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Browns Roster Positional Preview: Defensive Line

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By: Matt_Wilson

Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Taking a look at Cleveland’s defensive line room before team activities begin

The Cleveland Browns officially began their offseason practice schedule with their rookie minicamp this past weekend.

Next on the agenda is OTA’s (Organized team activities) which begin on May 21st. Before that time comes, it’s important to take a look at each of Cleveland’s position groups.

Today we’re going to dive into the Browns’ defensive line room as it currently stands, which consists of 17 players.

Defensive Tackle (9)

Dalvin Tomlinson

2023 Stats: 28 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks

Tomlinson had somewhat of a “down” year in terms of his run-stopping production, but he was sound and fairly efficient when it came to rushing the passer. He was constantly able to push the pocket around and force quarterbacks to flow toward Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith on the edge. Look for Tomlinson to have a better season against the run in 2024, especially in year 2 of the Browns’ new defensive system.

Shelby Harris

2023 Stats: 28 tackles, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 5 pass deflections, 1 FF

Harris continues to be a productive and energetic player despite his age. He ended up being one of the team’s better off-season acquisitions of 2023. He looks to have another great season in 2024 and will always be “fresh” due to the playable depth that the Browns have at defensive tackle.

Quinton Jefferson

2023 Stats: 34 tackles, 4 TFL, 6 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR

Jefferson has quietly been one of the better, all-around interior defenders over the past few seasons. He has a knack for getting to the quarterback consistently as well as being serviceable as a run defender. He should work well in Jim Schwartz’s defense lined up at both 1 and 3-technique.

Maurice Hurst

2023 Stats: 22 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 pass deflections, 1 FR

Hurst, much like Shelby Harris, was one of the better acquisitions last year on defense. He was a constant nuisance for offenses against the run and pass. His non-stop motor is what made him a fan favorite in 2023, and he should hopefully be the same type of player in 2024 for the defense.

Siaki Ika

2023 Stats: None

Ika didn’t see much action last season, only participating in four games and seeing a total of 100 defensive snaps. He didn’t seem prepared in training camp as a rookie and appeared to be out of shape initially. 2024 is a big year for him in terms of showing the defensive staff what he’s capable of and he’s already off to a good start. He looks better than last season and appears to have slimmed down in hopes of improving his mobility.

Michael Hall Jr.

2023 Stats: 24 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks

Hall Jr. was drafted in the second round of the 2024 NFL Draft and the Streetsboro native is ready to hit the ground running for the Browns this summer. He looked great during rookie minicamp this past weekend, showing off his movement skills and get-off. He fits Cleveland’s defensive style and philosophy to “T” and should be a productive, gap-shooting penetrator at 3-technique.

Jowon Briggs

2023 Stats: 27 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks

Briggs spent a significant amount of time with Cleveland during the pre-draft process and needless to say, he left his mark on the club. They were able to snag him in the 7th round of the draft, hoping that he has what it takes to raise the competition level of the defensive tackle room this summer.

Jayden Peevy

2023 Stats: None

Peevy spent the entire 2023 season on the Carolina Panthers practice squad and with the amount of sheer talent on the Browns’ roster, he’ll most likely do the same in Cleveland.

Chris Williams

2023 Stats: None

Cleveland signed Williams to their practice squad in October of 2023, and he signed a reserve/future contract with the team in January 2024. He’s in the same boat as Peevy in terms of his outlook with the Browns in 2024.

Defensive End (8)

Myles Garrett

2023 Stats: 42 tackles, 17 TFL, 14 sacks, 4 FF, 1 FR, 3 pass deflections

There’s not much to say about Garrett. He’s the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and has the ability and potential to defend the title in the 2024 season well.

Za’Darius Smith

2023 Stats: 27 tackles, 8 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 pass deflections, 1 FF

Smith started off the season slow in 2023 but got better and better as the year went on. He lined up all over the place for Cleveland last season and was very productive on the interior, using his athleticism to outmaneuver interior offensive linemen. He and Garrett are primed for another great year in 2024 as the bookends for this Browns defensive line.

Ogbo Okoronkwo

2023 Stats: 31 tackles, 12 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 pass deflection

Okoronkwo was very effective in his first season with Cleveland as both a speed rusher and run defender despite his “slight” frame (250 Lbs.). He was an integral part of the defensive line rotation in 2023 and will undoubtedly be again this year.

Alex Wright

2023 Stats: 25 tackles, 6 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 pass deflections

Wright experienced somewhat of a breakout season in 2023 in terms of his on-field production and overall usage rate. Jim Schwartz used him in a similar way to Za’Darius Smith. Wright rotated between strong side edge and 3-technique in an attempt to create mismatches using his length and athleticism. It’s fairly safe to say that he’s solidified his role on defense, and looks to improve even more heading into year 3.

Isaiah McGuire

2023 Stats: 6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack

Cleveland drafted McGuire in the 4th round of the 2023 NFL Draft, and he looked pretty good in limited action as a rookie. He’ll look to get on the field more often in year 2 by having a productive training camp and preseason.

Isaiah Thomas

2023 Stats: None

The team believed that Thomas was a “steal” in the 7th round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and he’s working on “winning” over the current defensive staff. He faired well in limited action in the middle of the 2022 season, but has rotated between being labeled “inactive” and the practice squad since then. There’s a good chance that the team will attempt to retain him on the practice squad again in 2024.

Lonnie Phelps

2023 Stats: None

Phelps was lauded for his special teams ability coming out of Kansas as a senior, as well as his knack for being able to get to the quarterback with both speed and power. He played very well during the 2023 preseason as well. Though there most likely won’t be enough room for him on the 53-man roster in 2024, Cleveland will probably want him on the practice squad again.

Sam Kamara

2023 Stats: 7 tackles, 1 TFL

Kamara has been bouncing between the practice squad and the active roster since 2020 and the team values his consistency along the defensive line. Not only can he line anywhere along the front, but he does his job more often than not. Similar to Phelps’ situation, the team most likely hopes to retain him on the practice squad again.

Projected Depth Chart (10-11)

DE: Myles Garrett – Ogbo Okoronkwo

DE: Za’Darius Smith – Alex Wright – Isaiah McGuire

DT: Dalvin Tomlinson – Quinton Jefferson – Siaki Ika/Jowon Briggs

DT: Shelby Harris – Michael Hall Jr. – Maurice Hurst

It’s tough to gauge how the team is going to configure the defensive line in 2024, seeing as how they have a plethora of players with guaranteed money in the room. Not only that, but they have so much talent there that it would be hard to see them cutting some of these players.

As of right now, it “looks” like they could plan on keeping 11 defensive linemen and 5 linebackers on the 53-man roster heading into week 1.

What are your thoughts on Cleveland’s defensive line room heading into offseason activities? Join fellow Browns fans in the comment section below.

Originally posted on Dawgs By Nature – All Posts