The Cleveland Browns finished off their 2018 season with a 7-8-1 record. The season had its ups and downs, but overall it was a productive year that has raised hopes for the franchise going forward. Freddie Kitchens is now the head coach of the Browns and this offseason should have a lot different feel to it because of the success the team felt this season. But, before we get to the offseason, let’s go over what transpired this past season in our final report cards. The next position up in our report card series is the Browns edge defender unit.
Overall Grade: C+
Myles Garrett: A
Genard Avery: B-
Emmanuel Ogbah: C
Chris Smith: C-
Anthony Zettel: C-
Chad Thomas: INC
Top Grade: Myles Garrett
Myles Garrett is the most talented player on the entire Browns roster, in my opinion. In just his second season, he had 44 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, three pass defended, three forced fumbles, one kick block and 13.5 sacks. Garrett was by far the best edge defender on the team. He was a force both as a pass rusher and a run defender. He has the rare ability to win both power and athleticism. He is still improving and has still more room to grow to reach his ultimate ceiling.
Biggest Strength: Myles Garrett
The edge defender unit’s biggest strength is the fact that it has Myles Garrett. Garrett is a game changer and one of the best edge defenders in the entire league. His presence on the field affects the opposing offense, forcing many play calls to go away from his direction. His presence also helps his teammates have less attention shown to them. Garrett can change a game with one play. He is a true playmaker in the Browns front seven.
Biggest Need: Pass Rush
The Browns had a total of 37 sacks as a team last season. That tied as the eighth lowest sack total in the NFL. Cleveland has a great pass rusher in Myles Garrett, but beyond him the Browns lack consistent pass rushers throughout the depth chart. Genard Avery showed some promise in this area as a rookie, but the Browns need more help in this area. The depth of good pass rushers on the Browns roster is non-existent, so this offseason the Browns could use a player or two to add to this area of weakness.
2019 NFL Draft Priority: High
The Browns’ top need is at interior defensive line, but the edge defender unit is not far behind in its urgency of needing help. If the right edge player is on the board in the first few rounds, the Browns could definitely use a high pick to help find some help alongside Myles Garrett. Like they did in finding Avery, the Browns could help add depth to this unit with a late-round selection also.
2019 Free Agency Priority: High
There are a lot of nice options on the free agent market to help improve this unit. The Browns could go spend big bucks on guys like Demarcus Lawrence, Trey Flowers, Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, and Dee Ford if they hit the open market. Those are all young edge defenders who would form a great duo with Garrett. The Browns also could go with an older veteran option like Brandon Graham or Terrell Suggs. The free agent market is rich in this area, so the Browns would be smart to possibly nab one or two of these players this offseason.
Myles Garrett headlines the Browns edge defender unit, but beyond him, the position leaves a lot to be desired. I had high hopes for Emmanuel Ogbah, but he has yet to show that he is a starting quality defensive end. He has been a solid run defender because of his strength, but up to this point, he has given little as a pass rusher. Genard Avery was the second-best edge defender on the team as a rookie. He showed glimpses of really impressive pass rushing skills and was also good as a run defender. He was used more as a linebacker than the other edge defenders, tasked to play in coverage more often. Going forward, I would not use him in coverage and try to make him a pass rush specialist to fully utilize his strengths. I like his upside to be a really dangerous pass rusher for this team.
Chris Smith was OK, but he was anything special to force the Browns to give him a roster spot next season. Anthony Zettel played less than Smith as a backup, but he too was just OK. Neither guy, in my opinion, will be on the roster next season. And, as I said about Chad Thomas in my interior defensive line report card, his status on the team is a mystery.
This offseason the Browns need to add more pass rushing and in my opinion, find a starting defensive end to go opposite of Garrett. Ogbah is just not getting the job done and I am not sure if Avery can handle being a full-time starter. Free agency looks to be the area where the Browns have the best opportunity to fix this area. I think the Browns should try and nab one of the top young edge defenders like Ford, Ansah, Clowney or Flowers. Getting a starting quality edge defender will allow Avery and Ogbah to be backup situational players, which in my opinion fit their skill sets better. And then, through the draft or free agency, the Browns could add another player to add more depth to the unit. The Browns have the assets and opportunity to really improve this position this offseason.