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Myles Garrett a cornerstone, but rest of Cleveland defensive line filled with questions: Browns core players

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 1/31/2023 Ashley Bastock,
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett dances on the bench against the Washington Commanders in the second half of play. © Joshua Gunter/ Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett dances on the bench against the Washington Commanders in the second half of play.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Looking at the Browns defensive line, one name continues to stand out above the rest.

While the defense struggled throughout the year, Myles Garrett still had one of the best seasons of his career — yes, despite some individual adversity in the form of a car accident.

Looking at Garrett’s numbers though, what’s as clear as his talent is the fact that he needs help on the line.

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Looking at the stats of the guys up front, Garrett was on an island in terms of rushing quarterbacks. He ended the year with 16 sacks, tying his own career record and the franchise record he set a year ago. The next leading sack getter: Taven Bryan with just three.

Jim Schwartz being hired as defensive coordinator has perhaps moved an already high bar for Garrett even higher, but considering his historical emphasis on players upfront and getting to opposing quarterbacks, it’s clear that Garrett will need some help in the form of young players already on the roster developing quickly, or other acquisitions.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll look at the Browns roster and identify core players. A core player, for this purpose, is a player who, without any ifs or other qualifications, will be a high quality starter in Cleveland for the next three to five years. Most players, you’ll likely find, will fall in categories other than core player — many will likely fall in potential core players, given the age of the roster.

The Browns have already identified a few core players with contract extensions, which will also be noted in these posts.

Previous posts: Tight end | Linebacker | Secondary | Backfield


Myles Garrett: Garrett is not only the lone core player on the defensive line, but the most core player on the defense, and has been since basically the moment he arrived in Cleveland as the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2017. In 2020, he signed a record-breaking five-year, $125 million extension.

For as up and down of a year the Browns defense had, as well as Garrett individually to some extent, the edge rusher prove that he’s still one of the best in the league at his position, and as Mary Kay Cabot wrote last week, was right up there with the three Defensive Player of the Year finalists in terms of his individual stats.

Garrett’s 16 sacks were not only record-tying, but were tied for second in the NFL with Haason Reddick (Eagles) and behind only the Nick Bosa’s (49ers) 18.5. This production came despite the four-time Pro Bowler flipping his Porsche on Sept. 26 and playing the rest of the season with a badly sprained left shoulder and injured right biceps, as well as missing the Week 4 game against the Falcons in the aftermath of the accident.

What made Garrett’s individual performance even more special this year was his pass-rush productivity going against more double-teams than just about any other player in the league.

According to ESPN’s Stats and Info, Garrett was tied with Detroit rookie Aidan Hutchinson for first in the NFL with a double-team rate of 30%. Garrett finished third among edge defenders in pass rush win rate at 27%, also according to ESPN Stats and Info, despite those double-team numbers. He was also Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 edge rusher in the league with a 92.5 grade.

Despite Garrett’s strong individual performance this season, Schwartz still believes he can get even more out of the edge rusher.

“I think that every offense we’ll play will probably start with that — how do we neutralize Myles Garrett and how do we keep him from wrecking this game?” Schwartz said at his introductory press conference. “And it’s my job to give him some answers and to be able to put some pieces scheme wise and personnel wise around him to allow him to be free and more productive. And when I say more productive what, (16) sacks ... The bar is set really high for a good reason.”


Alex Wright: It’s clear the Browns really liked Wright and knew they were getting a developmental guy when they drafted him. Now they have to do just that — develop him — and show that he can become a pass rushing threat. This season he didn’t record any sacks, and had just 12 total pressures, all quarterback hurries. The one area Wright really stood out, though, was batting down balls at the line of scrimmage. He had two this season, leading the team, despite never really batting down balls in college at UAB. Under Schwartz, given his emphasis on isolating pass rushers, Wright has the potential to make a big jump, especially given his youth.

Isaiah Thomas: Thomas showed flashes in his small sample size, and at this point is arguably better at rushing the quarterback than Wright. He recorded his first career sack against Joe Burrow and the Bengals on Halloween night. Emphasis on small sample size, though, as Thomas played in only 10 games with 162 total defensive snaps. If Thomas keeps developing, though, his role could increase. He’s a guy you could either put in the potential or on the bubble categories, but we’re giving him a notch up here because of his youth and the fact he was a draft pick.

Perrion Winfrey: The biggest issue Winfrey had as a rookie was learning how to be a pro to the point that it impacted him seeing playing time on the field. He was held out of the Jets game for a disciplinary issue. During his college career, though, Winfrey was a solid pass rusher, coming up with 5.5 sacks during his final season at Oklahoma. If he can keep maturing, he may be able to thrive in a Schwartz scheme that emphasizes isolating pass rushers. He gets bumped up to potential core players given his youth, like Thomas.


Jordan Elliott: Throughout training camp, Elliott was the talk of Berea. Everyone from Chris Kiffin to Garrett talked about how much he improved. But that big jump wasn’t exactly as advertised. He finished with a 40.4 defensive grade, according to PFF, ranked 131st in the NFL among all defensive linemen with a minimum snap count. He had just two sacks, just one more than the season prior in about 240 more defensive snaps. Can a jump from him be delayed a year? Even if it is, the Browns can’t gamble on him making a game-altering improvement for the second straight year.

Chase Winovich: Winovich struggled to stay healthy, and that was his biggest problem. He played in only eight games this season, his first year in Cleveland. Toward the end of the year, though, he contributed. He brought great energy against the Commanders and Steelers in the season finale, recording his first sack of the season against Washington. As Winovich heads to free agency, his future in Cleveland is uncertain — but he could potentially be worth bringing back for depth if the price is right.

Taven Bryan: Bryan was brought in on a one-year deal and had three sacks to become the Browns’ second leading pass rusher this year. Still, Bryan didn’t particularly differentiate himself, especially compared to the performance of Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell the season prior. If the DT position is overhauled, don’t be surprised if he’s a casualty.


DE: Jadeveon Clowney, Sam Kamara, Chris Odom, Stephen Weatherly

Clowney would be bumped up a category or two had his season not ended in spectacularly dramatic fashion, saying he didn’t expect to be back in Cleveland and criticizing how he was used. Weatherly and Odom suffered season-ending injuries in the summer and spent the year on IR.

DT: Tommy Togiai, Roderick Perry II, Ben Stille

Togiai saw action in only 12 games and was a healthy scratch in a handful of them. Still, he did get some defensive snaps during their defensive lineman-heavy looks late in the season.

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