The Cleveland Browns bulked up the defense this offseason with a bevy of additions through free agency and the draft, which could spell trouble for someone like Mack Wilson — a former starter who will have to battle just to stay on the roster.
Wilson initially looked like a steal out of Alabama as a fifth-round pick in 2019. He took over a starting role for the majority of the year after Christian Kirksey went down with an injury, notching 77 tackles, one interception, a forced fumble, four tackles for loss and seven passes defensed.
But his second season started out rocky, with a hyperextended knee during training camp. When he did get on the field, it wasn’t pretty. Wilson graded out 94th out of an eligible 99 linebackers in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Wilson played in 13 games with eight starts, recording just 39 tackles.
Wilson will have to fight hard to keep his roster spot this season, per Browns insider Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. She expects a highly competitive training camp.
Players such as Mack Wilson will have to step up their game to keep their jobs. Sione Takitaki is excellent against the run, and that will help him. Jacob Phillips had a promising rookie year and will likely play more this year.
Browns Made Big Additions to Defense in Offseason
Wilson will have some major competition on the depth chart to stick around, with the Browns drafting Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah from Notre Dame with pick No. 52, former West Virginia standout Tony Fields in the fifth-round. They joined new free agent addition, Anthony Walker who is expected to take over a starting role.
Walker was a fifth-round pick in 2017 and moved into a starting role during his second season in the league wit the Colts. He’s notched a pair of 100 tackle seasons, including 124 in 2019. He also has a trio of interceptions to his name.
The Browns also re-signed veteran Malcolm Smith, a sign that they were happy with what the former Super Bowl MVP brought to the table a year ago. He notched 72 tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble last season.
Browns Seeking Versatility at Linebacker Position
Both Owusu-Koramoah and Fields bring versatility and athletism to the position, something defensive coordinator Joe Woods and general manager Andrew Berry clearly value. Wilson and Takitaki were not draft picks of this regime, which might make sticking around just a little harder.
Owusu-Koramoah is undersized for an NFL linebacker but thinks that’s actually a benefit for him.
“I think it is an advantage because the offense the way it is running in terms of more spread,” he told reporters. “I think it is an advantage because of how the league is moving forward and just my skillset in terms of getting to Point A to Point B in terms of slipping blocks and pressing blocks. I think that is something I will be looking forward to.”
The Browns would have liked to have Fields on the field for rookie minicamp, but he suffered a foot injury leading up to the camp that will keep him on the sideline.