The Cleveland Browns finished last in the AFC North in 2022. However, there’s a new-look defensive front that could pave the way for success this season.
This past season, the Cleveland Browns were the only team in the AFC North with a losing record. That’s not exactly news. Since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, the franchise has finished above the .500 mark just three times in 24 seasons.
There were any number of factors that had Kevin Stefanski’s team finish with a 7-10 mark. One highly disappointing aspect of the club was a defense that slipped to 14th in the NFL in total yards per game allowed. In 2021, only four teams in the league allowed fewer total yards than the Browns.
Consider that Cleveland defenders gave up 135.2 yards per contest on the ground while totaling only 34 sacks in 17 contests (16.0 by Myles Garrett). It’s no real surprise that the team replaced Joe Woods, the defensive coordinator the past three seasons, with aggressive Jim Schwartz. He has certainly made his presence felt around the league and did win a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles (LII) in 2017.
Garrett is one of the premier pass-rushers in the game. He’s finished with 10-plus sacks in each of his past five seasons. He’s racked up exactly 16.0 sacks in both 2021 and ’22. Again, he finished with nearly half of Cleveland’s sack total this past season.
Now Garrett has some veteran help and the team also invested a pair of draft choices on the defensive line. At the other end spot is three-time Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith, acquired from the Vikings via trade this year. Speaking of Minnesota, Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry added defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. He was a second-round pick of the Giants in 2017 (the same year Garrett was drafted) but spent the past two seasons in the Twin Cities.
Berry’s latest addition is unsung Shelby Harris, who inked a one-year deal this week. He spent this past season with the Seahawks after five seasons with the Broncos as part of the Russell Wilson trade. However, he was cut loose by the Seahawks earlier this year. In April’s draft, the team added Siaki Ika (3-Baylor) and Isaiah McGuire (4-Missouri).
In 2022, only four teams in the league had fewer sacks than the Browns. That figures to change under Schwarz. Meanwhile, if this unit can also make strides against the run, this could be one of the NFL’s most improved defenses.