Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What can Browns do to elevate pass rush in 2021?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

We asked, you answered.

It was a bit of a role reversal, but you all delivered in a big way in regards to last week's request to fill up the mailbag with questions focused on the 2021 offseason.

We're chipping away at the pile with five of your queries in the latest edition of the Browns Mailbag.

Why can't they use Chubb and Hunt or a triple option with Janovich on the goal line or any third-and-1 on any yard line? They would score 95 percent of the time. — William F., Erie, Pennsylvania

Might have been just me, but I thought the Browns fared pretty well in these situations all throughout the 2020 season. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 27 touchdowns, after all …

Alas, that's not your question! You're getting at what was a topic on and off throughout the season: Why don't we see more of Chubb and Hunt on the field at the same time?

The easy answer is what the Browns did with Chubb and Hunt was highly successful. They also were as fresh as the team could have ever envisioned entering the playoffs. That's the perks of being able to split snaps between two Pro Bowl-caliber running backs.

But that was 2020. It doesn't mean it will be that way in 2021, and Stefanski vowed to continue evolving an offense we know will include both running backs next season.

"Excited about those guys. They both had incredible moments for us this season, just thinking back to some of the runs and catches that they had that were highlight worthy," Stefanski said. "Excited about them moving forward, and it is our job to grow in this offense and find more things they can do. That is part of what this offseason will be about."

Hunt and Chubb both seem very open to the idea but trust Stefanski is already putting them in the best position to succeed and the team in the best position to win.

"We have the same offense to hone down and learn, so I think we definitely can implement some new stuff like that to get us both in the mix at the same time," Chubb said. "I definitely think it is possible."

What do you think about the competition we are going to see at the backup guard positions when they get back to it? Chris Hubbard performed at a high level, but the way Michael Dunn and then Blake Hance stepped in, performed and impressed after Hubbard went down was awesome. And now we will be getting back Drew Forbes and the others that sat out the year. Stefanski and Berry are going to have tough decisions selected who they will keep as the backup guards. — Dan E., Trinity, Alabama

Options are great, and the Browns have them on the offensive line entering 2021. The one player you didn't mention was Nick Harris, who might be best at center but showed he can hold his own at guard. Only one member from the 2020 offensive line — T Kendall Lamm — is poised to hit free agency while three — Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon — will return to the active roster at the start of the new league year. That's the kind of stability Cleveland sought when it attacked the offensive line last offseason. It wouldn't hurt to get another tackle or two in the pipeline, but the Browns appear to be in pretty good shape with this position group entering 2021.

With Grant Delpit being injured before the season started, does this year count as one of his four on his contract? — Gabriel B., Delaware

It does. Even though he's yet to play his first snap with the Browns, a year is a year, no matter when it happens.

Delpit stayed heavily engaged with the team throughout the season, attending all meetings and going through daily, grueling rehab sessions. The Browns are optimistic about his progress heading into next season.

Pass rush was not really there when Myles was on the sideline. If he gets hurt we are in serious trouble. The team would benefit from young fresh legs and a rotation. With the NFL Draft coming up, could a reality be that we improve on defense? Round 1 DE to go opposite Myles. Round 2 CB / DT. Round 3 CB / TE / LB? And the rest is a big question. What do you think? — Scott H., Springfield

I'll admit it's early in my education of this year's crop of draft prospects, but here's what I know about defensive end prospects, in general. The elite ones, if there are any in 2021, will be long gone by the time the Browns are on the clock at No. 26. That's because elite pass rushers typically go in the top half of the first round, if not the top five, on an annual basis. That said, there should be a crop of talented pass rushers available if the Browns opt to go in this direction with their first of nine picks.

Pro Football Focus' top-ranked pass rusher is Michigan's Kwity Paye, whom NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah calls "one of the more dynamite athletes in the draft." Jeremiah pegs Paye to go 21st overall in his first mock draft, so that's fairly close to where the Browns are picking. Paye is Jeremiah's third pass rusher off the board following Miami's Gregory Rousseau (14) and Jalean Phillips (16). Rousseau didn't play in 2020 but racked up 15.5 sacks the previous year. Phillips had eight sacks this year during a shortened season.

Another name to know: Georgia's Azeez Ojulari. PFF ranks him as its No. 4 pass rusher and Jeremiah agrees, placing him with the Ravens at No. 27 in his first mock. Ojulari had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season.

Should the Browns sign a high-end defensive end in free agency? — Dennis M., Port Washington

If they do, it won't come cheaply. But that's a decision each general manager in the NFL has to balance when a top-flight player at the position becomes available.

PFF ranks Shaquill Barrett as its top available pass rusher in this year's upcoming class of free agents, placing him 14th overall. Barrett had eight sacks this season after leading the league with 19.5 in 2019. Cincinnati's Carl Lawson is ranked 27th overall and former No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney is 29th after a disappointing season with the Titans.

It should be noted these players' current teams have an exclusive window to negotiate new deals until the start of the new league year in March. A number of players currently on PFF's Top 100 list, or any list for that matter, likely won't be available when free agency opens because they'll be on new contracts with their current team.

The Browns have two DEs set for some form of free agency, as veteran Olivier Vernon, who posted nine sacks before going down with an Achilles injury, is set to be an unrestricted free agent and Porter Gustin is an exclusive rights free agent.

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