It may not surprise you to learn that the team who once held the second-overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft as their natural pick has a lot of needs, but, whether obvious or not, that is the case for the Cleveland Browns, who now hold the eighth overall selection after making a trade back in order to acquire more picks, to fill more holes in their roster.
One of their bigger roster holes now resides at inside linebacker, where they have essentially lost both of their starting players. I have already previously covered the team’s release of longtime veteran Karlos Dansby, who was a big free agent signing for them a couple of years ago. He was quickly scooped up by their division rivals, the Bengals.
Less talked about is the fact that Craig Robertson also departed in free agency, and he has been their primary starter at inside linebacker for the past three seasons, starting 14 of 14 games in 2013 and 11 of 16 games in 2014. He was limited to 12 games last year, during which he started nine.
It is true that they have Christian Kirksey in place to take one of those spots—he logged more snaps than Robertson last year with 568, and had over 650 snaps logged the year before—but he is not exactly a household name, and could be easily upgraded if there were other options. He recorded 63 tackles last year with one forced fumble and three and a half sacks.
The Browns did sign four-year veteran Demario Davis from the Jets, a relatively modest lower-mid-tier signing, but Davis does have experience going for him, having played in every game since entering the league and started each game in the past three seasons.
Davis has amassed 349 tackles in his career, along with one interception, eight passes defensed and six and a half sacks. He posted 90 tackles last year along with two sacks and two passes defensed, but he had over 100 tackles in each of the two previous seasons.
Still, I certainly can’t imagine any of the Browns’ division rivals fearing a combination of Christian Kirksey and Demario Davis as Cleveland’s starting inside linebacker combination, a unit that has already consistently been ranked toward the bottom of the league in terms of run defense. The team should really not underestimate the need for bringing in a serious talent here.
One option at the eighth overall spot here would be to draft Myles Jack, who could also be a candidate for the Ravens at six, but concerns about his knee could see him drop of bit. If the Browns are able to trade back again—which they have expressed an openness toward—they could gain some picks while still acquiring Reggie Ragland.
There are other options, of course, but if I were the Browns, I would be very cautious about the prospects of entering the season with just Kirksey and Davis as my options at inside linebacker after just losing two of their top three players at the position. A rookie might not start right away, but the options behind the penciled in starters are clearly limited as it is.