might just see them be content to start with Ward and Young, and perhaps draft a Safety in mid-to-late rounds to come in and battle for a backup spot. The need probably isn’t as strong as CB, but sometimes when you have an opportunity to make a bold strike and bolster a position it’s not a bad idea to take it.
Here’s one thing I know. There’s been some research lately on the impact of Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (ANY/A) differential and its correlation to winning. Turns out if you can finish in the top 10 of the NFL in Δ ANY/A, you’re almost certainly going to be a playoff team. Last year the Browns were 26th in Δ ANY/A. They have a long way to go. Part of the improvement needs to come from the QB position of course, but the Browns were 14th in defensive ANY/A last year. There’s plenty of room to improve here and the resources are in place to do so.