Cleveland Browns, Def, Browns
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2015 Outlook: Sleeper (undervalued)Last updated on Aug-20-2015 by Shawn Childs
Cleveland has the second-toughest schedule of any run defense thanks to eight matchups against above-average ground attacks. On the passing side, the Browns' defense has the fourth-easiest schedule with 10 games against poor aerial offenses. They will, however, have to face Ben Roethlisberger twice and Peyton Manning.
The Browns allowed the most rushing yards in the league last year (2,265) with opponents gaining 4.5 yards per rush and 13 rushing scores. They lost their best run defender, DE Jabaal Sheard, to the New England Patriots. Cleveland addressed this issue by adding three defensive linemen in the first three rounds of the draft. Nose tackle Danny Shelton will move into the starting lineup as a run stopper with some ability to rush the quarterback. The only player returning on the defensive line is tackle Phil Taylor. He missed most of last year due to knee problems. At best, Phil is a league-average player who can't get after the QB. Free agent addition defensive end Randy Starks is expected to start, but he struggled against the run last year.
Cleveland has some talent at linebacker. Karlos Dansby will enter the season at age 33. He is very good in pass coverage. 2013 first-round pick, Barkevious Mingo, showed growth in his second season in the league. He would be better if the Browns' had a stronger defensive line. Mingo is valuable against the run.
The Browns had only 31 sacks last season, the sixth-fewest in the league. However, they permitted the eighth-fewest passing yards, and opposing receivers gained only 6.4 yards per catch against them. They allowed 22 passing TDs and hauled in 21 INTs.
Joe Haden is the Browns' best cornerback. Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson played well at safety. Gibson had the most value in coverage while Whitner added value in run support. 2014 first-rounder, cornerback Justin Gilbert, struggled in his first season and settled into a backup role. On the year, Gilbert allowed 29 catches on 49 pass attempts for 379 yards and one touchdown. Cleveland needs him to make a step forward with Buster Skrine no longer on the roster. Tramon Williams will add experience to the cornerback position.
Overall, the Browns have a strong secondary and one upside linebacker. Their defensive line will have more talent this year, but that doesn't mean there will be a ton of improvement. The ultimate key will be an improved pass rush. Cleveland needs to have more success on first and second downs against the run. This defense would also improve if the offense could control the clock. The Browns' defense will have value in some games, and Duke Johnson could add scoring ability as a returner.
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