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Reviewing the Safeties: Improvements as season progressed helped entire defense grow

The Browns finished the year strong at safety and are set to retain two of their top playmakers from the position for 2022

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 safeties

The Raw Numbers

Pass defense - 202.3 (5th)

Passing TDs allowed: 29 (24th in NFL)

Passes allowed of 20+ yards - 45 (10th in NFL)

Passes allowed of 40+ yards - 5 (T-3rd in NFL)

John Johnson III: 61 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble

Grant Delpit: 66 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble

Ronnie Harrison Jr.: 58 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 1 INT

MJ Stewart Jr.: 47 tackles, 4 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble

Richard LeCounte III: 3 tackles

Analysis in 150 Words or Less

This group progressively got better as the season went on and was a big reason why the defense was able to finish the year as a top 5 unit in the league. Johnson, the top free-agent target for Cleveland last offseason, recorded his most interceptions in a season since 2018 and was the reliable, every-down player the Browns expected him to be when they signed to a deal that runs through 2023. The biggest achievement in the room, though, might've come from Delpit, a 2020 second-round pick who didn't play at all in his rookie season due to a torn Achilles. Delpit played in all but two games, led the group in tackles and delivered the level of versatility the Browns craved when they drafted him.

Number of Significance

4 - That was the total amount of games missed between Johnson and Delpit, a remarkable number considering the injury woes that can hit secondary players across a full season. The durability between the duo was undoubtedly a factor in helping the group — and the rest of the defense — click and offers hope that the safety position can be healthy and even stronger in 2021.

Check out the best photos from the 2021 season by the Browns photo team

High Point

Johnson, Delpit and Harrison all snagged interceptions off Ravens QB Lamar Jackson in Baltimore in Week 12 and accounted for three of four interceptions from Jackson in one of the best defensive performances of the season. Unfortunately, the effort went for naught as the Browns fell 16-10 in one of the most heartbreaking losses of the year.

Low Point

Nothing went right for the Browns defense in Week 10 against the Patriots, who scored touchdowns on six of their nine drives and didn't turn the ball over once. Patriots QB Mac Jones only passed for 196 yards but still totaled three touchdowns, and even Patriots backup QB Brian Hoyer passed for a touchdown when he entered the game midway through the fourth quarter.

What They Said

"I think now it's kind of like you're looking at the brighter side of things, what we did well and what we can build on. I think the disappointment is kind of gone for me, and it's kind of like what can we do to be better moving forward towards next year and talking with AB (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry) and with (Head) Coach Kevin (Stefanski). I think we just have to get it all out and see what we can do to get better." - Johnson

Who's Back for 2022?

Johnson, Delpit and LeCounte are all under contract for 2022. Nate Meadors was also signed to a reserve/futures contract at the beginning of the offseason.

Who's a Potential Free Agent

Harrison and Stewart, who collected 36 tackles and four pass breakups in the final five games, are set to be unrestricted free agents after expirations on their rookie deals. Both players were drafted in 2018 by separate teams.

2022 Outlook

The Browns' foundation at safety will remain strong after quality seasons from Johnson and Delpit, two players who could be asked to play in every-down roles in 2022. Delpit, in particular, gave the Browns plenty of evidence to believe that he can still be the dynamic, versatile playmaker they believed they were getting when they drafted him 44th overall in 2020 despite missing crucial experience in his rookie year. Both Johnson and Delpit are capable of lining up and making plays across all levels of the defense, but the Browns will have a few offseason decisions to make as to how they'll maintain depth at the position.

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