July 23, 2014

Banner Report: Defensive Backs

Banner Report ElevatedYou 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):

Player

G

GS

Tackles

Sacks

INT

Yards

Passes Defended

TD

Joe Haden 11 11 40 0 3 64 10 0
Sheldon Brown 15 14 52 1 3 20 12 1
TJ Ward 14 14 50 1 1 37 4 0
Usama Young 13 11 36 1.5 3 44 7 0
Buster Skrine 16 6 64 0 0 0 11 0
Eric Hagg 11 4 20 0 0 0 1 0
Dimitri Patterson 7 4 25 0 0 0 5 0
Tashaun Gipson 10 3 23 0 1 23 1 0
Trevin Wade 11 0 8 0 0 0 1 0

 

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)

  • Joe Haden – 2013: $6,936,429, 2014: $6,678,193, 2015: Free Agent
  • Sheldon Brown – 2013: Free Agent
  • TJ Ward – 2013: $630,000, 2014: Free Agent
  • Usama Young – 2013: $2.15 million, 2014: Free Agent
  • Buster Skrine – 2013: $555,000, 2014: $645,000, 2015: Free Agent
  • Eric Hagg – 2013: $555,000, 2014: $645,000, 2015: Free Agent
  • Dimitri Patterson –  Put on waivers, claimed by Miami
  • Tashaun Gipson – 2013: $480,000, 2014: $570,000, 2015: Restricted Free Agent
  • Trevin Wade – 2013: $480,000, 2014: $570,000, 2015: $660,000, 2016: Free Agent

 

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)

Cornerbacks

  1. Dee Milliner (Alabama)
  2. Desmond Trufant (Washington)
  3. Xavier Rhodes (Florida State)
  4. Blidi Wreh-Wilson (UConn)
  5. Robert Alford (Southeastern Louisiana)

Safeties

  1. Kenny Vaccaro (Texas)
  2. Matt Elam (Florida)
  3. Johnathan Cyprien (Florida International)
  4. Shamarko Thomas (Syracuse)
  5. Eric Reid (LSU)

2013 Top Unrestricted Free Agents (via Scouts Inc)

Cornerbacks

  1. Antoine Cason (Chargers)
  2. Brent Grimes (Falcons)
  3. Quentin Jammer (Chargers)
  4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles)
  5. Chris Houston (Lions)
  6. Aqib Talib (Patriots)
  7. Sheldon Brown (Browns)
  8. Sean Smith (Dolphins)
  9. Derek Cox (Jaguars)
  10. Keenan Lewis (Steelers)

Safeties

  1. Ed Reed (Ravens)
  2. Dashon Goldson (49ers)
  3. LaRon Landry (Jets)
  4. William Moore (Falcons)
  5. Kenny Phillips (Giants)
  6. Glover Quin (Texans)
  7. Louis Delmas (Lions)
  8. Madieu Williams (Redskins)
  9. Ronde Barber (Buccaneers)
  10. Chris Clemons (Dolphins)

Summary

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.

  • Jaker

    There are a ton of options for CB2 in the free agent class, and even more for the slot. Toler, Munnerlyn and Cason are all still relatively young and would come at a pretty decent price. Lewis would be a little more expensive, but might be worth the double whammy for Pitt.

    Ideally we would draft Milliner and sign one of the experienced FAs like I mentioned. If we can’t get Milliner, we should draft a CB in round 3 or 4 and pay more for Keenan Lewis. This is a good year to have to solve this problem.

    At S, maybe we just bring back Brown. Yes I don’t think that’s a long term solution, especially considering our 2 starting Safeties are in their last year of their deal, but Brown would be an easy stop gap and round out a group that is good enough to get it done. Although bringing in Goldson would be pretty sweet.

  • Harv 21

    Will be curious to see if the new DC is better at masking Ward’s weaknesses. Disappointing how he’s remained a one-dimensional run stopper, and not the feared intimidator in the secondary they envisioned because his instincts in the passing game are so bad that’s he’s rarely close to a downfield target.

    If they’re planning to get lots of QB pressure hope they at least upgrade free safety with a competent ball hawk. Because their strong safety only frightens running backs.

  • Kildawg

    Biggest problem with bringing back S. Brown to be FS: Joe Banner. Browns got Brown in the first place because Banner thought he was ‘too old’ (over 30). Ideally, we net someone in their mid-late 20s and draft a stud like Milliner and/or we could try to snag Matthieu in the 4th round. But we do have to drastically improve the OLB position (ILB is fine with DQ and JMJ with Fort in reserve).

  • maxfnmloans

    Stick with Usama Young? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. He needs to go, now. Unless they want to replace Ward with someone who won’t take so many bad angles. Usama Young is incompatible with TJ Ward. Ward is going to go for some big hits and take some bad angles, as a result, our “Free” safety needs to be able to tackle, not just lower his head, and try to blow guys up (often unsuccessfully).

    Also, I notice that when the Browns ranked 14th in adjusted yds per pass attempt, you were inferring it wasn’t as bad as we may have thought. However, later in the article you say that the Browns ranking 14th in sacks is “not great numbers”. Not trying to call you out, and naturally, they need help on all 3 layers of defense, I am not arguing there, but it seems the takeaway from the numbers was skewed a bit to fit the narrative.

    Our secondary was awful last year. Usama Young needs to go ram his head into people somewhere else, and please Ray Horton, teach TJ Ward how to take proper angles.

  • http://twitter.com/RickWFNY rick grayshock

    I have to say I would much rather find an upgrade over Young and have him as depth than go into the season with him penciled in as a starter again. It might be asking a lot IMO to think that he and Ward will stay even relatively injury free as well.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Eh, I dunno. I honestly expected it to be worse than 14th, but I think 14th is hardly anything to be excited about either. Not really trying to portray any “narrative”, just saying the secondary was pretty mediocre last year. By the very nature of being mediocre, it means it’s not good and it’s not bad. The pass defense ranks right at league average on almost all of these metrics.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    For sure. I just think CB is a much greater need than Safety.

  • dwhit110

    I was surprised to see such positive words used to describe Usama Young. We’re seeing different things…

  • steve-o

    1) Only Haden and Ward are sure bets to start in 2013.

    2) Since we have no idea what will happen in the draft, we are pretty much forced to sign a #2 CB in free agency, unless we want to risk stocking that position with red meat. Keenan Lewis makes sense since he’s familiar with Horton’s defense, and probably won’t break the bank. Pittsburg will try hard to keep him though.
    3) That probably means our first draft pick is an OLB, since there will almost certainly be a good one at 6. Unless we can trade back, which i doubt.

    4) Skrine and Wade will probably make the roster because they are cheap and have upside, but neither should be a starter.
    5) Between Gipson and Hagg, maybe one makes the roster.

    6) Usama Young only sticks if we fail to find an upgrade. At his salary he’ll be cut if he’s not the starter (or has another injury). I’d be shocked if we signed an expensive safety in FA (although maybe we should). We’ll probably draft a FS in the 3rd or 4th round and give him a chance to win the starting job.

    7) I’d love to see us draft Thomas from Syracuse. He’s a ballhawk FS who had 7 int’s last season (not positive, but i think that’s correct). I’m not sure we can get him without a second round pick though.
    8) If our defense looks more like AZ’s from last year, with an emphasis on pressure and multiple blitzes, our secondary should be statistically better regardless of personnel changes.

  • BenRM

    Actually, per Merriam-Webster, the definition of “insanity” is, “a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as schizophrenia).”

  • maxfnmloans

    was Miriam Webster one of the teachers at my Elementary school? Name sounds familiar for some reason…

    I believe that was (word for word) the introduction into my “Mental Illness” research paper from 7th grade. I don’t think I did too well, iirc.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I still like Gipson and I think there’s some upside there… I’d imagine he will make the roster because he’s a valuable special teams contributor first and foremost, but also because I think he can play some free safety.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I don’t see Bademosi on the list, but I’m assuming he will continue to be on the roster going forward? He was our special teams stud last year and he’s super cheap. With that said, I don’t think I ever want to see him playing the actual position of cornerback for the Browns.

  • mgbode

    “So why the drastic change?”

    this one is simple. just take a look at the list of QBs who we played against in 2011. Curtis Painter, Bruce Gradkowski, etc. it was a HUGE part of the inflated defensive stats of 2011 and many of us noted that issue coming into 2012.

    Sheldon Brown actually played much, much better this past year. Haden was about the same (though missing him the first 4 wks obviously hurt).

    Now, we don’t look like we are bringing Sheldon back, so getting a CB2 has to be the #1 DB priority with FS close behind. Heck, finding a CB3 isn’t a bad idea either.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Correct. I wanted to focus on players who played in the secondary. I see no reason why Bademosi wouldn’t continue to be around for special teams play.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Obviously I don’t dislike Young near as much as everyone else does, but I would prioritize CB3 over FS if it were up to me. But that’s probably why nobody is paying me to make roster decisions. Well, that’s one of like a million reasons, anyway.

  • mgbode

    Overall, football outsiders had our pass defense ranked 20th and rush D ranked 18th:
    http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef

    Overall D ranked 22nd. 2011 overall D also ranked 22nd (adjusted to opponents).

  • mgbode

    note: not sure if you saw but I placed my scouting report on Erick Green in yesterday’s While We are Waiting

  • http://twitter.com/RickWFNY rick grayshock

    Assuming Sheldon Brown does not return, yes CB2 is bigger black hole than FS, but both need to be addressed IMO.

  • Bourn, Michael Bourn

    Absolutely ludicrous to say that Usama Young was having a good year or that he’ll be the starting free safety next year. In my opinion, outside of Owen Marecic, Young was our worst starter last year and replacing him is a must.

    Our defensive backfield has some significant holes at FS and CB that we must address. Seattle proved this year that you can compete with your secondary as the strength of your defense. I certainly hope we sign a competent veteran, because we don’t have the draft picks(assuming we take a pass rusher 6th).

  • mgbode

    and stat sites like profootballfocus agree with you on him. Part of it is my desire to get that roaming game-changing FS, but I want to upgrade there too because he misses too many tackles and just doesn’t have that extra gear to make plays across the field.

  • TSR3000

    Sign Lewis or Cason. Draft Jordan or Jones. Find a new safety to compete with Young.

  • Steve

    Young is terrible! We definately need someone better than that especially since TJ’s coverage skills aren’t very strong. I would really like to see Johnathan Banks drop to the third round or the Browns trade up to get him. Reminds me a bit of Richard Sherman.

  • mgbode

    Cason was pretty terrible last year. Could have just been a bad year and I don’t know if he was playing hurt, but he wasn’t good.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    i missed the part where usama young was having a nice year. here’s one game that i went back and looked at, might a good refresher. he’s a disaster.

    we’re sitting with skrine and young as starters right now. if that’s not threat level ‘severe’ i don’t know what it.

  • mgbode

    those CB rankings are ludicrous. i laughed when I saw them. scouts.inc messed up there.

    I didn’t harp on the “threat level” because there are plenty of options in FA and the draft. I think that is what Andrew was getting on there (or I assumed). we need guys, but there are guys to get.

    on Usama. i don’t know. he’s terrible in run support (he always waits on his heels which causes the back to run right by him {Wilson TD} or bowl him over {Bradshaw 1st play}) and he’s not fast enough in pass coverage (even the INT after Sheldon’s good play he was just not there fast enough. plenty of other plays you see the good S’s in the NFL get there in time). But, he always did get to his spot and made tackles in space in the passing game (plenty of examples in the vid of that too).

    I think Usama is a good 3rd safety to have. but, we have him as a starter.

  • maxfnmloans

    thank you. I’m glad I’m not alone, but then I realized its a silly chart during the silly season so there’s no sense debating semantics. Usama Young = tire fire

  • Robbie S

    I thought Gipson showed some real promise when he filled in for Usama at the end of the season. I had the complete mindset of, ‘this guy is going to give up everything that comes his way, he’s a special teamer!’ But, he shut me up after a few good plays from him in a row.

  • Goodbye Usama

    You beat me to the punch. He is abysmal. The guy does not ball hawk or tackle vs. the run. He is a reeeaal Munson.

  • Ward Canball

    By Ward’s weaknesses do you mean playing with Buster Skrine, Usama Young, and to a lesser extent Sheldon Brown (who had an up and down year in my opinion)?

  • Harv 21

    not sure what you mean. His pass coverage issues don’t stem from covering the mistakes of others but from his inability to stay with his own man or anticipate where the ball will be thrown so that he can be there to hit and intimidate, as was the plan. They said he would be an intimidator in passes into his area over the middle – but he’s a step late to the area because he has trouble staying with his guy and can’t read QBs eyes at all. In 3 seasons he has one memorable hit there (the Cincy receiver early his rook year) and that was in a compressed field close to the red zone. The only thing he does well is run support – that’s not the extent of the skills you want in a strong safety taken near the top of the second round.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1047709526 Kevin V. Rogers Jr.

    Andrew, I have to agree with many of the other commenters that it is absolutely unthinkable that Usama Young starts at FS next year and you have the most generous view of his play last year that I’ve come across anywhere. To compound matters, Young is making a ton of money comparatively speaking ($2.4mm) so it’s impossible that he’s a backup. He must be cut as we’ll only have to eat $150,000 in dead money.

    Eric Hagg has to go too. Skrine, Wade, Gipson all have lots of upside and are all cheap so they stay with the solid Haden/Ward foundation. We must find a CB2 and FS (although I’m of the mind that SS/FS distinction is outdated and doesn’t really matter). Should fill the CB2 in FA with saturated market. Lewis is #1 and I’m not a Cason fan at all. Derrick Cox another interesting idea. Should also sign depth at S somewhere. I think we also draft a CB and FS. I would really like us to draft Duke Williams to start at FS in the 5th.

  • mgbode

    you’ll be happy to know that Cason is already signed. 3yr/$15mil with the Colts (way overpaid IMO)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1047709526 Kevin V. Rogers Jr.

    That’s just not good roster management with the huge salary Young has. You can’t afford to have “depth” with a guy making that much money. Did you know that Usama Young is scheduled to make twice as much in 2013 as T.J. Ward?