Back in high school, new Browns linebacker Genard Avery was a powerlifter who shattered Mississippi state record after record. As it turns out, he's also a pretty good football player.
That's why Cleveland selected Avery, the former Memphis standout, with their fifth-round pick in last week's NFL Draft with the hopes of developing the formidable, versatile defender.
"We will start him on the inside at MIKE, but I think he can play all of the different spots," coach Hue Jackson said last week. "Obviously, he is going to be a real core special teams guy. There are a lot of different things he can do."
Avery earned All-American Athletic Conference honors last season with the Tigers with 80 tackles (including 22 for loss) 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein wrote Avery is a "big, athletic linebacker with a history of production whether he's playing inside or outside linebacker" with "plus special teams ability."
That'll be key as Avery (6-foot-1, 248 pounds) competes in a linebackers room that already includes two Pro Bowlers — inside backer Joe Schobert and outside backer Jamie Collins — and Christian Kirksey, who has emerged as one of the league's most productive defenders. Put simply, Avery's path to earning a 53-man roster spot might be his value on special teams under new coordinator Amos Jones, who joined Jackson's staff this past offseason.
It's something Avery, who graduated with a degree in organizational studies in 3.5 years, embraced in college regardless of his star role on the Tigers' defense. "I played all of the special teams from my freshman to senior season. It was great. I am not unfamiliar with any position on special teams," he said. "Wherever the coaching staff and the organization want me that's where I'm going to play. I'm just ready to get started."
In the meantime, the Browns will continue to mold Avery and figure out how he can contribute next season and, ideally, for years to come.
"He knows how to go sack the quarterback and make plays on the ball," Jackson said, "so we are excited about him."