The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason has, by and large, been dominated by a focus on the offensive side of the ball. That was no more evident than during the NFL Draft, during which they used each of their top four selections on offensive players. The Cleveland Browns had the opposite approach this year.
Not only did they spend big in free agency to enhance their defense with the acquisitions of players like Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson, and Troy Hill, but they also invested heavily early on in the draft. They took cornerback Greg Newsome II in the first round, for example, and then traded up in round two to get linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
“We knew there were some things that we needed to try to shore up on defense,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said during the draft. “When (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) came on board last year, we felt like the offense was awfully close. It was maybe a couple of pieces away to being in really good shape…The defense we knew was a little further away in terms of bringing it all along.”
Cleveland employed guns for hire in the secondary, in part by choice and in part by necessity due to injuries, and to a lesser extent at the linebacker level as well. The defensive line was really the only group where they had an established starting slate.
“We signed a lot of guys last year to one-year deals to try to get through a season and have a good defense,” Berry noted of the 2020 season. “We knew just based on the contract status that we were going to have to do a lot this offseason to try and rebuild that unit for 2021. It was certainly an area of emphasis in free agency, and at least so far in the first two picks, it has been a focus for us here in the draft.”
They did shift to the offense for their next two picks before using three more selections in rounds four and five to add depth to all three levels of the defense, bringing in Tommy Togiai up front, Tony Fields II to line up in the middle, and Ricarhd LeCounte on the back end.
Suffice it to say that the Browns’ defense is going to look substantially different to start the 2021 season from a year ago. By my rough calculations, they figure to have 7-8 new starters who haven’t played for them before when you include some injuries and opt-outs. Guys like Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Mack Wilson will be looking around trying to meet their new teammates out there during games.