The Cleveland Browns linebackers are raw behind projected starters Mack Wilson and B.J. Goodson. And even Wilson and Goodson managed just average production throughout their professional careers. Neither jump out on the stat sheet and they lack experience as full-time starters.
Another chess game is to replace Joe Schobert, the leader of the group in 2018 and 2019. And while Christian Kirksey is gone after two injury-riddled seasons, he too played at a serviceable level when healthy. While the Browns made vast improvements to the defensive line and defensive backfield, linebacker remains weak. Opposing offenses will target the inexperienced unit often to take advantage of the young group.
But the weakness means someone can break out and snag a starting role, be it Tae Davis, or even undrafted free agent Solomon Ajayi. It shouldn’t surprise if Sione Takitaki jumped into a starting role after logging modest production in 2019, or even versatile rookie Jordan Phillips.
Montrel Meander and Willie Harvey are both former undrafted free agents the Browns picked up. The latest addition, Ajayi, hopes to take advantage of the weak unit to find a roster spot. There’s also Jermaine Grace, who has bounced around the league since 2017.
2020 Cleveland Browns Linebackers
Projected Starters: Mack Wilson, B.J. Goodson
The Browns are best suited to run a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Joe Woods, but only Wilson and Goodson appear to be clear-cut starters. Of the two, only Wilson returns while Goodson was a 2020 pickup in free agency.
Wilson started 14 games in 2019, logging 82 combined tackles and a sack. He also fared well in pass defense, breaking up seven passes and returned his lone interception 21 yards. He played well but must produce better in 2020 if he figures to lead the linebacking unit.
Goodson spent his previous stops as a part-time starter and logged modest production. In 2018, he started 13 games for the New York Giants and recorded 61 combined tackles, half a sack, and two interceptions. He also logged 37 tackles as a member of the Green Bay Packers in 2019. The burning question is whether Goodson can be a full-time starter in 2020.
Next in Line: Sione Takitaki, Jacob Phillips, Tae Davis
Takitaki and Phillips are in their second and first seasons. It’s likely one of them will man the opposite outside linebacker position despite their listing as middle linebackers. Tae Davis is the only candidate to start opposite Wilson who lists as an outside linebacker. But the formerly undrafted free agent has seen limited playing time with the Giants before signing with Cleveland in 2019.
Takitaki started one game in 2019 and appeared in 15. He logged 21 total tackles. He came to the Browns as a third-round pick in 2019 but played sparingly on defense. He’ll get a look in 2020 along with Phillips and Davis.
Phillips joined the Browns in 2020 as a third-round draft pick. Phillips led the LSU Tigers in tackles in 2019 with 113 combined stops with seven and a half tackles for loss. He also notched a sack. He’s only a two-year starter, so experience is a factor, but as his former coach Dave Aranda stated, “Jacob has the ability to play both inside linebacker as well as outsider linebacker,” which grants him versatility.
Davis has 45 career tackles but made only 12 stops in both New York and Cleveland in 2019. He did, however, start four games and he appeared in 14 games in 2018, logging 33 combined tackles and two sacks. Davis has potential, but he’s limited from a production standpoint.
Fringe Prospects: Jermaine Grace, Montrel Meander, Willie Harvey, Solomon Ajayi
The final four Cleveland Browns linebackers lack both experience and production, but each has an excellent chance to stick around, given the Browns’ weakness at linebacker. It starts with Grace, who’s bounced around the league since 2017, which included a stint on the Browns’ practice squad in 2018. He has nine career tackles in three seasons.
Montrel Meander also spent time on the Browns’ practice squad in 2018 and made two more stops before landing with the Browns again in 2019. Willie Harvey signed with the Browns in 2019 as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in two games and logged one tackle. Solomon Ajayi joins the Browns as an undrafted free agent who played college football at Liberty University. He totaled 92 tackles in 13 games.
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