The NFL’s opt-out deadline has come and gone. Several teams had players choose to forgo the 2020 NFL season, leaving holes in their rosters. The Cleveland Browns are one such team with the news that free-agent acquisition DT Andrew Billings will be missing the season. Billings figured to be a key contributor in the Browns rotation, possibly pushing for a starting job. What does his absence leave in the Browns defensive tackle room?
What the Browns lose with Billings’ opt-out
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted DT Andrew Billings with the 122nd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The fourth-round pick came to the Bengals after an illustrious career with the Baylor Bears and entered rookie training camp with high hopes. Those hopes were dashed as Billings tore his meniscus and landed on injured reserve, ending his rookie campaign before it began.
It was the following year where Billings finally saw the field for the Bengals. Playing a key role as a rotational piece initially, Billings made his way into the starting lineup and recorded four tackles in his first action as a starter. Still, it was tough sledding for Billings, only starting seven games in 2017, failing to record a sack. In the next two seasons, Billings finally started putting it together, starting 30 of the 32 games, recording 3.5 sacks, and providing the Bengals with solid run-stuffing ability in the middle of their defense.
After four seasons in Cincinnati, Billings left the Bengals to compete for a starting DT role with the Browns. Coming to Cleveland on a one-year, $3.5 million “prove it” deal, Billings had all the motivation he needed to put his career back on track. The Browns’ gig could have provided a potential spring-board for Billings, but we’ll have to wait at least one more year to see that come to pass.
For 2020, Billings is out at DT, and the Browns are left with scant options at the position. What are the Browns losing, and who is going to fill that void?
Andrew Billings’ athletic profile at DT
Andrew Billings was never going to start at DT over Sheldon Richardson for the Browns. However, he may have been able to push Larry Ogunjobi as the starter opposite Richardson. Both Billings and Ogunjobi have similar athletic profiles, though Ogunjobi tested as the better athlete according to the Relative Athletic Score (RAS).
Both Ogunjobi and Billings had “Good” or better Speed and Explosion scores, with Agility being the worst area for both. Ogunjobi scored better in all four testing areas, with Billings besting Ogunjobi only in strength and weight.
Where Billings’ absence is going to be felt most for the Browns is with their rotation. With Billings in the fray, the Browns were set up to have a strong rotation of defensive tackles that was four-deep. Now with Billings on the sideline, an area of potential strength now becomes a question mark. Who is there to step up in Billings’ absence?
Who steps up in Billings’ absence?
The answer to that question is rookie defensive tackle Jordan Elliott. The Browns drafted Elliott with the 88th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The third-round pick was likely never intended to see a large role in his rookie season. But as we’ve seen time and time again, plans change — and quickly. Elliott now comes into camp as the number one option behind the two starters for the Browns at defensive tackle.
Elliott brings a lot of physical gifts to the defensive tackle position for the Browns. Much like Billings and Ogunjobi, he brings speed at DT. But his athletic profile isn’t without questions. Does he have the explosion necessary to provide Cleveland with a pass rush from the interior? Will he be able to give the Browns the depth at the position they thought was secure coming into 2020?
These are questions we’re going to have to wait until September to find the answers to. For today, not having Billings at the DT position leaves the Browns in a bind. Combined with the other training camp injuries the team has suffered over the past week, and it all adds up to a tenuous situation at best.
For a team who is supposed to be on the rise with the plethora of weapons they have on offense (Baker Mayfield, OBJ, Nick Chubb, and others), defensive depth — or lack thereof — could be what dooms the Browns in 2020.