WFNY’s State of the Browns series shifts from the offensive side of the ball to the defensive side. As we saw in the Super Bowl last season, great defenses can lead a team. The Browns are built for the defense to be the backbone of the 2014 Browns season. They will be running a 3-4 hybrid defense with the ability to change to a 4-3 at times. Probably the strongest part of the defense is their defensive line. This group has talent at the top and a lot of depth to keep everyone fresh for the whole season. The team has versatile linemen, who can play multiple positions on the line. The defensive line has players who can put pressure on the quarterback and others who can stop the run. The defensive is pretty much the same group as last season with the exception of a couple undrafted rookie free agents in Calvin Barnett and Jacobbi McDaniel. Let’s take a look at the state of the Browns defensive line!
Projected DL Depth Chart
Left Defensive End
Ahtyba Rubin is a 6-foot-2-inch, 325-pound run stuffer on the defensive line. He is entering his seventh season in NFL from Iowa State University. Last season, Rubin posted 52 tackles and two sacks in fourteen games. In his career, he has a total of 310 tackles, eleven sacks, one interception, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He has been the full-time starter for the Browns on the defensive since 2010. He has been a steady rock for the Browns on line and one who has shown consistent play over the last few seasons.
Rubin is a strong player who is excellent in defending against the run. He gets off the line very fast for such big player. This initial burst of the line helps him get the offensive lineman off balance and get an advantage. He is not a player who will use quickness to slip by his offensive lineman. He is more of a bull rusher, who can use his strength to push the blocker back into the backfield. This makes him dangerous against the run because he shrinks the backfield and causes disruption in the running plays. He can take on multiple linemen, which can help open up the gaps of other defenders to slip by and make plays. He is a huge cog in the Browns run defense and one who has helped improve the team rush defense over the past couple years.
Rubin’s biggest question mark is his pass rushing skills. He does not have much quickness or pass rushing moves to get past blockers. He is mostly a bull rusher with not much versatility in his pass rushing skills. Rubin will most likely play the left defensive end position, but could play both the nose tackle and right defensive end. Because of his limited pass rushing success, he may be taken out on passing downs for better pass rushers. But he is a very good player for the line because of his ability to stop the run.
Billy Winn is a talented defensive lineman with very good quickness at his size. He is entering his third season from Boise State University. Last season, he had 21 tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble. In his two seasons in the NFL, he has 47 tackles, three sacks, three passes defended, one interception, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Winn is an athletic lineman with very good size at 6-feet-4-inches and 300-pounds. He is a quick player who can contribute both in run and pass defense. His quickness helps him get off the line quickly and gain the advantage against the blocker. He has very good hands, which help him break away from blockers and get free. He can keep his blocker at bay with his hands and then get free when the ball carrier is near. Winn uses his hands and quickness to be disruptive in the pass and run game.
Winn is not very adept with multiple pass rush moves. He rushes the passer using his quickness of the ball, his lower body strength, and hands. He needs to keep adding to his repertoire and improve his pass rushing skills. He is a very good run stopper and a solid pass rusher. Winn is more then a backup in the depth chart. He plays a lot of snaps and is part of the starting rotation of defensive linemen. He can play either defensive end positions and is versatile enough to even go back into coverage if needed. He can start for the Browns if someone is injured and he adds depth to the Browns defensive line so that everyone on the line can be fresh throughout the game.
Armonty Bryant is a very athletic defensive end who can contribute on passing downs. He is entering his second season with the Browns after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of East Central University (OK). In his first season, he had 12 tackles and two sacks in limited action in twelve games. At the 2013 NFL Draft Combine, he ran a 4.86 second 40-yard dash. This shows his excellent athleticism for a player who is 6-feet-4-inches, 265-pounds. He has a very good first step, which allows him to burst off the line. He has very good hands, which help him make an initial blow off the line to get blockers off balance. He is very fluid in space and has very good closing speed to make a sack or tackle. He is still very raw as a player and must get stronger and add bulk to his frame in order to consistently play the defensive end position. He struggles getting off of blocks when he is engaged with an offensive lineman. In his current role, he is mostly a pass rushing specialist. If he can build on his first season, he could get an expanded role on the defense because of his exceptional athleticism.
Phil Taylor is a bruising defensive tackle, who can contribute both in the run and pass defense. He was drafted by the Browns in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft from Baylor University and is entering his fourth season with the Browns. Last season, he had 26 tackles, two sacks, and one pass defended. In his three seasons, he has a total of 99 tackles, seven sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Taylor is a stout player in the middle of the Browns talented defensive line.
Taylor has great size and strength for the nose tackle position in the 3-4 defense. He is a 6-foot-3-inch, 335-pound nose tackle who is extremely strong. At the 2011 NFL Draft Combine, he posted 31 reps in the bench press, which was tied for the twelfth most by any player there. He can push defenders back using a strong bull rush and disrupt the backfield. He can hold off multiple blockers so that other defenders around him can get free and make plays. He is also pretty athletic for a man his size. He can run down the line and get to the ball carrier very well for a nose tackle. He is a nasty tackle, who puts all of his weight into making the tackle. Taylor is a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle because of these traits.
He is not a great pass rusher, but for a nose tackle he is solid. He can sometimes be a little too nasty and be called for penalties. But, he is a true nose tackle, who gives the Browns a stout defender up the middle. He anchors the line because of his ability to stop the run and take up blocks. He gives the team emotion and energy during the game. He is a very important part of the Browns talented defense.
Ishmaa’ily Kitchen is another huge nose tackle, who gives the Browns depth in the middle of the defensive line. The Browns signed him off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens after they signed him as a 2012 undrafted free agent from Kent State University. He had 18 tackles last season and 17 tackles in 2012. Kitchen has played limited time for the Browns but has shown quality play during his time in the game. He is a run clogger with good size of 6-feet-1-inch, 330-pounds. He is a strong player, who can control multiple blockers in the run game. He is a primarily run stopper with not much pass rushing skills to contribute in that phase. He has played in limited time because of the depth of the defensive line and the lack of versatility on passing downs. He is a run stopping nose tackle, who gives the Browns another big body to play in the middle of the defensive line.
Calvin Barnett is a 2014 undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State University. Last season, he had 32 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, three sacks, one pass broken-up, and one forced fumble. He is a 6-foot-2-inch, 317-pound defensive line clogger with a great motor. He is not super athletic nor strong, but he has a very good first step to get off the line and gain an advantage against the blocker. He primarily is a run stopper because of his lack of athleticism and pass rushing skills. He is more of a gap filler rather then a player making plays in the backfield. He could battle for the last defensive line spot, but most likely will be battling for a practice squad spot.
Right Defensive End
Desmond Bryant is a player who could have a huge increase in production this season. He is entering his sixth season in the NFL and second with the Browns. The 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound defensive end had an up and down year last season. He had 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season in twelve games. His season ended prematurely because of an irregular heartbeat caused him to have heart surgery. In his career, he has 155 tackles, 15 sacks, two passes defended, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He was one of the big free agent signings for the Browns last offseason. He could be on tap for a huge comeback year from the so-so 2013 season.
Bryant is a talented player both in the run and pass defense. He has great athleticism for a player with his impressive size. At his college Pro Day, he ran a 4.92 second 40-yard dash. He uses his strength and quickness to get past or through blocks. He is disruptive in the both run game and pass game because of his versatility of skills. He can use a bull rush or use his explosive first step to beat his blocker off the line and quickly get to the backfield. This combination of power and finesse makes him difficult to block because of his unique repertoire of skills. He has great size for a defensive lineman so he can disrupt the passing lanes for quarterbacks and fill up gaps for the ball carrier. His pass defense is his biggest strength, but is still solid in run defense.
Bryant’s biggest question marks are his health and consistency. Bryant had heart surgery last season and so his health will be major question until he comes back and goes full go. Another question is his consistency to play at his top level for a full season. He has the chance to be a Pro Bowl level defensive lineman, but needs to put it together for a full season. He is slated for the right defensive end position, but could play anywhere on the line because of his size and athleticism. He is a key part of in making the defense one of the best in the NFL.
John Hughes is a great run stopper, who can makes plays in the backfield. The Browns selected him in the third round in the 2012 NFL Draft from the University of Cincinnati. He is entering his third season in the NFL. Last season, he had 34 tackles, one sack, two passes defended, and one fumble recovery. In his two seasons, he has a total of 68 tackles, four sacks, three passes defended, and one fumble recovery. Hughes is a 6-foot-2-inch, 320-pound extremely good run stopper. Profootballfocus.com graded Hughes run defense last season at +16. He is a big run stopping defensive end with very good hands. He can use his hands to disengage from blocks and get to the ball carrier quickly. He has good technique, which helps him get into position to get to the ball carrier.
Hughes is not very adept at pass rushing. He is not a great athlete, which limits his ability to get to the backfield. He does not have pass rushing moves to enable him to beat blockers consistently. Hughes is in line to be the backup right defensive end. He has the ability to play either end spot and could make starts when needed. He is mostly used as a run defender in his backup role. He could gain more playing time next season if he improves his versatility as a defensive lineman.
Cam Henderson is a second year player from the University of Central Florida. The Browns signed him to the practice last December. He is a 6-foot-4-inch, 270-pound defensive end. He is an athletic defensive end, who ran a 4.74 second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day last year. He is a smaller player so he will need to add bulk to really contend in the trenches. He will be competing most likely for a spot on the practice squad.
Jacobbi McDaniel is a 2014 undrafted free agent from Florida State University. Last season for the Seminoles, he had 29 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, one interception, and one pass defended. He is a 6-foot, 293-pound defensive end who has good leverage and initial burst off the line. He could play either defensive end spots or the nose tackle spot. He, along with Henderson, will compete for a spot on the practice squad.
The Cleveland Browns will rely on their defense to carry the team throughout the season. The defense is the backbone and the most talented part of the team. The stout defensive line will lead the defense. The defensive line has great talent with a lot of quality depth to keep the players fresh. The group can withstand injuries because of the great depth. Most of the players are versatile enough to play different positions on the line.
The Browns will be instituting a hybrid 3-4 defense, so they will need players who can play multiple positions. Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant will lead this defensive line. Each one of these players have very good run defending skills, which should give the team a top ranking in this category. Each one of these players could flip to another position even to a 4-3 scheme. The quality role player behind them enhances this position even more. John Hughes, Billy Winn, Armonty Bryant, and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen each can fill in for the starters and even make plays when they do. The Browns have plenty of run defenders to play on short yardage situations. Armonty Bryant gives them a pass rush specialist to sub in on passing downs. Winn and Hughes can play multiple positions, which is very valuable for a back-up defensive lineman.
The defensive line should be the strength of the whole team. It has talent and depth to make plays throughout the game. The Browns are going to be an aggressive team, so they need players who can get to the backfield and be disruptive. The play of this group can improve from last season because of the new scheme and the additions in the linebacker and secondary groups. Look for this position to be successful again this year.