Updating the Browns defensive depth chart after the 2021 NFL draft

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With the 2021 NFL draft in the books and the first offseason activities for the new rookie class and free agents coming very soon, it’s time to take a gander at the Cleveland Browns updated depth chart.

The offense hasn’t changed a lot, certainly not at the top of each position. Cleveland could have all 11 offensive starters returning and brings back the top reserves at several spots, too.

Defensively, it’s a different story. Only two surefire starters return, and the depth chart across the secondary has been almost completely overhauled.

Here’s an early look at the Browns defensive depth chart entering the rookie minicamp and post-draft OTA period.

Defensive tackle

Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

There are currently eight players on the depth chart on the interior defensive line. Exactly one of them--Jordan Elliott--played for the Browns in 2020. It makes projecting the depth chart difficult, but here's the best early guess... Starters: Andrew Billings, Malik Jackson Reserves: Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai, Sheldon Day, Marvin Wilson, Damion Square, Malik McDowell Billings returns from his opt-out season as the projected starting nose tackle, while veteran Jackson should sit atop the rush tackle spot. Elliott (3rd round 2020) and Togiai (4th round 2021) are young, promising recent draft picks who should stick. Veterans Square, Day and McDowell could all very well be fighting for the same roster spot, and nobody really knows what to make of the enigmatic, undrafted rookie Wilson at this point.

Defensive end/EDGE

(AP Photo/David Richard)

Starters: Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney Reserves: Takk McKinley, Joe Jackson, Porter Gustin, Cameron Malveaux, Curtis Weaver, Romeo McKnight, George Obinna Garrett is the alpha dog, but he'll have a new running mate--or two--on the other side. The team sought Clowney for months before landing him, so expect the veteran to get every chance to seize the starting role vacated by Olivier Vernon. McKinley figures to play a lot; he was also a long-coveted free agent by the Browns front office. Jackson and Gustin have flashed ability in reserve capacities. Weaver and Obinna were with the team in 2020 but never played. Both have more juice as stand-up rushers if Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods opts for more of that. Undrafted rookie McKnight faces an uphill battle to even make the practice squad.

Linebacker

(AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)

The presumption here is the Browns will play a base nickel defense, with two LBs and five defensive backs. It would not be a surprise to see some 4-1-6 looks with just one LB on the field. Starters: Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah Reserves: Jacob Phillips, Malcolm Smith, Sione Takitaki, Tony Fields, Mack Wilson, Elijah Lee, Montrel Meander Walker is too often overlooked by both Browns fans and the media. The free agent signing from the Colts is a good starter capable of playing in all situations. Second-rounder Owusu-Koramoah figures to get the role of coverage backer in a hybrid LB/S position. When the team goes to three LBs, Takitaki steps in against heavier offensive packages (22 or 13) and Smith would get the nod against more conventional offenses. Last year's third-rounder, Phillips figures into that mix as well. Fields, the team's fifth-rounder, figures to play extensively on special teams. Wilson and Lee need to find roles where they present value, though each does have the ability to prove they belong.

Cornerback

(AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

As noted with the linebackers, the presumption is Joe Woods will deploy a base nickel package. For simplicity sake, the projection here is three cornerbacks and two safeties, though that is certainly not set in stone. Starters: Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Troy Hill Reserves: Greedy Williams, M.J. Stewart, Robert Jackson, Brian Allen, A.J. Green, Manny Rugamba Ward is a Pro Bowler when healthy on the outside, and Hill is one of the best slot coverage corners in the league. The other outside spot figures to be a camp battle between Newsome, the team's first-round pick, and holdover Williams, who missed all of 2020 with a shoulder injury. That foursome is optimally the only CBs who will see the field on defense. Special teams will sort out the rest of the depth chart. Losing Tavierre Thomas opens up a role on special teams for someone like Jackson, Green or Allen to step up into. Stewart's role as the reserve slot is only in pencil, not pen.

Safety

(AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

This depth chart is based on a two-safety base, but the Browns could play with a three-safety look, as they often did in 2020. Starters: John Johnson, Ronnie Harrison Reserves: Grant Delpit, Richard LeCounte, Jovante Moffatt, Sheldrick Redwine, Elijah Benton Johnson was the big-ticket free agent for the Browns on defense. The ex-Rams safety should never leave the field. Harrison gets the tentative nod over Delpit based on his experience and nose for the ball he showed in his first season in Cleveland. If healthy, Delpit figures to see a lot of action and he'll be the other starter if the Browns roll with three safeties. The No. 4 spot is open for an offseason battle, with Redwine the early leader based solely on his experience. Day 3 rookie LeCounte is the most likely to take the role away, but realistically it will come to special teams for the group outside the top three.

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