The Cleveland Browns are just a month or so away from taking the field for the start of training camp. It has been a very active offseason for the Browns after coming off a 2018 season that produced a lot of hope for the future. Cleveland made moves through almost every avenue possible, including the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Browns went defensive heavy with their first four selections coming on the defensive side of the ball. The team’s fourth selection, No. 155 overall in the fifth round, was linebacker Mack Wilson of Alabama. Wilson was seen by many, including myself, as a player who slid down boards and could be a steal with how late he went and the skill set he possesses. So, what can the Browns expect from this Alabama linebacker? Well, let’s take a look at the film to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of Mack Wilson’s game.
The No. 1 strength and the main reason I had Wilson so high in my linebacker rankings for the draft is Wilson’s coverage ability. He shows the ability to play in both man and zone coverage. His ability to move smoothly around the field, transitioning to different directions in seamless fashion, makes him a strong zone coverage defender. But, his solid athleticism allows him to take on tight ends and running backs in man-to-man. This coverage skill set will be the asset that allows him to stick in this league and to be a contributor for the Browns. Here are some examples of Wilson’s coverage talent.
The first play against LSU, Wilson is in zone coverage in the middle of the field. The slot receiver on the left side of the field is running a streak route down the middle of the field. Wilson picks up the receiver and backpedals with the receiver into the endzone. The quarterback thinks he can throw it over the top of Wilson, but the linebacker shows off his great ball skills by going up and making an acrobatic interception. Wilson showed his zone coverage skills and his ball skills in this play.
In the second play versus Texas A&M, Wilson is in zone coverage in the center of the field. He is faced with a tight end who runs a stick route that has him sit right in front of the linebacker. Wilson sees that the quarterback is getting forced to throw the ball to the tight end, so he makes a quick and explosive break to get in front of the tight end. He is able to do that and then show off his great ball skills to pick off the pass. In the final play versus Texas A&M, Wilson is in man coverage against the tight end lined up in the left slotback position. The linebacker is able to quickly go over and pick up the tight end. Wilson is able to then change direction to go downfield with the tight end, sticking right to the back hip of the pass catcher. This play shows his ability in man coverage.
Another skill set that will make him a strong option on passing downs is Wilson’s ability to blitz and rush the passer. In his career, he has produced 20 quarterback hurries and 13 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus. He has shown the right timing on his blitzes and the keen vision to find the open alley to the quarterback. He shows off his quick closing ability in his pursuit of the quarterback. And when he does not get to the quarterback, he has shown the ability to get up into the passing lanes of the quarterback and deflect passes. Here are some examples of his blitzing ability.
In the first play versus Auburn, Wilson is lined up at the middle linebacker spot. He does not show the blitz during pre-snap. This allows him the space to see the blocking set up, giving him a clearer vision of where the open lane to the quarterback will be. When the ball is snapped, Wilson quickly sees the open lane and is untouched, allowing him to take down the quarterback for the sack. The second play versus Texas A&M is another example of Wilson being patient pre-snap to not show his blitz intentions. When the ball is snapped, he is able to see the blocking develop. The patience allows him to find a wide open edge on the right that allows him to get to the quarterback untouched. He forces an incompletion with this pressure. In the final play against Texas A&M, the linebacker shows off another quality skill that comes from his blitzing ability. When Wilson is not able to get to the quarterback, he can still make a play for the defense by getting up into the throw lanes to tip passes. In the play above, he was unable to produce any sort of penetration, so he decided to clog the passing lanes for the quarterback. And in the end, he is able to deflect the pass.
Slow Play Recognition/Slow Processing/Passive in the Run Game
Wilson’s biggest weakness in his game is play recognition skills, slow processing ability and just an overall passive style of play in the run game. The linebacker struggles to quickly read and react to the play, causing him to be too late to the play. He also can make the wrong move because of his slow play recognition, taking him out of the play. And, these problems come up most when he is defending against the run. He just plays with a passive style of play, showing little aggression to try and make plays in the backfield. He lets the plays come to him. Here are some examples of this weakness.
In the first play versus Georgia, Wilson’s passive style of play is on display here. Wilson is lined up at the strongside of the formation when Georgia runs a read-option handoff to the running back with the running back heading to the weakside. The weakside linebacker attacks the line, leaving Wilson the only unblocked defender in the box. But, Wilson does not try to attack the hole where the back is going. He stays back, allowing an offensive lineman to get to the second level and take him on in a block. The runner is then able to hit the hole and get the first down without much resistance.
In the second play versus Auburn, Wilson shows his passive approach and slow processing. He is faced with another read-option play, but this time he is at the middle linebacker spot with no one else with him in the second level of the box. The linebacker takes too long reading the handoff and is just planted at his second level spot, allowing an offensive lineman to climb to the second level and engage him on a block. Luckily, his teammates stuff the run in front of him, but had that not happen, the runner would be free to hit the hole with nobody trying to fill it. Wilson does show a nice slip from the block to get back free.
The final play versus Georgia shows his lack of play recognition and his role in the defense. Lined up as the strongside linebacker, Wilson is faced with another read-option run. The runner takes the inside lane at first and Wilson shows well to head toward the lane. But, the running back makes a juke to the outside and this causes Wilson to make a step to the outside, leaving his lane assignment wide open. The back is able to run through the hole with no one to meet him until five yards downfield. Wilson forgot his assignment after biting on the fake, causing him to get out of position to make the play.
The final concern with Wilson is his lack of production in college. His lack of production as a tackler and disruptive force, in particular, is concerning. In 33 games during his college career, he had just 113 tackles, including just 59 solo tackles. As a disruptor, he only had seven tackles for loss. That production is just not good enough. It makes you look into why with all of his talent that he underproduced during his college career.