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Projecting Browns’ defensive depth chart: Revamped roster sports big upside

BEREA, Ohio — Previously, we broke down Cleveland’s projected offensive depth chart. With minicamp completed, the Browns’ revamped defense is coming into focus. Here’s a projection of where the defensive depth chart stands heading into training camp (starters in bold):

DE: Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Takkarist McKinley, Porter Gustin

If Clowney is healthy, the Browns could boast one of the top pass-rushing tandems in the league. McKinley’s power to collapse pockets complements the speed Garrett and Clowney bring, as well. The upside of this group is immense, but there are questions with McKinley and Clowney coming off semi-lost seasons due to injuries.

DT: Malik Jackson, Andrew Billings, Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai

The biggest question mark of the defense, Jackson has battled injuries the last three years, while Billings opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and has work still to do to get into optimal shape. Togiai, a fourth-round draft pick this year, was one of the bright spots in minicamp and could prove to be an important rotation piece up front.

LB: Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson, Jacob Phillips, Malcolm Smith

The most heated competition for time defensively comes at linebacker. Walker will likely start inside, while Owusu-Koramoah, a second-round rookie who brings tremendous speed and versatility, has the inside track to eventually win the starting job on the weak side. Takitaki will try to fend off others when the Browns play three linebackers, though coordinator Joe Woods’ base look will be out of the nickel.

CB: Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, Greedy Williams, Robert Jackson

The Browns figure to be much deeper here with the additions of Newsome and Troy Hill, plus the return of Williams, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Newsome, Cleveland’s first-round pick this year, flashed his covering skills during minicamp and will attempt to earn the starting job over Williams opposite Ward. Either way, the Browns having three reliable outside corner options, plus Hill when needed, should make this group immeasurably better around Ward.

NB: Troy Hill, M.J. Stewart

Hill takes over for Kevin Johnson in the nickel and is more of a natural fit, given his quickness and superior tackling ability. Hill did work at outside corner some during minicamp, and he has the ability to play there as well. The Browns should be much improved covering the middle of the field, where they struggled last season, especially in the playoff loss to Kansas City.

S: John Johnson III, Ronnie Harrison Jr., Grant Delpit, Sheldrick Redwine

This has the potential to be the most improved position group on the entire team. Johnson is a leader and proven player — and was arguably the top free-agent safety available on the market this offseason. Delpit, a second-round pick last year, was turning heads during training camp last August before tearing his Achilles. He’s hoping to be ready to go for training camp, and he has the versatility to play all over the field. Harrison was a solid pickup after GM Andrew Berry traded for him before last season. He stabilized the safety position after winning a starting job midway through the season. Like with corner, Woods will have three reliable options here if Delpit is healthy. Fifth-round pick Richard LeCounte will have every opportunity to unseat Redwine as the fourth safety.

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