There is not another position group on the roster who underwent as massive of a facelift from 2019 to 2020 on the Cleveland Browns than the safeties. A unit that was never fully healthy, at strength, or able to stay off of social media a year ago, the group in 2020 looks to elevate the third level of the defense in Cleveland this season.
The Cleveland Browns safeties of 2019
Looking back a year ago, the Browns thought they had a couple of talented safeties on their roster in Damarious Randall (coming off his best season yet) and training camp gem Jermaine Whitehead. Now Randall is on the Las Vegas Raiders and Whitehead is out of the league after abysmal performances from both in 2019.
Randall missed a few games with injuries that he would later come out and say he was healthy, and never lived up to the hype of wanting to be the highest paid safety in the league. He is now playing out a one year deal with the Raiders as he hopes to earn that big contract again in 2020.[sv slug=mocksim]
Whitehead, after a notoriously documented tirade on social media following a loss to the Denver Broncos, was cut from the team after this tirade included death threats to fans and media members. Juston Burris, who filled in quite nicely for Whitehead for the rest of 2019, signed a nice little two-year deal with the Carolina Panthers this offseason.
The bridge between the 2019 room and the safeties on the roster for the Browns in 2020 is second-year man Sheldrick Redwine.
The Cleveland Browns safeties of 2020
Starting with the only returner of the bunch, Redwine racked up five starts as a rookie after being a fourth round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Taking his lumps early on, Redwine began to settle in at the end of his rookie season, tallying two passes defended and 28 solo tackles on the year.
The Browns then made it a priority to go out and get some veteran leadership in free agency to bolster the group of safeties in 2020, signing both journeyman Andrew Sendejo and former first rounder Karl Joseph to one-year deals. Given the youth of the room, these two vets are penciled in as the starters in the back third of the Cleveland defense as training camp approaches.
Not done adding to the safety room just yet, the Browns then landed LSU’s star defensive back Grant Delpit in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Not only does Delpit have the talent to be a day-one contributor, but he has a chance to steal away a full-time starting job in training camp this summer.
How the Browns will use these safeties in 2020
When looking at how the Browns will use these new safeties and the new-found depth at the position in 2020, we first turn to new defensive coordinator Joe Woods:
“I would like to transition into a dime system, but it is going to be something that is going to take time to get into, just because of getting their reps. Eventually, I would like to have a nickel package, where we have two linebackers on the field, but also, just to create better matchups and be a little bit more diverse in our scheme, I would like to get to a dime package, where we are putting an extra safety on the field” (Woods via SI).
As the NFL heads deeper into the future of a pass-heavy attack, having an abundance of defensive backs on the field is going to be key. Not to mention, there is a young man under-center in Baltimore named Lamar Jackson who the Browns have to play twice per year for the next decade.
Just as the Los Angeles Chargers managed to do in the 2018 playoffs against the Ravens, the Browns look to mimic their defense that managed to contain Jackson in that game by playing at times seven defensive backs on the field. This means, realistically, all four safeties mentioned will get plenty of opportunities for the Browns in 2020.
Who will win the starting jobs in 2020?
It feels apparent all four safeties will see the field in one capacity or another, but who will win the starting jobs and most predominant playing time for the Browns in 2020? While Sendejo and Joseph may be penciled in at the top, expect Delpit to push for a starting job throughout training camp this summer.
Should Delpit win the job as expected, then in a base 4-3 defense, it will be Delpit over the top of the defense at free, with Joseph starting at strong safety (playing the majority of his reps in the box). What will be interesting, however, is to see the alignment the Browns will use in nickel and dime looks.
There is reason to believe Delpit will slide down into the nickel role in this look, given his known prowess and versatility in both man or zone coverage, with either Redwine or Sendejo taking his spot at the free safety position. While Sendejo is a solid veteran leader, he also still has some juice in the tank, so a battle this summer between him and Redwine for those nickel reps will be a fun one to watch.
Summarizing the safeties in 2020
A complete 180 degree turn from a year ago, the Cleveland Browns have found themselves four quality safeties to work with in 2020, compared to just two underachievers from a year ago. The former first rounder in Joseph has already stated his intentions to stay in Cleveland beyond his one-year deal as he looks to revitalize his career, and Delpit is eager to get to work.
Expect Joseph and Delpit to be the anchors of the safety position in Cleveland this upcoming year, with Redwine and Sendejo also having the potential to play a significant role off the bench in nickel and dime packages. Pairing them with the cornerback duo of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, the Browns could have the making of a strong secondary heading into 2020.