Jacob Phillips doesn't need to become a top player in his first season in the NFL.
Phillips, selected in the third round of the 2020 draft, is the youngest player in a linebackers room full of youth. The group lacks experience, but it has players who should be able to hold their own in a starting position. A rookie third-round pick isn't commonly given that task, and that's OK.
But just because Phillips isn't expected to latch on to a big role in his first season with the Browns doesn't mean he can't.
Jason Tarver, tasked with sorting the linebackers competition in his first year as the Browns' linebackers coach, won't rule anyone out for a starting position until depth charts are finalized, and so far, he's liked what he's seen from Phillips.
All of their work together has been through Zoom meetings and individual video review, but Tarver can already see the potential Phillips brings to Cleveland.
"Jacob is a very smart, productive young man with high energy," Tarver said. "He's a winner, and he has good length and top speed and power, which has improved throughout the offseason. It's different because you're not on the field with everybody. What Zoom allows you to do is spend time in different little groups so everyone can know everybody and have a feel for who they are. JP has done a good job of it."
The Browns have selected Jacob Phillips in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tarver is right — Phillips is a winner. He was the leading tackler last season for LSU, the 2019 National Champions, and gave opposing running backs a difficult time if they managed to burst through the interior and into his grasp.
Phillips rarely had a missed tackle last season, and he could develop sooner rather than later into a formidable middle linebacker with the Browns, who need to replace veteran linebackers Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey at the position.
The Browns will select their replacements from a pool of eight other linebackers competing with Phillips. The competition is truly wide open, and Phillips has boosted his stock by taking time to learn both outside linebacker positions and expanding on his knowledge of the middle spot.
"He's a good box player who has gotten more and more productive as he went through the year on a championship team," Tarver said. "Jacob has the skill set for all (linebacker positions), and that was what we wanted. We wanted football intelligence. We wanted length and speed, and he has those. His skillset really fits for any of those spots."
Phillips has been eager to seize one of those positions since the Browns called his name during the draft. He vowed to do everything he could to help bring the same success he had in college over to Cleveland, and while it's tough to show progress in the virtual parameters of the offseason, Phillips has stayed true to his word.
His willingness to learn more about playing as an outside linebacker has proven that, and it might pay off in his first season. Aside from B.J. Goodson, the oldest linebacker on the Browns at 27, Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki and Tae Davis, no other linebacker has received a steady week-to-week flow of snaps at any point in their professional careers.
If Phillips shows he can play all three positions, there will be plenty of opportunities to see the field.
"I feel as though I will be given an opportunity in Cleveland," Phillips said after he was drafted. "I'm ready to work. I'm ready to put in every ounce that I can to succeed and help the team win. I just want to make sure that I bring that winning tradition I had in college to Cleveland."
Tarver won't know how close Phillips is to a potential starting role until training camp. It could be by Week 1 of 2020 … or 2021. There's no rush.
The least Phillips can do now, however, is make a strong first impression, no matter what he's been asked from his coaches.
Tarver checked that box a long time ago.
"He's very smart, and he wants to know all the positions," Tarver said. "He does a heck of a job of knowing what's about to happen."