The Cleveland Browns were dealt a massive blow on Tuesday as rookie safety Grant Delpit suffered an injury, tearing his Achilles tendon. Delpit was tipped to play a significant role in new defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ scheme, and for a good reason. Now, the safety room didn’t just get thinner; the entire Cleveland defense has been neutralized.
Cleveland Browns: Grant Delpit injury devastates entire defensive scheme
Delpit is an immensely talented player
For a player who has zero NFL snaps, that might seem like hyperbole. But make no mistake; Delpit and his skillset were vital to how this team was going to play defense, and it will be incredibly challenging to adjust to life without him, no matter what the coaching staff might say.
Delpit fought through injury last year to help the LSU Tigers win the National Championship. He was criticized for his tackling (which is poor, to put it kindly), but once he recovered from a high ankle sprain, he missed zero tackles across his College Football Playoff outings. Delpit needs to be better about breaking down and using a proper tackling form, but he is very aggressive and puts himself in a position for tackles that other defenders can only dream of.
Where Delpit shines, however, is in coverage. His tall 6-2 213 pound frame gives him the ability to play man against tight ends, and he has a fantastic range back deep. His instincts and ball skills are both superb, and he could pass as a slot corner if he needed to.
Delpit was the key to Joe Woods’ nickel defense
Heading into the offseason, the Browns needed to make some significant upgrades at the safety position. They signed Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph to one-year deals, and while Joseph could end up being a long-term solution, neither player is guaranteed to be with the team in 2021. The reason that Cleveland didn’t go harder after one of the premium safety options is that they liked this year’s draft class so much, and it’s easy to see why. Few expected Delpit to fall to the second round, and when the Browns were able to snag him after trading back, it was deemed a steal.
Delpit’s ability to play a variety of roles and cover at a high level anywhere on the field was going to allow the Browns to play “big nickel” as their base, with two linebackers and three safeties on the field at once. Woods has stated he wants to eventually run a dime base, which features six defensive backs and only one linebacker, but the team doesn’t have the personnel to do that just yet.
Woods was likely going to use Delpit in a variety of roles, as a do-it-all roamer who can affect every play differently. Delpit can function as a deep angle, a slot corner, an in-the-box enforcer, or as a blitzer. He, along with Joseph, would have helped mask the team’s weakness at LB.
Delpit cannot be replaced
Aside from Delpit, Sendejo, and Joseph, the other safeties currently on the roster are Sheldrick Redwine, Jovante Moffatt, J.T. Hassell, and Elijah Benton. Moffatt and Benton went undrafted this past April, Hassell logged 14 defensive snaps last season, and Redwine had an up and down rookie year in 2019. The options in free agency are nice from a name recognition standpoint – Earl Thomas, Logan Ryan, etc.– but there is just no way to replace what Delpit offered from a physical and versatility standpoint.
Instead of playing big nickel, the Browns must hope that the mix of talent in the LB room quickly improves. This means that Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips need to develop and that B.J. Goodson has to improve in coverage. Likewise, Woods needs his cornerbacks to stay healthy. Greedy Williams, Kevin Johnson, and Terrance Mitchell have all suffered injuries recently, although thankfully, none of them appear to be serious. Cleveland played primarily nickel last year, using T.J. Carrie as the slot. That will be Johnson’s role in 2020, as Mitchell plays almost exclusively on the outside.
The Browns defense was going to be the weaker unit in 2020 regardless. Now, with significant injuries to two key starters already, things will be much more difficult. The hope is that Delpit can completely heal from his injury and return to the field in 2021. This will give him a chance to show why he was going to be counted on so much as a rookie.