The overhaul of Cleveland’s secondary went beyond last year’s selection of Denzel Ward. It was a major, major piece of the plan, but there were so many more reasons why the Browns were relatively solid on the back end of their defense in 2018.
It takes more than one to change the identity of a team’s last line of defense. As teams continue to rely more and more on the pass, strength in numbers has never been more important for defensive backfields around the league.
“If you have five that can play, of course, your chances of being successful increases. If you have six that can play, it is even better than that,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “Now, you can play the pass at an elite level, and then you get your pass rush going and those guys don’t have to cover quite as long. It is a passing league. It was evident last year.”
The Browns made their ongoing commitment to the secondary even more evident with Friday’s selection of LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, who was graded by some as the top player at his position in the entire draft class. The No. 46 pick enters a situation where he can find immediate playing time, but only if he earns it.
Thanks to last year’s moves in both free agency and the draft, the Browns are in a good position to let the best options emerge through months of competition.
Take a look at pictures of all seven members of the 2019 Cleveland Browns draft class.
“It just adds depth,” Browns general manager John Dorsey said. “Freddie and I both preach that one thing – we are going to make this roster as competitive as we can and as deep as we can. By no means, like Freddie said, has this been given to him. He has to earn this position. That is from once he walks in here he has to earn the respect of everybody in this organization. That is how it works.
“Anytime that you can acquire a corner like this player, it adds depth to that position where you need in the National Football League four or five like really talented corners to compete at a high level. That is why you make a move like this.”
The Browns have the situation set up similarly to last year when they drafted Ward. Three veterans -- Terrance Mitchell, T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines -- were added to the roster via free agency last March, giving a Browns secondary that labored in 2017 a much-needed injection of talent and experience. Within weeks of arriving in Berea, Ward proved his worth, landed a starting job and never looked back. And by the end of the season, every last one of Cleveland’s defensive backs -- and more -- were necessary to keep the unit afloat, as injuries to Mitchell and Gaines forced the Browns to dig deep and avoid becoming the liability it’d been in previous seasons.
“In the National Football League today because of the way the game has changed, you realistically have to have five corners on your team,” Dorsey said. “This just gives you another extra guy who can cover and play the game of football. You can’t have enough of those guys. That is a really important position in the National Football League today.”
The Browns added another body at the position, Tulane’s Donnie Lewis Jr., in the seventh round and brought back, among others, veteran Phillip Gaines, a former Dorsey pick in Kansas City whom the Browns claimed via waivers midway through the season. There could be even more after Cleveland announces its undrafted free agent signings.
“Our whole team is going to be competing on a day-in and day-out basis,” Kitchens said. “There is no spot given to (Williams). We have some other guys who can cover, too. He is going to come in, and we will see where it falls at the end.”