Chris Kiffin believes size and speed are the two top tools a defensive end must possess to thrive in the Browns' defense.
Kiffin, entering his third season as the Browns' defensive line coach, has two great examples for that in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney — Garrett is 6-foot-4, Clowney is 6-foot-5, and both use elite speed to maximize their wide array of pass rush moves. They combined for 25 sacks last season and were one of the most forceful edge combos in the league.
Kiffin sees those traits, too, in Alex Wright, the Browns' third-round pick from UAB. Wright is 6-foot-5 and 267 pounds and provided plenty of examples of his speed through the 12.5 sacks he totaled over three years with the Blazers, and Kiffin envisions those skills translating well to the NFL level.
"The first thing that jumps off the tape is his size-speed ratio," Kiffin said in a “Browns Breakdowns” video. "We look for guys like that who obviously have explosiveness, but size and length to be able to set the edge. That's what we need him to do first."
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Wright's quickness should allow him to become a versatile chess piece for Kiffin. He'll likely begin his career primarily on the edge, but Kiffin is excited to see how quickly he could learn to play inside. Wright should be capable of stopping the run from both positions, too, because he's a big player capable of moving past blockers and swallowing running backs.
All of those abilities were on display in a highlight Kiffin analyzed from UAB's game against Georgia last season.
The Bulldogs, of course, were national champions last season and boasted a strong offensive line and run game. Wright recorded three tackles in the game, and one of them was a heavy-hitting tackle for a short gain after he shed a cut-block from a tight end and continued his pursuit to the running back before he could start his run.
"He knocks the crap out of that tailback right there," Kiffin said. "We call that 'play demeanor.' How aggressive? How physical? How violent? Do they love football? All that pops off the tape."
Wright is the type of edge rusher the Browns believe can make plays against multiple quarterback types. With so many mobile, shifty quarterbacks dominating the league, the Browns have primarily focused on adding edge rushers with speed who can track QBs down when they're out of the pocket — or in a run-pass option style of offense, when defenders often have to showcase quick instincts in addition to speed to figure out who has the ball.
Wright showed that in a monster game against Florida Atlantic last year when he compiled three tackles for a loss, two sacks and one forced fumble. The fumble happened on a play where Wright, who was unblocked, charged the quarterback without any hesitation and stripped the ball as the quarterback attempted to hand it to the runner.
Being unblocked on the play certainly helped Wright, although the power of his hit and speed at which he still reached the backfield was notable.
"He's a big defensive end that can fire off quickly and make plays," Kiffin said. "He gives us tools like this to be able to do stuff like this when you're playing a Lamar Jackson offense, stuff like that. We saw that he fits with what we like to do."
Eventually, Kiffin wants Wright to grow comfortable as an inside player, too. Playing inside means Wright will face more blockers as opposed to the outside, since the guard and center could both be assigned to him rather than only a lone tackle.
Wright has some experience on the inside from college. One of his best plays from that spot also happened against FAU, when he tallied a sack after his footwork led to a misstep from the right guard.
Wright had another blocker to beat, however, in the center. But because the guard was out of position after his initial move, Wright gave himself space to maneuver around the center and tackle the quarterback.
"He just looks unblockable right here," Kiffin said. "We move a guy like that up (the draft board) because for him to have the ability to do that — slide inside — is a mismatch. When you have Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney on the outside, and you can mix him in with some other defensive tackles rushing inside, it just gives us a lot of possibilities in there."
Wright isn't expected to deliver instant impacts as a rookie, although he could certainly play his way into a big role in the rotation with a good training camp.
For now, Kiffin just wants Wright, 21, to acclimate to NFL blocking. That process should be streamlined by the speed and size Wright already brings in his game, and after he fully develops, Kiffin expects the Browns to have another destructive edge rusher in his group.
"He knows he's not a polished product," Kiffin said. "He's a rookie. He's young and he's got to learn. He's only 21 years old, but for us to get him here and start working on what he needs to look like in our scheme and what that looks like day-to-day. He's been willing to work and shows up every day with a great attitude."