Cleveland Browns: 2016 Year End Mailbag

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to answer some questions relating to the Cleveland Browns from readers.

The Cleveland Browns will not finish the 2016 NFL season as the second team in history to go winless. Moreover, the San Francisco 49ers did their part in helping the Browns, also winning in Week 16 to allow Cleveland to hold on to the No. 1 overall pick. But as the regular season and calendar year come to a close, there’s always room to reflect.

Every so often, rather than coming up with articles to come up with to blather on about, it’s good to take questions readers, so I can then proceed to blather on about them for more than 140 characters as with Twitter.

Here are five submitted over the holidays that I took a crack in answering. Hopefully everyone has had a good Festivus, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Festival of Saturnalia or any other celebration during this time of year that people might practice. Also allow me thank you to those who choose to read what I write and hoping for bigger and better things in 2017.

Now, onto the mailbag.

Imagine having the ability to build a pass rusher from scratch. He’d be a terrific athlete with speed and agility, strength and power. It would be in a huge frame and good size. The player would be extremely productive in college, dominating for three years, and would also be young with a load of upside and a clean bill of health. And last but not least, the player would have a good head on their shoulders and want to be great.

Myles Garrett, in so many ways, is that guy. Listed 6-5, 270 pounds with room to keep gaining strength and shows tremendous athleticism. He has been one of the best edge players every year he’s been in college and he seems to stay out of trouble off the field.

Garrett is a terror off the edge getting after opposing quarterbacks, but he’s also shown to be a good run defender. Last but not least, he just turned 21 years old.

If he tests like he should, he will be a better prospect than Joey Bosa was last year. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to take the league by storm the way Bosa has this year, but across the board, Garrett is the superior player coming out of college with more upside.

Sep 24, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) in game action against the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium. Texas A&M won 45-24. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Naturally, when a prospect is hyped up like Garrett is, people expect him to just take over the bowl game and look like a superstar. That didn’t happen. So what did we see?

Garrett played, but seemed to be playing with the intent to protect his legs. It’s difficult to blame him, but people see the stat sheet of two tackles and assume he was poor. It wasn’t that, and for anyone who watched the game, his impact was obvious.

Just like LSU did in Texas A&M’s regular season finale, Kansas State geared their entire offense to scheming Garrett out of the gameplan. They did not run at him on any play he was in the game. They scored multiple touchdowns running away from Garrett.

Garrett did a nice job taking on some double teams, forcing plays to his teammates and just doing his job. He also managed to block a kick and recorded a couple pressures, landing one quarterback hit and forcing the Kansas State quarterback in the arms of a teammate for a sack.

One of the criticisms raised out of this is: well, if Kansas State (or LSU) can scheme Garrett out of the game, why can’t NFL teams in the event he’s on the Browns? They can. It just comes at a much higher cost.

Using two, sometimes three blockers to take out Garrett was a successful strategy in a college environment when the vast majority of his teammates are awful. If an NFL team wants to use that many resources to stop Garrett, it means there are fewer players to the rest of the team. Players like Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins and Chris Kirksey and Emmanuel Ogbah have less resistance to make plays.

They have 10 players to try to account for the 11 guys on defense. If they want to use two or three just on Garrett, they only have seven or eight for the other 10 on defense. That’s tough to do for an entire game and is, in itself, a huge advantage.

Garrett is still clearly a tremendous prospect and if the suggestion is that he coasted through this bowl game or this season and he still was this productive, how good is he when he’s reached his goal of being in the NFL and is going all out?

Was his performance incredible? Not really—but even in a relatively quiet game in terms of raw production on the stat sheet, his presence made a huge difference in the game. Put him on a young defense with developing talent and it could be a lot of fun for Browns fans.

Nov 6, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (90) before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Cowboys won 35-10. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 6, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (90) before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Cowboys won 35-10. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things I want to see next year is Emmanuel Ogbah moved to SAM in base. He was drafted with the intent of being an outside linebacker. Injuries and a shortage of bodies up front have forced him into being a 5-tech defensive end in base. Then in nickel, which the Browns spend the vast majority of their time in, the defensive line is in a four-man front with Ogbah playing on the edge with his hand on the ground.

Ogbah is terrible as a 5-tech end when it comes to playing the run. He gets overwhelmed and just pushed down the field. This was the same when he was at Oklahoma State the few times they utilized an odd front and asked him to perform that role.

Along with Carl Nassib getting stronger this offseason, the Browns simply need to add another 5-tech end to bolster the position and add depth in case of injury. This would enable Ogbah to move to SAM in base, which is currently occupied by Cam Johnson.

This is not a SAM like in a traditional 4-3 defense where Ogbah is about four yards from the line of scrimmage lined up over the tackle or the tight end. He’d be a 3-4 outside linebacker that is lined up outside the 5-tech, lined up like a pass rusher. He just has more downhill responsibilities and he’s engaged in contact more quickly.

Occasionally, in the small amount of time Ogbah is at SAM, he might need to drop into zone coverage or potentially man up a tight end or back out of the backfield. He is athletic enough to do the job and just needs experience and coaching to improve.

Recently, Ogbah was asked if he was more comfortable playing with his hand down. His answer was yes, because he’s done it more. That’s basically all he did in college, so it’s not a surprise. But as he alludes, he just needs reps to get more comfortable.

Specifically as to his ability in coverage, he’s shown some flashes, including dropping into a short zone and almost intercepting a pass. If he’s locked up on a tight end, if he can get hands on, he can jolt them and control them off the line of scrimmage. Ogbah is not the ideal guy to be locked up on a tight end for an entire game, but he wouldn’t be asked to be.

Play outside linebacker in base, then go up, play end and get after the quarterback. It would give the Browns a lot of size in their base look while still having a ton of speed. Chris Kirksey and Jamie Collins are doing the heavy lifting in space at the linebacker position in that scenario.

Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) passes against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 22, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) passes against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

My ideal strategy for acquiring a quarterback is the draft. It’s not clear which quarterback the Browns should target at this point, but the pick they’ve gotten from the Philadelphia Eagles is the logical one to use if the Browns have the top pick. That should be reserved for Myles Garrett.

There is still more information to be gathered. The season is not over and all of the pertinent information won’t be available until the combine at the earliest. This class of quarterbacks are flawed enough where a lot can change over the next few months.

In a vacuum, the best case scenario is the Browns use the Eagles pick to take their quarterback. That could involve trading up to ensure they get the passing prospect they want. Then, they put that quarterback in the best situation to succeed, which does not have them starting as a rookie. None of the quarterbacks in this class look ready to step in and play right away.

In addition to getting accustomed to the speed of the NFL, the playbook and everything else, every single quarterback in this class has mechanical flaws that need to be addressed. And that doesn’t happen while playing as when things don’t go as planned, the focus becomes on surviving rather than worrying about good footwork and mechanics.

This is happening with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. Wentz shows a ton of potential, but his throwing motion has regressed and his feet are getting caught in cement the way they did when he was North Dakota State. Yes, he makes some plays and he’s surviving the season, but those are all issues that will have to be addressed in the offseason.

That takes a lot of time and effort to train that muscle memory. Yes, it can work and not prove to have a negative impact on the player, but it can also stall a quarterback’s development. Blake Bortles has run into this in Jacksonville.

The fact there’s any risk in ruining a quarterback by playing them too early is a reason to avoid doing it. Quarterbacks have been ruined by being rushed. No one has ever failed because a team took their time and developed them.

And for the Browns, so many young players are deemed failures almost immediately that Cleveland provides a unique challenge unlike any other fanbase. If the rookie quarterback comes out and struggles, now he’s taking on the playbook, his own mechanics, the defense and potentially an entire fanbase desperate for success. That’s difficult to do for a kid in his early 20s.

The free agency part is not terribly important to me. If they add someone like Tyrod Taylor and use a premium pick on a quarterback, that is certainly a reasonable course of action. If they just use Cody Kessler and Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown or someone else as a bridge, that’s fine too.

Everything should be geared toward the success of that quarterback. Play them when they are ready—not because the fanbase is bored or the owner is impatient and wants to see his new toy. Do right by the kid and let him earn the job, rather than just throwing them in there and hoping they survive.

As the process gets further along, it will be easier to identify who I think is a viable candidate, but that is my view on how to approach it.

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) and Texas A&M Aggies offensive lineman Avery Gennesy (65) in action during the game at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) and Texas A&M Aggies offensive lineman Avery Gennesy (65) in action during the game at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a good question and I can Browns it up a bit. An interesting exercise one can do is picture a player in question on any one of the other teams in the division and see how you feel about it? For instance, put Myles Garrett on the Baltimore Ravens or Mitch Trubisky on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Opinions may vary. Occasionally, that gut feeling can give some additional insight into how you view a player.

I do this every year when it comes to the other teams in the division. The Cincinnati Bengals in particular, I have been terrified at the notion of Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater, Malcom Brown and Kenny Clark the past three years. Instead, the Bengals have taken Darqueze Dennard, Cedric Ogbuehi and William Jackson.

So, for this year, Derek Barnett in a Bengals uniform is a scary thought. Along with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals would have revitalize a once dangerous pass rush. And while the Browns have Joe Thomas to neutralize edge rushers from the right side, Barnett can move around and should outlast the rest of Thomas’s career. They would have a nasty defensive line group for years that could wreak havoc on the Browns and the division as a whole.

In the second round, Jarrad Davis, the linebacker from Florida, comes to mind if he declares. Vontaze Burfict is a complete stud, but the Bengals, for whatever reason, have insisted on staying big and slow at linebacker. Karlos Dansby was an upgrade in athleticism and he’s 35. Outside of Burfict, they have guys with limited range that can’t really cover anyone. Davis appears able to help in both areas. Along with Burfict, that could be a scary thought, especially in nickel.

So with all of that in mind, enjoy Leonard Fournette, Cincinnati.

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