Cleveland Browns: Front 7 takes a hit from PFF rankings

The Cleveland Browns have some building blocks along the defensive front seven, but there is still work to do according to PFF’s annual rankings.

The Cleveland Browns had some bright spots along the defensive front seven despite the shortcomings of deposed defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

Second-year nose tackle Danny Shelton was a consistent thorn in the side of opposing guards and tackles, rookies Emmanuel Ogbah (5.5 sacks) showed promise as the year went along and Carl Nassib flashed early before breaking his hand.

Linebacker Christian Kirksey easily led the team in tackles with 148 – many that actually made a difference, unlike what D’Qwell Jackson used to do in Cleveland – and Jamie Collins did some nice things after arriving in town following a mid-season trade with the New England Patriots.

Those were the high points, which were heavily negated by the fact that the defense finished:

  • 31st in the NFL in touchdown passes allowed with 36
  • 30th in points per game at 28.2
  • 30th in sacks with 26
  • 31st against the run at 142.7 yards per game
  • 28th in average run per carry at 4.6

That reality was highlighted by Pro Football Focus, which placed the Browns front seven at No. 32 in their annual ranking of the league’s front sevens. Shelton earned the unit’s highest grade (82.4), while Jamie Meder came in at the bottom (42.8). As for the rest:

This ranking was to be expected when relying on a handful of rookies to play impactful snaps up front. What wasn’t as expected was the general ineffectiveness of Jamie Collins after coming over from New England. During his eight games with the Browns, Collins surrendered 27 catches on 30 targets for 235 yards and two touchdowns without getting his hand on a single pass.

It is interest that the summary pointed out Collins as the Browns have a major decision to make on him this off-season.

When the Browns swung the trade there was talk the Collins, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent in March, would be in line for “Von Miller-type” money when he signed a new deal. (Although Collins subsequently denied that was the case.)

Once the season was over, however, Collins did say that he would be OK remaining with the Browns “if the money is right.”

While Pro Football Focus is not the final say on any personnel moves that the Browns will make, the fact that Collins may not have played as well as the “pay him whatever it takes” crowd would have you believe should at least give the Browns pause while negotiating a new deal.

Turning back to the front seven as a whole, the Browns are in the process of building a nice nucleus along the defensive front. They also have a new defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams who, despite having some issues in the past, at least has seen his defenses perform, unlike Horton.

If executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson view the front seven in a similar light as Pro Football Focus, the Browns also have the assets to make a major talent infusion in the 2017 NFL Draft, starting with the possibility of selecting Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick.

If nothing else, when you are ranked as low as the Browns currently, there is no where to go but up, right?

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