April 19, 2014

Banner Report: Defensive Line

Banner Report LowYou 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:LBQBRB, DBs

Let me just crack my knuckles a little bit as I take on the position group that might need the smallest amount of work for the Browns this off-season. If there is any debate at all about Tom Heckert’s ability to acquire talent, I don’t think we should look at this position as proof that he needs to improve. Heckert inherited the premier player on the defensive line in Ahtyba Rubin, but other than that it was all Tom Heckert’s work.

Tom Heckert acquired Phil Taylor with the 21st pick in the 2011 draft after trading with Atlanta, who picked wide receiver Julio Jones. Regardless of whether you like that trade or not, Phil Taylor has done his part to make it look better. Despite being injured last season and only appearing in eight games, the talented mix of size and speed in Taylor is unmistakable. Watching a 6’3″ monster at 335 pounds chase plays down from behind is astonishing. Beyond that, Heckert found really good value in the draft with John Hughes (3rd round) Billy Winn (6th round,)  and undrafted Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. Even with the departures of 4-3 scheme players like Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, the Browns’ defensive line appears to be in pretty good shape going into 2013.

The 2012 Season

As I said in the open, the 2012 season was incomplete for the defensive line because the team was missing starter Phil Taylor. Rubin also only played in 13 games this season due to injury. That being said, Rubin led the way on the defensive line with 30 tackles with Frostee Rucker following closely behind with 29. Phil Taylor had 12 in eight games, while John Hughes and Billy Winn racked up 18 and 19 respectively rotating in and out. Juqua Parker led the way with six sacks, but that won’t be very important going forward as Parker was a 4-3 defensive end and that position won’t be featured (at least not primarily) going forward. Also note that Jabaal Sheard had 36 tackles and seven sacks as a member of the defensive line. He’ll be considered a linebacker in 2013.

Contract Situation (estimated via RotoWorld)

  • Ahtyba Rubin – 2013 $6.2 mil, 2014 $6.9 mil, 2015 FA
  • Phil Taylor – 2013 $1.1 million, 2014 $1.5 mil, 2015 FA
  • John Hughes – 2013 $480k, 2014 $570k, 2015 $660k, 2016 FA
  • Billy Winn – 2013 $480k, 2014 $570k, 2015 $660k, 2016 FA
  • Ishmaa’ily Kitchen – 2013 $480k, 2014 $570k, 2015 Rest. FA

Rubin received a $5.5 million signing bonus that will add to those salaries for a bigger cap number, but as long as the 26-year-old remains productive, it’s hard to imagine him not being worth his money to the end of his deal. Phil Taylor needs to stay healthy and show the same ability he showed in eight games a year ago, but then he’ll be one of the prime targets for a rich extension. One of the main reasons teams that have cap space don’t want to spend it all in free agency is the chance to pay their own people who’ve grown up in their systems. Speaking of which, John Hughes, Billy Winn and Kitchen appear to be a real luxury for the Browns considering their apparent ability to play already and the small amount of money they make going into their second years in the NFL.

Banner Report Advisory Alert: Low

Low low low low low. Five times low. It will a little more difficult to project how well everyone will fit going forward as the Browns migrate from the 4-3 to Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense. Thankfully, the Browns do have two candidates in Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin who approach the size requirements for a 3-4 nose tackle. Think Casey Hampton from the Steelers and Vince Wilfork from the Patriots. While Rubin and Taylor aren’t to that level, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for them to be in that conversation. These are two big, athletic beasts who could make a lot of Browns fans dreams come true if they get to play a full sixteen games together making life miserable for opposing offensive lines.

I don’t want to speak out of turn, but if the Browns were ever going to try to jump-start another part of the team by trading someone, this is the group I would expect them to work from. Granted, I like the idea of depth and the Browns have a particularly economical situation with this crew. Still, if they’re going to get this party started with additional draft picks, then you have to trade something to bring them in.

2013 Draft Class (Mel Kiper’s Big Board)

Defensive Ends

1. Ezekiel Ansah – BYU
2. Bjoern Werner – FSU
3. Datone Jones – UCLA
4. Damontre Moore – Texas A&M
5. Margus Hunt – SMU

Defensive Tackles

1. Sharrif Floyd – FLA
2. Star Lotulelel – Utah
3. Sheldon Richardson – Missouri
4. Sylvester Williams – UNC
5. Kawann Short – Purdue

Free Agents via Scouts Inc.

Defensive Ends include:

Cliff Avril, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Bennett, Glenn Dorsey, Matt Shaughnessy, John Abraham, Ty Warren, Robert Geathers

Defensive Tackles include:

Casey Hampton, Cullen Jenkins, Chris Canty, Alan Branch, Isaac Sopoaga, Sedrick Ellis, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Terrance Knighton, Richard Seymour

Summary

I know the Browns have been rumored to be interested in Cliff Avril, but whether it actually happens remains to be seen. Avril will command some big money, possibly to the tune of $10 million per year if you believe ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. Avril is a talented player, but that’s a big number for anyone who isn’t throwing the ball for your team or protect his backside. Still, it would definitely upgrade the Cleveland Browns pass rush instantly.

The Browns have a position of strength going for them on the defensive line and I think they’ll find themselves needing enough impact players in other positions that this one might not get much attention this off-season. While I wouldn’t complain because I think spending money on the defensive line is an efficient and generally predictable position to project, I think if it takes away from other focuses like cornerback or linebacker, it is a questionable use of effort and resources.

  • Jaker

    On the trade note, I completely agree. No one in the Front Office, HC or DC has any ties to this group, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Rubin or Hughes was maybe involved in a trade to net picks, especially a 2nd rounder that we dont have. Although, I don’t feel that we would get enough value back in a trade, so I doubt a trade happens.

    In Arizona, Horton had Campbell and Dockett to rush the passer from the 5 tech, I’m not so sure we have any legit pass rushers on the line. Granted, in the 4-3 I loved this group, but I think we are all assuming that everyone will make a seamless transition to this hybrid D. I have confidence in Horton to make this happen, but I think us as Browns fans haven’t truly accepted that this may be a more difficult task than we expected(surprising considering that we freak over everything).

  • mgbode

    Avril (and all the DE’s you have listed for the draft) would play OLB for us in our 3-4.

    Avril is the perfect size and speed for the position and has a long track record of successfully rushing the QB (unlike Kruger). I have always been a fan of his and will hope that we sign him if we are going to offer any FA over $10mil/season (that number sounds about right for him).

  • mgbode

    any group that includes “The Sink” has to be rated low

  • Harv 21

    I see it as relatively low, but not 5x low. In the 4-3 the line’s two best players, Rubin and Taylor, collapsed the middle together and kept inordinate blocking attention from being focused on the other. In the 3-4 their best postion is the same position, and only one of them can be on the field at a time at the position at which they are best-suited. Taylor may be fast for a interior lineman but he was drafted for interior run-clogging.

    Wouldn’t want to deal either one, but to maximize both Horton better be creative and a good teacher, and those guys will have to be open to learning some other skills.

  • mgbode

    I have been thinking alot about this one as it pertains to the Horton 3-4, which requires the NT to be more athletic and disruptive than the Ted Washington style NTs.

    Dan Williams (main AZ NT last year) is a big man. Monstrous. But, he also lined up off-center most of the time and his responsibility wasn’t just to clog the running lane but to force the OG/OC to double him while doing it. To do that, he needed to get upfield 2-4yds (rather than just hold his ground ala Teddy W). I think this is the Rubin & Sink role.

    Darnell Dockett (main AZ S-DE last year) is not a small man by any stretch, but he is not Dan Williams size either. What he does have is great quickness on the ball and good strength to hold the point of attack. His main responsibility was to create havoc on the TE/OT by crashing down on them and oftentimes even crashed all the way down onto the OG (with Daryl Washington stunting to the outside). I believe Phil Taylor (despite being heavier) can play the Dockett role (Hughes is likely the main backup here).

    Calais Campbell (main AZ W-DE last year) is a tall, more rangy man relative to his DL counterparts, but with more speed. He is the guy who is supposed to get to the QB more often (especially when the WOLB is not the one blitzing). This is the role that Billy Winn is hopefully ready to take and is the one spot where we could consider signing someone to provide more assurance at (though we shouldn’t spend big $$).

  • Harv 21

    ok, but this is still a projection that 1) both Rubin and Taylor can fit in these roles and be on the field together, and 2) they will both excel in their (at least somewhat) different roles. Certainly it’s possible, but the real possibility that shifting to the new system will diminish their combined effectiveness makes me less sanguine about D-line needs than Rick. I guess my own 5x low area is RB.

  • Felix Krull

    While the analysis of our DL situation is intelligent, I respectfully disagree with the conclusion. Based on their criticisms of our defensive play last year and their belief that defense begins with the line, Banner and Lombardi are clearly unhappy with our DL situation, and, while we have a number of good young pieces, we lack a single dominating defensive lineman, aside from perhaps Phil Taylor, which given our change in scheme, represents a question of projection.

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see the Browns trade Rubin, sign a couple DL in free agency (one as a starter) and draft Lotulelei, for example, a set of moves that would remake our starting DL unit.

  • mgbode

    if we do that while ignoring CB and OLB, then I will be upset. we should always look to improve all areas of the team, but there has to be priorities. right now, we need a pass rush OLB more than anything. CB2 comes up 2nd. Sure, DE is on the list, but it’s still after FS, CB3, ILB.

  • mgbode

    (1) yes, everything is going to be a projection based on the scheme change. i cannot do anything about it.

    (2) i didn’t say excel. but, the good thing is that in the scheme neither guy is really the focal point. all they have to do is their jobs decently. the focal points are the rush guys. we could use a DE if Winn or Hughes cannot fill that role, but OLB is the bigger piece here.

    (3) with Richardson and Hardesty’s injury histories and no RB3 locked up, I’m a little leery of calling that position too low.

  • Felix Krull

    So much depends on the way the chips fall with the first few picks of the draft and early FA signings. A team drafting relatively high who needs either QB or LT could allow us to recoup a 2nd round pick and remain in play for Lotulelei. Assuming we’ve signed a guy like Toler, we could draft Amerson, or a comparable talent in the 2nd, and then take Rambo, for example, in the 3rd. This is a DB-rich draft, after all. If we signed Kruger, he’d play opposite Sheard, leaving us the lower rounds to pick up more LB.

    My take on the emphasis on “team-building” is that we’re not gonna address everything, or even possibly the most dire needs in a long-term way, in one offseason. If the FO hates the DL and loves a guy like Lotulelei, a rare talent, I think the above scenario is as possible as any.

  • Harv 21

    oh, you just like engaging me in debate.
    Have a good weekend, warrior.

  • Harv 21

    oh, you just like engaging me in debate.
    Have a good weekend, warrior.

  • mgbode

    enjoy your weekend as well, sir.

  • Parker

    The front office and staff needs to let this group stay intact for the season so the
    coaching staff can determine whose going to work and who is not before they trade a surplus for picks.

    The group I like is rubin at nose tackle and taylor and winn on the end. Taylor is more explosive but I believe rubin will hold the middle better, similar to the shaun rogers situation a couple years ago. You had a guy with immense talent but another made the scheme work better. Having taylor and winn on the ends will allow for more pressure from d-line.

  • Kildawg

    I see Taylor at the NT slot and Rubin (a 4-3 DT) being used at DE (especially on the same side as the rush LB (Sheard?)). Baltimore does the same with Ngata. Winn should translate well as a 3-4 DE as well, being a 4-3 DL fill-in.

  • Bourn, Michael Bourn

    One possible offseason plan:

    Sign free agents Cliff Avril, Chris Gamble and Danny Amendola

    Trade Billy Winn, 2013 3rd round pick, and 2014 3rd round pick to Colts for 24th overall pick.

    Draft Star Lotuleilei 6th and Warmack or Cooper at 24th.

    We would have arguably the best Defensive and Offensive lines in the NFL and improve in virtually every facet of the game. That front seven would be fearsome and Haden/Gamble would be one of the best corner duos in the league. Our improved D will allow us to emphasize the power run game. This, coupled with a great 3rd down threat in Amendola, will take a lot of pressure off of Weeden. If he fails, we can go all out for a franchise QB the following year.

    Or we can draft Geno Smith and sign no free agents…

  • Parker

    Like the free agent ideas but the draft not as much. I think Winn was above average at his position and his ability to apply qb pressure will really help in the 3-4. I just think winn, two third rounders and a pick at 6 will be better for us long term than lotilellei and a guard ( I do like the guard idea tho). Besides I don’t see the Colts as sellers, there closer to winning now and don’t need to pick up quantity over quality by moving back.

    I’d rather see us trade with the chargers, going from 6 to 11 and picking up a couple picks to help us reload. Chargers can get LT in front of the Cardinals, leaving the browns to select the best player available at a given need i.e linebacker, guard.

  • Bourn, Michael Bourn

    Completely understandable, taking a DT and a guard would probably not sit well with Browns fans. However, I truly believe that Lotuleilei is the only true blue chip, stud prospect in this draft. If his heart condition causes him to fall to us and he checks out with our medical staff, I think it would be a huge mistake to pass on him.

    As for the trade, I believe the Colts receive good value as Winn will be an immediate starter, while the 3rd rounders are icing. I know they made the playoffs, but I’m sure management will be set on doing things “the right way”, thus building for the next decade of Luck.