You 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.
Today, we kick things off with a look at the linebacking position. The Browns will be moving from Dick Jauron’s 4-3 to Ray Horton’s 3-4. Due to injuries and Bountygate suspensions, the 2012 linebacking corps was in a constant state of flux. The 2013 Browns will not only require more from the linebackers, but could potentially look like a completely reformed group when it’s all said and done.
What do we have on the roster, and what players might be available to add? Let’s dig in and see.
D’Qwell Jackson led the team in tackles and snaps played again. Had it not been for a concussion that forced him out of a game, he might have played every snap for the Browns this season. Due to injuries to Gocong, Acho and Fujita, undrafted free agent Craig Robertson saw extended time and was a pleasant surprise for the Browns this season. James-Michael Johnson also saw his season cut short due to injury. He figures to benefit most from the switch in defensive scheme, likely challenging for an ILB spot.
Robertson- 2013: $480,000, 2014: Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Browns Roster Upgrade Advisory: HIGH
This unit has two strikes against it from the start. First, the switch to a base 4-3 means the team will need more bodies to begin with. Second, it isn’t exactly loaded with Pro-Bowl players. On the plus side, outside of Jackson and Gocong it is a very cheap unit. (Stares at Jackson’s 2015 and 2016 contract numbers. He’ll be 32 in ’15? Anyone else nervous for D’Qwell?)
Scott Fujita, if he hasn’t played his last NFL snap, has most likely played his last in a Browns uniform. Maiava could be brought back. He reminds me a little of former Brown Mike Adams. No matter who the Browns bring in, events keep unfolding to put Maiava on the field.
Gocong and Jackson would make the most sense of this group to be on the inside. That is of course if Gocong returns healthy and strong. Robertson doesn’t have ideal size to play the outside in a 3-4, but he is the best of the group in pass coverage. We really have no idea what to expect from Acho, the sixth round pick from last year’s draft. Johnson, Robertson and Fort do have two things going for them- they are athletic and they are young.
Using Ray Horton’s “big men who can run and little men who can hit” philosophy, I would say the Browns may have 3 starters from this group. The piece they are missing is an outside pass rush specialist.
Top 2013 Free Agents
Paul Kruger, DE/OLB, Ravens. Age: 27
Anthony Spencer, OLB, Cowboys. Age 29
Philip Wheeler, OLB, Raiders. Age: 28
Daryl Smith, OLB, Jaguars. Age: 31
Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 26
Shaun Phillips, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 32
Nick Barnett, OLB, Bills. Age: 32
Thomas Howard, OLB, Bengals. Age: 30
Manny Lawson, OLB, Bengals. Age: 29
Justin Durant, OLB, Lions. Age: 27
Erin Henderson, OLB, Vikings. Age: 27
Brad Jones, ILB, Packers. Age: 27
Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Ravens. Age: 27
Brian Urlacher, ILB, Bears. Age: 35
Larry Grant, ILB, 49ers. Age: 28
Rotoworld.com predicts the Browns will sign Paul Kruger to a five-year, $60 million contract. (That means absolutely nothing in reality. Just thought I’d throw it in there. They also have the Browns getting CB Keenan Lewis.) Kruger and Anthony Spencer are the top two linebackers available this year according to most pieces available.
I went back and looked at Kruger’s games against the Browns. He had a sack working against Schwartz, and a few passed defensed. Here’s a look at his work covering a pass in the flat-
He’s lined up as the OLB opposite Thomas, but he will drop into coverage immediately.
You can see him reading Weeden’s eyes.
He makes a nice break on the ball.
He’s able to close and break up the pass.
This was not an exhaustive film study on Kruger by any stretch. I looked at a couple dozen plays from the two games against Cleveland. Kruger had a fantastic finish to the regular season for the Ravens recording 7.5 sacks over the final 8 weeks of the regular season. In addition, he had 4 sacks in the postseason, including a pair in the Super Bowl. His 9 regular season sacks were 2 better than Jabaal Sheard’s team high 7. He could easily be an every down LB in Ray Horton’s system.
But that’s if the Ravens let him get away.
There’s no doubt that Baltimore would love to resign Kruger, Ellerbe and Ed Reed. Realistically it isn’t in the salary cap cards for them. So who do they target? The Browns could swoop in and offer Kruger or Ellerbe more, the question remains will they and are they worth it? Kruger had 6.5 sacks total in his three years prior to 2012. Did he come into his own or was it something else? Can he be as good on a team with fewer defensive superstars?
Anthony Spencer could certainly be an option. His 11 sacks in 2012 matched his career total. He also totaled 95 tackles form his OLB spot. He picked a good time to have a career year. Dallas is unlikely to franchise Spencer again, and even less likely to have the cap space to sign him to a deal close to what he could get on the market.
The 2013 Draft Class
Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon, Height: 6-6. Weight: 248
These are generally considered the top OLB prospects in this year’s draft. I’ve seen mock drafts with Jordan, Jones and Mongo going to the Browns at #6. (For the record, I counted Ezekiel Ansah as a DE though some call him a hybrid DE/OLB.)
Players like Hodges, Porter and Gooden could easily be on the board when the Browns are on the clock in round 3 should the Browns decide to go elsewhere with their first round pick.
The Browns will need to add 2-3 linebackers in my opinion, even if they bring back Maiava. If they plan to use Sheard as a hybrid player, perhaps 1-2. I’ve always said the best way to add depth to your organization is bringing in someone at the top. Kruger or Spencer would help tremendously. I lean towards Kruger because of where he came from. Hate them all you want, but the Ravens have had a special group defensively for years. Kruger could help bring some of that toughness to the Browns. A second B-list free agent would be nice as well. The team has some youth. They could use a few productive vets.