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    Cleveland Browns 10 key players in 2019: Olivier Vernon

    The Cleveland Browns look to improve under the guidance of QB Baker Mayfield. Who are the top ten players heading into 2019? Leading off at number 10 is Olivier Vernon.

    The Cleveland Browns are the talk of the NFL and favorites to win the AFC North. With the high-impact players acquired, the Browns are looking to take advantage of the play of Baker Mayfield immediately.

    Here are the Cleveland Browns ten most important players in 2019. The list starts with No. 10 defensive end Olivier Vernon.

    The 2012 NFL Draft

    Olivier Vernon opted to forgo his senior season of eligibility at the University of Miami and declared for the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Vernon was selected by his hometown team, the Miami Dolphins, in the third round with the 72nd overall pick.

    South Beach sack artist

    The former Hurricane was a rotational player as a rookie, appearing in all 16 games, yet still managed to accumulate 3.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits in his rookie season.

    Vernon took over as a starter and broke out during the 2013 season. He played opposite of five-time Pro Bowler Cameron Wake and achieved his career-high in sacks with 11.5. He also recorded 57 tackles, 13 of which came for a loss, and 16 quarterback hits.

    Vernon ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 overall edge rusher in 2015 — he totaled 7.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and a staggering 36 QB pressures. He became a cornerstone of the Dolphins defense and started 46 of 48 games during his time with the Miami Dolphins.

    However, the Dolphins opted to let him walk in free agency the following offseason.

    Free agency and the New York Giants

    The New York Giants signed Vernon in March 2016 to a five-year, $85 million deal, which included $52.5 million in guaranteed money. This was a huge deal with high expectations for Vernon.

    In his first season with the Giants, he posted 8.5 sacks, which is the second-highest total of his career. He also added 23 quarterback hits and earned second-team All-Pro honors. In his 2017 season, his production was steady with 6.5 sacks, despite playing in only 12 games due to an ankle injury.

    Vernon played in only 11 games last season due to a preseason high ankle sprain but tallied a team-high 7.0 sacks and 21 quarterback hits. Those quarterback hits were double the total of other Giants on the roster. He played 86 percent of the Giants’ defensive snaps in his 11 healthy starts on the way to his first Pro Bowl.

    It became evident in the lead up to the 2019 offseason that the Giants were looking to move Vernon. He struggled to stay healthy, missing nine games with injuries over the last two years, and has never lived up to his enormous contract.

    The Browns trade to improve pass-rush

    The Cleveland Browns made a splash this offseason when they traded right guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants. In return, Cleveland received Pro Bowl edge rusher Olivier Vernon, who will likely start at the defensive end across from Myles Garrett in new Cleveland defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ 4-3 defense.

    The Browns add a player who has proven that he can get to the quarterback. He had 22 sacks in 39 games for the Giants. More impressively, he has 121 quarterback hits in his career, which is good for the 10th most in the NFL.

    In one-on-one matchups, Vernon was destructive, grading out third in the category a season ago, according to PFF’s Sam Monson.

    The most important aspect of adding Vernon to the Browns defense is the significant impact he will provide opposite Myles Garrett.

    Browns playoff push

    The Cleveland Browns are the most exciting team heading into the 2019 season. Most of the buzz is about Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham and the Browns offense. However, the Browns defense has some stars on that side of the ball as well, especially Myles Garrett.

    Garrett was selected first overall in 2017 and has lived up to all of the hype. Last season, he finished with 13.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 29 quarterback hits. He was the focus of every offense’s attention.

    The player opposite Garrett was Emmanuel Ogbah, who showed promise in his 2016 rookie season. He recorded 5.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, and 16 quarterback hits. However, he only finished with three sacks, and eight quarterback hits in a huge sign of regression last season. No one feared Ogbah, and teams went right at him frequently.

    Adding Vernon to play opposite Garrett on the outside and newcomer Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi creating havoc on the inside, this defense will improve from last season in which they finished with just 37 sacks.

    The presence of Vernon will create one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the NFL. The duo had a combined 113 pressures last season. Neither player should be double-teamed, and both players should thrive into the best statistical seasons of their career.

    In Cleveland, Vernon figures to play more as a down rusher in the Browns’ 4-3 base. New York ran a 3-4 which forced Vernon to play outside linebacker instead of defensive end or edge rusher. He will be a pass-rusher, not a lineman in coverage, which suits him perfectly.

    “It is back to a 4-3 defense,” Vernon said. “That is what I have been used to playing my whole career. We have a lot of guys right now that can play inside and outside. We have a lot of talented guys on this defense and on this defensive line, as well. Right now, it’s just about getting that chemistry right.”

    Final thoughts

    Vernon (6-foot-2, 262 pounds) ranks in the Top 10 in the NFL in quarterback hits over the last six seasons. He has an excellent track record of having success with a dominant pass rusher opposite of him.

    “Olivier is exactly what we thought he was,” Kitchens said. “He takes control on the field, takes control in the locker room and he is the leader of the team. We just need to continue to mesh people like that and see where we are.”

    There has been a lot of discussion on the offensive side of the ball for the Cleveland Browns. Don’t sleep on this defense. Vernon is critical to the defensive scheme and the maturation and success of Myles Garrett.

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