In six weeks, the new assemblage of Browns players and coaches are expected to return to Berea for their first team reps and on-field practices of 2020.
We've all been waiting for the start of training camp, which will also be the first time rookies hit the field and jostle for top spots on the depth chart. Some rookies will fight for a starting role in Week 1, while others could be stashed in backup roles and carry starting prospects for the future. We'll just be happy that football is back in Cleveland.
Over the next few weeks, we're breaking down each rookie from the Browns 2020 draft class — with the help of The Athletic's Dane Brugler — and diving into how they might fit into next season's plans.
Next up: Jacob Phillips
Name: Jacob Phillips
Draft selection: 3rd round (97th overall)
"Browns Live: Meet the Rookies" presented by MANCAN will take your knowledge to another level. Hosted by Nathan Zegura, the interactive live show will feature interviews with all seven members of the class, in-depth analysis and plenty of opportunities for fans to have their questions answered by the players themselves. Check out photos of the guests!
How does he play?: Phillips was the leading tackler for college football's best team in 2019. And while some of his teammates, including safety Grant Delpit, drew higher acclaim and landed with teams much earlier in the draft, Phillips was an incredibly valuable piece to an LSU defense chock full of future NFL players. Phillips amassed his SEC-best 113 tackles in 2019 mostly on rush attempts, as he thrived as a run-stopper while fellow LB Patrick Queen, a first-round selection by the Ravens, excelled in coverage. Phillips used a combination of instincts, athleticism and sure tackling to break up plays in the backfield or limit run attempts well short of the sticks.
Brugler's Breakdown: With some expected improvement in pass coverage, Phillips could very well outplay his third-round draft status as soon as 2020, Brugler said.
"His instincts … he's going to get on the field," Brugler said. "Those instincts are too good not to be out there. He'll make plays. It's just a matter of do you have to be careful how you deploy him? Can you trust him on passing downs? In training camp and when they get these guys on the field, the coaches will be able to figure it out.
"If you can leave him on the field for all three downs, he's going to outplay that third-round pick."
A former five-star recruit, Phillips shined at the NFL Combine, running a 4.66-second 40-yard dash while posting solid times in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill. What excites Brugler most is the fact that the numbers match up with what he sees on film as he analyzes Phillips' film from his final season at LSU.
"The time speed, it matches the play speed," Brugler said. "That's what you want. You want those two numbers to match up. What you see on film matches what he does in the 40-yard dash."
Athleticism, though, can only take you so far. It takes smarts and instincts to thrive at the next level, and Phillips has shown plenty of it against the run. The next step for Phillips will be to get those instincts on a comparable level against the pass — something he simply didn't have as much of an opportunity to master during his time at LSU.
Brugler believes Phillips can improve that area of his game quickly.
"It's not that Jacob Phillips can't cover. It's just we haven't seen him do it consistently enough at this point," Brugler said. "He needs more opportunities to play in coverage. I think he's going to improve. All the skills are there. A little bit of an unknown there, but all the talent is there to get better."
How will he fit?: The Browns' linebacker room is as young as any in the NFL, and that could mean immediate opportunities for Phillips to contribute. Though it's unclear where he'll be competing at the start of training camp, Phillips has a skill set that could fit nicely at the WILL (weakside) linebacker position. Even if Phillips can't land a starting spot, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to flash his athleticism and instincts on special teams — an area where last year's third-round pick, Sione Takitaki, shined as a rookie.
The Browns have selected Jacob Phillips in the 2020 NFL Draft.