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Reviewing the CBs: Top trio provides secondary with steady play

Denzel Ward, M.J. Emerson Jr. and Greg Newsome II each gave the Browns productive seasons to anchor the secondary


The Browns are over a month removed from the 2022 season and are making plans for improvements in 2023. Doing so, however, will require looking back at how each position fared, and we'll be doing that ourselves at with a comprehensive breakdown of each spot on the roster.

Next up: the cornerbacks

The Raw Numbers

Pass defense: 196.2 (5th in NFL)

Passing TDs allowed: 20 (T-5th best in NFL)

Opposing QB passer rating: 85.2 (11th in NFL)

Denzel Ward: 14 games, 3 interceptions, 15 pass breakups, 53 tackles

Greg Newsome II: 15 games, 6 pass breakups, 42 tackles

M.J. Emerson Jr.: 17 games, 15 pass breakups, 63 tackles

Greedy Williams: 11 games, 11 tackles

A.J. Green: 17 games, 18 tackles, 1 pass breakup

Thomas Graham Jr.: 7 games, 6 tackles

Analysis in 150 Words or Less

The cornerbacks were arguably the strongest part of the defense and were paced again by Ward, who matched his career-high in interceptions. The group received perhaps its biggest lift, however, from Emerson, a third-round rookie who didn't need much time to acclimate to the NFL. The Browns instantly used Emerson in a sizable role, and he proved quickly that he could handle assignments against top opposing receivers and deal with the constant barrage of passes often thrown toward rookie cornerbacks. Newsome, meanwhile, was respectable in his first year of playing in the slot, earning a 69.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. Even though the defense endured a slow start and struggled for most of the season, the cornerbacks largely remained steady and reliable — they allowed an opponent to top 300 passing yards just twice all season.

High Point

The version of the Ravens offense the Browns saw in Week 15 was far from their best, but the cornerbacks still played a nearly flawless game against QB Tyler Huntley, who was replacing the injured Lamar Jackson. The Ravens were also without top wideout Rashod Bateman, and the Browns capitalized on the injury-riddled squad by holding Huntley to 138 passing yards in a 13-3 win. Ward intercepted Huntley once while no Ravens receiver totaled more than 29 yards.

Low Point

The Browns also faced a backup QB in Week 6, only this one had much more success. Patriots QB Bailey Zappe, inserted as the starter over Mac Jones, completed 24 of 34 passes for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, handing the Browns a 38-15 loss. The Browns allowed Zappe to connect with receivers for touchdowns twice in the second half, and it resulted in the most lopsided loss of the season.

What They Said

"If you look at the last five or six weeks – they were bringing it in the meetings every time – we were a top two defense in the last six weeks of the season. I think we figured a way to fix it and try to stay more consistent. At the end of the day, the last six weeks don't really matter when you don't do it the whole season. It is also another thing we have to just find a way to start out strong." - Newsome during the Browns' locker room cleanout day

Who's Back for 2023?

Ward, Emerson and Newsome are all under contract for 2023.

Who's a Potential Free Agent?

Williams is the only cornerback that could become an unrestricted free agent. Green could become a restricted free agent, and Graham could become an exclusive rights free agent.

2023 Outlook

The Browns have built a strong foundation at the position with Ward, Emerson and Newsome but will likely need to add more depth this offseason if they lose players in free agency. Emerson, in particular, proved to be a promising weapon for the defense and is off to a great start in Cleveland, giving the Browns three stellar, young pieces to continue building around for the future. Ward, a five-year veteran, is the oldest of the group and will be 26 next season.

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