_The offseason has arrived, and it figures to be a busy one in Cleveland as the Browns evaluate the highs and lows of the 2021 season. We're doing some evaluations, too, by taking a thorough look at how each position fared throughout the year. _
Next up: the cornerbacks
The Raw Numbers
Pass defense - 202.3 (5th)
Passing TDs allowed: 29 (24th in NFL)
Opposing QB passer rating: 89.4 (13th in NFL)
Denzel Ward: 43 tackles, 10 pass breakups, 3 INTs, 1 TD
Greg Newsome II: 37 tackles, 9 pass breakups
Greedy Williams: 41 tackles, 10 pass breakups, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble
Troy Hill: 49 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 2 sacks
AJ Green: 21 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 1 INT
Analysis in 150 Words or Less
One year after the group battled several injuries and was forced to dig into its depth, the Browns' cornerbacks room became one of the most reliable positions on the team and benefitted from production from, well, everyone. Every player built a quality season within their role and certainly met the expectations the Browns set when they spent a first-round pick on Newsome, signed Hill to anchor the slot position and retained Williams after his recovery from a season-ending shoulder injury in 2020. Ward, the fourth overall pick in 2018, led them all with his best season since his rookie year and was arguably the Browns' most important defensive player behind Myles Garrett. One of the biggest boosts came from Williams, who played 16 games after not playing at all a season ago and recorded his first two career interceptions and a handful of other big plays.
Number of Significance
2011 - That was the last year that Cleveland finished in the top five in the league in pass defense. The Browns finished second that season but haven't been able to replicate that success in a decade. Plenty of growth has taken place at the position, however, since they drafted Ward four years ago, and the group appears well-positioned to be able to uphold that talent in the long-term future and keep the secondary consistent.
The secondary, and cornerbacks in particular, were a nightmare for the Bengals in Week 9 when they intercepted QB Joe Burrow twice and accounted for two sacks in a 41-16 win. The rout started early when Ward intercepted Burrow in the red zone and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown, a play that stood as the longest of the season in the entire NFL, but it was far from the only highlight of the game. Newsome recorded a season-high three pass breakups against two stud receivers in Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, and Hill accounted for two sacks against Burrow — Hill had only tallied one sack in his previous six seasons in the league.
The Browns started their Week 5 game against the Chargers already down one of their top CBs in Newsome, and it only took nine defensive plays for the group to be down another when Ward exited with an injury, too. That left Williams, Hill and Green as the only healthy corners available. The trio did all they could against QB Justin Herbert — Green totaled two pass breakups and Williams had an interception — but WRs Mike Williams and Keenan Allen continued to create big plays that kept Los Angeles ahead in a brutal 47-42 loss. A full-strength CB room might've been the difference for the Browns, who fortunately weren't as severely shorthanded at the position at any other point during the season.
What They Said
"We just have to stay together and stay connected. Obviously, forget about the season that we had, but also, we have to remember what it felt like to not make the playoffs and remember what it felt like to go 8-9 after coming from the season where they won a playoff game. We have to remember it, but we also have to forget it and remember that it was a disappointing season. We had a lot of adversity this season. It just has to start with the leaders just keeping that culture great." - Newsome
"This league is all about matchups — do you have the ability to win your one-on-ones week in and week out? When you have three corners, you feel like you can go No. 1, 2 and 3 and match up with anybody you put on the field? That is when you just need confidence, especially with what those guys have done so far this season." - Woods on Ward, Newsome and Williams all playing well in 2021
Who's Back for 2022?
All five cornerbacks currently on the roster are under contract for 2022. Herb Miller was also signed to a reserve/futures contract shortly after the season ended.
Who's a Potential Free Agent
The outlook here couldn't be much better. Ward has been superb for the Browns in the last two seasons and is only 24, which means he might have even more room to grow. Newsome had a respectable rookie season and could take a big jump forward now that a full NFL season is under his belt. Williams provided valuable depth and proved he's capable of starting any week, while the Browns saw plenty of evidence from Hill and Green to trust them, too. Cleveland benefited greatly from its cornerbacks, and the group certainly has the potential to be even better in 2022 if guys can stay healthy.