Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett is king on defense

    Myles Garrett, the former 2017 number one overall pick, is a pillar on the Cleveland Browns roster. While all the hype is around the Baker Mayfield-led offense, the attention should be shared by Myles Garrett, the leader on the defensive side of the ball.

    The Cleveland Browns are trending off the charts with an offensive superteam. The Browns are led by former 2018 number one overall pick quarterback Baker Mayfield, and it looks like the Browns have finally found their face of the franchise.

    Every NFL talking head is discussing the Browns offense. However, what about their defense? Also boasting a young group of talented players, Cleveland’s defense has some potential that fans can see on paper. However, the defense also surrendered the third-most total yards (6288) last season.

    Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey made it a priority to upgrade the porous defense. Dorsey enhanced their defensive line by signing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and trading for defensive end Olivier Vernon. With several players hitting their stride in their third or fourth season in the league, the Browns could surprise a ton of people on that side of the ball.

    That surprise could happen with another great season by the pillar of the Cleveland Browns defense: defensive end Myles Garrett. Who is Myles Garrett?

    The 2017 NFL Draft

    Heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns were still focused on the never-ending search for their franchise quarterback. However, the organization decided to make the no-brainer selection at the time with the number one overall pick. They selected the unquestioned best player available in Texas A&M University defensive end Myles Garrett.

    Garrett was a generational talent that NFL scouts fell in love with. He was the consensus top prospect throughout the NFL Draft season. At 6-foot-4 and 272 lbs, Garrett is a physical marvel and put up some astonishing numbers at the NFL combine. His combo of long arms and explosive first step makes defensive coordinators salivate and quarterbacks quiver.

    His upside as a perennial double-digit sack producer and All-Pro defensive end surpassed the promise of any so-called savior quarterback Cleveland could’ve taken with the first overall selection. Despite rumors abound that the Browns front office was enamored with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, they ultimately made the correct choice and selected the best player in the draft in Garrett.

    All-Rookie team

    Myles Garrett was productive in an injured-shortened rookie season. He missed the first four weeks of the season because of a high-ankle sprain. When Garrett finally saw the NFL field, he exploded with two sacks in his first NFL action, including his first NFL sack on his first NFL snap!

    The former College Station standout continued his rookie season to record seven sacks in his final 11 games. He accomplished these stats with the Browns trailing in most of their games and finishing a winless season at 0-16.  The Browns had a diminished defense, yielding the second-most points in the league. Opposing offenses were double and triple-teaming Garrett, an obvious signal that Garrett was growing into Cleveland’s premiere defensive stud.

    Garrett was named to the 2017 Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) All-Rookie team and was tied for second with seven sacks among all NFL rookies and tied for third-most ever by a Browns rookie despite playing just 11 games.

    The 2018 season

    The 2018 season witnessed the emergence of the All-Pro talent in Myles Garrett. He finally played in a full 16 game season, totaling 13.5 sacks, falling 0.5 sacks short of the franchise single-season record.

    The 13.5 sacks ranked sixth in the NFL and he finished fourth in the AFC with four forced fumbles. Most impressively, he made a significant jump in terms of quarterback pressures from his first year in the NFL (37) to his second (67).

    Garrett had 13.5 of the Browns’ 37 total sacks, more than doubling the next-highest Browns player, who was Larry Ogunjobi with 5.5 sacks. Defenses zeroed in on Garrett with the lack of another viable pass rusher on the opposite side. Garrett took his game to another level, however, and became the most valuable player and the leader on Cleveland’s defense.

    His outstanding play earned him accolades from across the league. He was voted to the 2019 Pro Bowl, the first Browns defensive end to make the Pro Bowl since Rob Burnett in 1995. The PFWA named Garrett the starting defensive end on the All-AFC team. He also earned second-team All-Pro honors for his breakout 2018 season.

    Looking forward to the 2019 Season

    Myles Garrett heads into 2019 coming off of his first Pro Bowl season. No Browns player has ever posted more sacks in his first two seasons (20.5) since it became an official NFL statistic in 1982. How will this coming season stack up for Garrett’s third NFL season?

    Olivier Vernon

    The Cleveland Browns made headlines by making a concerted effort to address the lowly Browns defense, which allowed an average of 393 yards per game.

    They made a trade with the New York Giants to obtain a defensive end, Olivier Vernon. Vernon (6-2, 262 pounds) ranks in the Top 10 in the NFL in quarterback hits over the last six seasons. He has 51 career sacks, including at least 6.5 sacks per season since his second year in the NFL.

    Like Myles Garrett, he appeared in his first Pro Bowl after last season, finishing with seven sacks and a forced fumble in 11 games. Vernon missed the first five games of the season with a high ankle sprain.

    In his best season in 2013, he led the Miami Dolphins in sacks with 11.5 while playing opposite five-time Pro Bowler Cameron Wake. His track record suggests that his success is dependent upon a dominant pass rusher opposite of him. This role with Cleveland is ideally suited for him playing opposite of Garrett. Offenses will need to account for Vernon and Garrett on each down and not simply slide protections to Garrett, which will open up his game to enormous heights.

    Sheldon Richardson

    Former Pro-Bowler Sheldon Richardson shores up the middle of the defensive line. He is active versus the run and is underrated as a pass-rusher. Richardson’s primary goal is to stop the run and bring pressure up the middle. While he has been inconsistent in his career, his big body (6-foot-3 and 294 lbs) will clog up the middle and keep blockers away from the edge rushers and linebackers.

    He has something to prove in Cleveland and is a massive upgrade over last year’s starter Trevon Coley, who was graded as one of the worst defensive tackles in the league by Pro Football Focus.

    Gregg Williams OUT, Steve Wilks in

    The Cleveland Browns organization has to be appreciative of the job that interim head coach Gregg Williams did by guiding them to a 5-3 record last season. While the offense contributed to the abundance of that accomplishment, Williams was the glue that held the team together after the in-season firing of Hue Jackson.

    One player that was not a fan of Gregg Williams, however, was Garrett. The former top pick said in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei that Williams was limiting him to two moves as a pass rusher.

    “[Former defensive coordinator and interim head coach] Gregg [Williams] was more like: ‘You win with these two moves. I don’t want to see anything else out of you.’ It’s kind of hard with two moves. I feel like you can’t always be so predictable,” Garrett gold Pompei.

    Williams wanted to make things simple. However, it made players more like robots and restricted their talent and instincts.

    The Browns fired Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator and have replaced him with former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks. Following that move, the Browns also brought in Tosh Lupoi as their new defensive line coach.

    According to Will Brinson, new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks blitzed on 44.5 percent of plays last season with the Arizona Cardinals. The Browns landed a veteran defensive coordinator who directed the Carolina Panthers during their Super Bowl run. The signing will also allow first-time head coach Freddie Kitchens the ability to learn and develop in his new role while focusing on the talented offense.

    Wilks is opening things up more and allowing the players more freedom and fewer restrictions, according to Garrett.

    The reputation of Myles Garrett

    The accolades are being thrown around for Garrett like Baker Mayfield throwing footballs on a Sunday afternoon. However, some players also have high appraisals of the former Aggies star:

    “He has an enormous amount of potential,” says retired offensive tackle Joe Thomas, Garrett’s teammate in 2017. Citing Garrett’s quickness, lower-body flexibility and strength, he adds: “I’ve never played against anybody who was like him. Von Miller has the same bendiness, the ability to turn the corner. DeMarcus Ware reminds me of the way he turns the corner. But DeMarcus was 250 to 260 pounds. Von is small. Myles is 275 pounds. He’s a big man.”

    “The nicest thing I can say about him is he’s got the brain of an offensive lineman,” Thomas says. “He’s not like your typical dumb defensive lineman. He’s cerebral and thoughtful, and that really helps with the way he attacks offensive linemen.”

    Former Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman put together a three-year run at the start of his career that saw him collect 39.5 sacks, including a league-high 17 in 2006 despite playing in just 12 games due to suspension.

    He believes there is a superstar in Cleveland.

    “That guy, even when he came out of Texas A&M, I watched him and I said this guy is going to be a star,” Merriman said on Saturday. “Not a really good player, I’m talking about like a star and will be known as one of the best to do it before it’s said and done.”

    His versatility and athletic ability will create havoc for offenses throughout the NFL.

    “You can move Garrett anywhere,” Merriman said. “You can line him up at (defensive) end, you can put him right over the nose tackle, he’s athletic enough to line up in a shade or (defensive) tackle position and loop all the way around and play a D-end position and go two guys over and still make a play on the ball, with that size and that speed.”

    Will Garrett help the defense ascend to new heights?

    I believe we’ll see an even bigger explosion in his numbers in 2019. No edge defender has a higher ceiling than Myles Garrett. According to Pro Football Focus, Garrett has been one of the best in the NFL over the last two seasons at rushing the passer.

    In 2019, he will finally get some help. The sky is the limit for Garrett in 2019, especially with the additions of Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. The hiring of defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will open up the defensive playbook and allow Garrett to run free in his defense.
    The current depth of the defensive line will also allow Garrett and Vernon to stay fresh and not to wear out during the end of games. The defensive ends could establish themselves as the best duo in the league.

    Pro Football Focus named Myles Garrett, the 35th best player as we head into the 2019  season. Garrett is capable of catapulting up those ranks and is talented enough to possibly approach a magical 20-sack season.

    With all the pieces in place, the physical ability, and football intelligence, I believe Myles Garrett will lead the Cleveland Browns defense into the playoffs this season for the first time since 2002.


    Dennis Sosic is a writer for PFN covering the Cleveland Browns. He is also co-host of the AFC North & Goal podcast for the PFN Podcast Network. You can follow him @CALL_ME_SOS on Twitter.

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