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 different feel to it due to 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.
We will continue our look at the defense, this time with our focus on the linebacker corps.
Overall Grade: C
Joe Schobert: B
Jamie Collins: C
Christian Kirksey: C
Ray-Ray Armstrong: C-
Tanner Vallejo: C-
D’Juan Hines: INC
Xavier Woodson-Luster: INC
Top Grade: Joe Schobert
Schobert is the linchpin of the Browns defense. He is the best linebacker on the roster and the player who gets the Browns defense in the right position.
As a player, he is an athletic linebacker who is strongest when falling back into coverage. But he is also not a slouch against the run, using his intelligence and athleticism to quickly react to the play.
His overall grade this season is lower because of the time he missed with an injury and the tackling issues he had this year. Nonetheless, Schobert is a building block on the Browns defense.
Biggest Strength: Athleticism
The Browns linebacker unit has a slew of players who are really good athletes. Jamie Collins has the size and speed combination that many linebackers do not possess. Christian Kirksey is a linebacker with good speed. Joe Schobert came out of college as an edge rusher and his athleticism allowed him to move inside to the position he is in today.
The Browns are not lacking in athleticism at this position.
Biggest Need: Consistent production outside of Schobert
The Browns have some really talented athletes, but besides Joe Schobert, the Browns have struggled to show consistent production at linebacker. Both Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey have shown high production at one point of time in their NFL career. Neither player showed a high level of player game in and game out last season, however. The Browns need more consistency alongside Schobert.
2019 NFL Draft Priority: High
The Browns need to upgrade this position and the draft may be one of the avenues the Browns can use to do just that. Cleveland could need to replace both the strongside and weakside linebacker spots if the Browns are not comfortable rolling with Collins and Kirksey for another season.
2019 Free Agency Priority: High
The Browns will have a few options in free agency to help shore up the linebacker unit. Anthony Barr and C.J. Mosley may be two of the top options to really make a splash in free agency to improve this position. But the Browns could go with a short-term option like Thomas Davis if they want someone to hold a linebacker spot for a couple years while they develop a draft pick to be the future at the position.
The Browns linebacker unit has just not been good enough over the last couple seasons. The unit has the athletes and name recognition, but the consistent production is just not there.
The only player safe is Joe Schobert, who I believe is a building block for the Browns defense. Both Collins and Kirksey have the talent to be starting for this team, but the production is just not there.
Besides those three, the rest of the depth chart does not have any promising players to possible come in and develop as a possible starter. Genard Avery was used at linebacker in certain situations, but as I said in my edge defender report card, his pass rushing skills should not be wasted in coverage as a linebacker.
The Browns need to improve this position. Some of the improvement should come by the change of defensive coordinators, from Gregg Williams to Steve Wilks. I just was not a fan of Williams and his defensive philosophies. But, Cleveland needs to upgrade the personnel. With the pass-happy league, defenses are going to more nickel formations and the need for three linebackers is not as important. So, finding one linebacker to go alongside Schobert would be a strong advancement of this unit and for the overall defense.