Cleveland Browns: Tremaine Edmunds could fix huge hole at LB

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Shaun Wilson
DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Shaun Wilson /

The Cleveland Browns apparent satisfactory state of the linebacker position masks a major underlying problem. Tremaine Edmunds could be the fix.

When talking about the Browns’ biggest needs for the 2018 NFL Draft, QB, LT, DE, and CB top the list. Quarterback will (hopefully)be addressed with the first overall pick, but for the remaining three positions, there isn’t a perfect fit at four.

The better option may be to trade down to the early teens, a team like the Buffalo Bills are a perfect partner. If the Browns still aren’t sold on one of those positions, and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is still available, John Dorsey needs to take a long, hard look at him.

“But wait, the Browns already have three great linebackers,” you say.

“Great” is a generous term. “Solid” is more like it. Jamie Collins is a former Pro Bowler and is one of the better outside linebackers in the NFL. Christian Kirksey is also an above-average player and he tied for second in the NFL in tackles last season with 138. Joe Schobert, the proverbial weak link in the middle, tied for first in the NFL in tackles with 144, in just his second season, and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Schobert, in particular, is not a bad player at all, and his young age only adds to his value. But the Browns have a huge problem on defense that has not been fixed yet; their complete inability to cover tight ends.

Cleveland was the fifth-worst defense in the NFL when it came to stopping opposing tight ends, giving up a total of 89 catches on 125 targets for 868 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his two games against the Browns, 37-year-old Ravens’ TE Ben Watson hauled in all 12 of his targets for 165 yards and a TD. The Browns gave the Texans’ Deshaun Watson wide-open throwing lanes to Ryan Griffin in week six.

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And what have the Browns done to solve this problem? Nothing. The signings of T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines will no doubt improve the performance of the cornerbacks, but they weren’t at fault. That blame falls on the linebackers and safeties.

Damarious Randall will be moving to his natural position of free safety after being traded to Cleveland, which should greatly improve the secondary as a whole. But deep safeties aren’t normally tasked with covering tight ends, and if Randall is placed in the same role that Jabrill Peppers was last season, that will not change.

That responsibility falls to either the strong safety or one of the linebackers. Derrick Kindred had a great season stopping the run, but he is a liability in pass coverage. Jabrill Peppers will be moving back to his natural position of strong safety, where he should excel. Peppers was extremely good in man coverage at Michigan, but Gregg Williams has not put him in that position in the NFL much, if at all.

Even if Peppers does get the opportunity to cover tight ends, his 5-foot-11 frame won’t do him any favors when matching up against players like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and O.J. Howard. The 6-4 Collins and 6-2 Kirksey are generally regarded as good coverage linebackers, which may be true when covering running backs out of the backfield, but not against bigger, more athletic tight ends.

And this is where Edmunds could provide a significant upgrade. He’s 6-5, 253-pounds with a 34.5 inch arm length–incredible size for the linebacker position and his athleticism completes the package.

He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. On tape, he is clearly a step above all other players athletically. After being a part-time player during his freshman season, Edmunds started for his last two years at VT, racking up 213 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, ten sacks, and an interception. Solid production from a middle linebacker.

But here’s the most incredible thing about Edmunds: he was born on May 2,1998. This means that when he is drafted, he will still be 19 years old. Many players don’t even begin college until they are 19, and Edmunds is about to become a top-15 draft pick. He’s already arguably the best athlete in the 2018 draft class, and he may not even be done growing.

Edmunds’ youth is the source of most of his weaknesses. He is often fooled by play action and misdirection, losing track of where the ball is and where it’s going. He displays overaggressiveness on tackles, looking to make the big play instead of taking the easy stop.

But in pass coverage, Edmunds excels.  His size affects the QB’s ability to throw over the middle to backs and tight ends, even if Edmunds is only playing zone. In man, he is able to stay close to speedy tight ends and match up well with the bigger, physical types. His athleticism is so rare that Virginia Tech played him as a slot CB just because he was so adept at reading the QB’s eyes and WR’s’ movements.

For a more in-depth look at Edmunds, check out Brett Kollman’s scouting report of him.

The NFL really has not seen a prospect like Edmunds in a long time. He is most similar to former Chicago Bear great Brian Urlacher, who stood 6-4 258 pounds with a 4.57 40-yard dash.

Urlacher is Hall of Famer, so this is a lofty comparison, but one that Edmunds is deserving of. At worst, he will be a passable run defender and a very good coverage linebacker, something that is very valuable in today’s NFL. If a good defensive coordinator is able to coach him up, Edmunds could have a Hall of Fame career. He is that special, but only time will tell if he reaches his vast potential.

Next: Browns rumors: Source says Allen, Barkley are the picks at 1 & 4

Tremaine Edmunds provides an ideal combination of size, athleticism, pass rushing ability, coverage ability, and potential. Wherever the Browns pick second, Edmunds has to be in the conversation, both because of what he can help fix now, and what he can be in the future.