The Cleveland Browns were one of a handful of teams joining the Pittsburgh Steelers in believing that they were adding a premium pass rusher with their first-round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. The Browns selected LSU edge rusher Barkevious Mingo with the sixth-overall selection, one of three such players to go in the top six picks.
Like the Steelers, however, they have found relatively meager returns on investment from their former high-value selection, and similar declined to exercise Mingo’s fifth-year option, meaning that he, like Jarvis Jones in Pittsburgh, is entering the final season of his contract.
In contrast to Pittsburgh, however, Jones, at least, has progressed over the course of the past three seasons, while it seems that Mingo has regressed. After posting five sacks in his rookie season to go along with 42 tackles in three starts through 15 games, he has posted just two sacks in the 31 games since.
Last season, in 16 games, Mingo started only two, posting 24 tackles and zero sacks, although he also recorded the first interception of his career. Of course, he, like the rest of the team, has had to deal with a regime change since his rookie season.
In fact, he played the fewest snaps of all outside linebackers last season, with 2015 second-round pick Nate Orchard seeing 45 percent of the defensive snaps, registering 36 tackles, three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. Armonty Bryant, drafted in the same class as Mingo, played a similar number of snaps as Orchard, registering 40 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles, outproducing the former first-rounder’s best season.
During the 2016 NFL Draft, the Browns continued to add to their options as edge rushers, drafting Emmanuel Ogbah in the second round, and later, Joe Schobert at the top of the fourth round. While the former has the speed to compensate for his larger size in transitioning to outside linebacker in a 3-4, it’s not yet clear whether Schobert will line up inside or outside, or if he will be a contributor at all linebacker positions, based on his conference call.
It is unclear how Mingo will fit in going forward, particularly with respect to the fact that the Browns have continued to add to their pass-rushing pool under the latest new regime. It does not appear likely that he will be handed any playing time simply by virtue of his prior draft status—something I imagine many Steelers fans are lamenting over Jones.
Mingo has said that he has dedicated himself to getting strong and faster this offseason, claiming to have added 25 pounds of muscle for an outside linebacker who has spent more time than usual dropping into coverage, but how much of a difference that might make remains to be seen.
It’s worth noting that the Browns have brought back Ray Horton as their defensive coordinator. Horton, a former Steelers secondary coach, was Cleveland’s defensive coordinator during Mingo’s rookie season, during which he was used more as a rusher and produced five sacks. Perhaps that more than anything might contribute to the former first-round draft pick getting himself back on track.