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Browns Mailbag: Who are the biggest 'sleeper' candidates on this year's team?

We're riding into the weekend with four of your questions on this fourth Friday of July.

Does Chad Thomas have potential for a breakout season? There may be some similarities of Chad Thomas to Yannick Ngakoue and it would be a good sign for the team to develop its young players. — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

Your spot on with your final thought. The best and most efficient way to make your team a consistent winner is to draft and develop players to their full potential. Thomas took a big step in the right direction last year, his second in the NFL after the Browns tabbed him with a third-round selection in the 2018 draft. After playing on a very limited basis as a rookie, Thomas took on a much larger role and was a regular starter during the second half of the season while Myles Garrett served a suspension and Olivier Vernon dealt with a knee injury. He finished with 17 tackles and four sacks and, perhaps more importantly, looked the part as a solid NFL defensive end. With Garrett and Vernon poised to hold down the starting roles at end and veteran Adrian Clayborn added to the mix, Thomas will have to pick up where he left off and continue to push for snaps as a key member of the rotation.

George Obinna at 6-2, 245 pounds seems more of a fit at linebacker than defensive end. Do you think he will compete at that position? — Mark F., Ashtabula

The Browns currently list Obinna as a defensive lineman, so we're going to roll with that at the moment. That's the spot he played at Sacramento State, where he served as a dominant force on the team's defense and left as a record-holder in multiple categories. Obinna, who didn't play football until his senior year of high school, racked up 33.5 sacks during his college career, including a program-record 14 in his final year. Entering the draft process, Obinna was pegged as a tweener, meaning he could be a defensive end in some systems and a linebacker in others. For now, we'll roll with defensive end until we see otherwise on the practice fields. If that's where he sticks, odds are he'll be a little bigger than 245 pounds.

If you were to pick your biggest sleepers on the Browns roster, who would they be? — Mark F., Ashtabula

Sleeper has always been a tough word for me to define. Does it mean people you might not have heard of, or people who just aren't being discussed all that much?

This is the NFL, of course. It's hard to find players who are truly off the radar. Alas, I'll do my best to identify three I believe are worthy of this distinction. For this exercise, they all happen to be on the defensive side of the ball because it feels like we've been talking about the offense all offseason.

DE Olivier Vernon - The veteran pass rusher had a solid 2019 season derailed by a knee injury that cost him six games. He's an ideal complement to Garrett and shouldn't be forgotten when discussing the potential and potency of Cleveland's defensive line, which should be the top strength of this defense.

S Karl Joseph - His offseason signing didn't generate the biggest headlines from Cleveland's class of free agents, but Joseph is poised to make a big impact on the Browns defense. Joseph was playing some of the best football of his career before he suffered a foot injury midway through his final season with the Raiders. He's looking to prove himself in a big way with the Browns.

DT Larry Ogunjobi - This is a big year for Ogunjobi, who has provided a solid presence in the middle of Cleveland's defensive line as a starter for the past two seasons. He's looking to take his game to another level and could be in the best position to do so with Garrett and Vernon back and a deeper stable of reserves at defensive tackle.

Have the Browns done enough this offseason to improve their run defense? Who will replace Joe Schobert in the starting lineup? — Michael M., Vancouver

The Browns know they need to be better than their 2019 ranking of 30th in the NFL against the run. Getting the defensive line back and healthy was a big step toward achieving this goal, but it will take better tackling and the emergence of some young players at linebacker to be at the level new coordinator Joe Woods wants. It's something the group certainly has embraced.

"Defensively, for us, it will all start and we better knock the run out," Woods said.

As for Schobert's replacement, that's all to be determined at training camp. B.J. Goodson, a veteran free agent signing, said he expects to help the Browns at middle linebacker, but we won't know for sure until we see the players on the field.

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