Cleveland Browns don’t have true 3-down linebacker and that’s okay

May 14, 2021; Berea, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (28) during rookie minicamp at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
May 14, 2021; Berea, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (28) during rookie minicamp at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Browns overhauled their linebacking corps this offseason. While they still do not have a three-down player, that is just fine.

The weakest point on the roster for the Cleveland Browns a year ago was none other than the linebacker corps. This offseason, the front office led by general manager Andrew Berry took the overhaul to heart and reshaped the second level of the defense.

With Jacob Phillips, Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki set to be the only returners at the unit, the Browns re-signed both veteran Malcolm Smith and Elijah Lee in free agency. They went on to add former Indianapolis Colts starter Anthony Walker as well.

This was not the end of their overhaul, as they ended up trading up for Notre Dame hybrid linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the 2021 NFL Draft. Then on the third day of the draft, the Browns then landed former Arizona and West Virginia linebacker Tony Fields as well, known for his ability in coverage.

Despite this overhaul, the Browns still may not have a true three-down linebacker, and that is just fine for them.

What LBs will make the Cleveland Browns roster?

It appears safe to say two names are set in stone to make the roster this year: JOK, Phillips and Walker. Outside of that, we may see a great deal of uncertainty at the position. Given his status as drafted by this front office, Fields is a safe bet to make the team as well.

Looking at the other remaining linebackers on the roster in Wilson, Lee, Smith and Takitaki, there may not be room for seven of them on the roster. Given Takitaki’s success as the SAM linebacker in 2020, that limited role is his to lose and gives him an edge to make the roster.

This leaves the veteran in Smith, Wilson and Lee. Given Lee’s prowess to play special teams, a role that neither Smith nor Wilson has shown the ability to play, he may edge out those two for a spot on the final 53. If this writer were to guess, Wilson may have some reason to panic about his place within the Cleveland Browns.

Can JOK play traditional LB in base packages?

The next argument that could be presented is that Owusu-Koramoah is a three-down linebacker. He very well could be! Given defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ giddiness to run a ton of nickel and dime packages, JOK will likely be on the field in heavy doses.

However, in traditional base packages, there may not be room for him to play as a traditional linebacker. Owusu-Koramoah can wear a lot of hats for the Browns, however, where he struggled most was as a traditional second-level defender. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network gave these thoughts pre-draft:

"“…he moves at a different speed than his teammates and his instincts to find the football and make big plays is undeniable. The more you watch, the more you love. Just don’t ask him to play a traditional stack role or attempt to work him as the MIKE linebacker for sustained, optimal success.”"

Stacking and shedding blocks was not a strong point of his game, and while he can improve, may not be on his plate as a rookie.

Projections based on packages for Cleveland Browns

In these traditional packages, it is a smart bet to make that Takitaki will take over at SAM, Walker at MIKE, and Phillips at WILL. However, this may not be a prevalent package for the Browns in 2021. Look for Woods to finally run a heavy dose of nickel and dime now that he has the defensive personnel.

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In nickel, expect Owusu-Koramoah to be on the field with one other linebacker. This other backer is shaping up to be either Walker or Phillips given the down and distance. In dime packages, that one linebacker is made for Owusu-Koramoah, but if he cannot take that on as a rookie, then it looks to be Phillips.