Cleveland Browns Midseason Defensive Awards

Our Browns Digest staff picks the offensive MVP, unsung hero, biggest surprise and most likely player to have an impactful second half of the season.

The Cleveland Browns are halfway through the 2023 season, so our Browns Digest staff decided to do a roundtable discussion to hand out some mid-season awards.

It’s obviously been a bumpy ride so far, with injuries in a number of critical positions. But Cleveland is two games over .500 and would be in the playoffs if the post-season started this week.

We rolled out our offensive picks Wednesday, and we’re moving along with our defensive picks — with special teams and coaching awards next up.

Nov 5, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) celebrates after recovering a fumble during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns Stadium

Nov 5, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) celebrates after recovering a fumble during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY SportsWhile I don’t know how my colleagues will ultimately answer this question, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is a clean sweep. Myles Garrett is making a serious case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year through the first nine weeks of the season.

Garrett’s 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and near constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks makes him one of the most productive players in the league. 

But he’s especially valuable because even on plays that he doesn’t register a statistic, he draws so much attention that his teammates on the defensive line have thrived too.

As fun as it would be to go off the beaten path here and pick a different player, Myles Garrett has been undoubtedly the Browns best players on defense so far this season.

He may even be the best defensive player in the NFL to boot. Andrew Berry made a point in bolstering the defensive line around Garrett, and it’s paid off beautifully.

After Myles single-handedly willed the Browns to a win over the Colts, head coach Kevin Stefanski said it best, “We are running out of superlatives” for Myles Garrett.

He is impossible to block, he is the best athlete on the field the moment he takes it and he is playing at an elite level.

For the first time in his career, he has a great defensive line to take the focus off of him and he is taking advantage of it. I am excited to see what Myles can lead this team to in the second half of the season.

Duh. He’s pretty much always been the defensive MVP since he was drafted first overall in 2017. He’s got a real shot at finally winning a Defensive Player of the Year Award, and he’s probably the MVP of the entire Browns roster at the midway point of the season.

Browns Midseason Defensive Unsung Hero

Brendan Gulick: Defensive Tackle, Dalvin Tomlinson

It feels a little odd to call him the unsung hero of the defense because I feel like I’ve been singing his praises for a month now. But Tomlinson’s addition to the defensive line this year has been a tremendous impact.

The Browns weren’t especially productive at that position the last couple seasons, but Tomlinson and a few of his running mates have been as stout as any D-Line in the NFL this fall.

Tomlinson’s impact doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet every week, but it’s impossible to ignore how dominant he’s been in the middle of this defensive line.

Last year, the Browns were eight worst in rushing defense, giving up 135 yards per game on the ground to their opponents. Through eight games this season they’re tied for sixth, yielding only 89.8 rushing yards per game.

Cleveland got pushed around in the trenches last year and Tomlinson was brought in to fix it. Not only did he fix it but he’s thriving.

Anthony Walker’s stats aren’t going to blow you away. At the halfway point in the season, he has 34 tackles, three pass breakups, two quarterback hits and one fumble recovery. What is more important for Walker is that he is the leader of that defensive group.

Coming off a gruesome injury that cost him the 2022 season he has been the glue for the NFL’s best defense.

His lack of presence was felt last year when he went out. This year he is quarterbacking the defense and leading this team the way a middle linebacker should.

Okoronkwo has been doing exactly what the Browns hoped when they signed him in free agency last offseason — take advantage of the extra attention blockers have to give Myles Garrett.

Okoronkwo is 17th in the league in pass rush win rate, winning his battles 21 percent of the time. That’s higher than Maxx Crosby and T.J.

Watt, and he’s succeeded largely because opponents have no choice but to devote extra attention to Garrett, Dalvin Tomlinson and Za’Darius Smith. Okoronkwo might only have 2.5 sacks, but he’s still finding ways to disrupt the pocket.

Browns Midseason Defensive Biggest Surprise

I’m not picking Delpit as my biggest surprise because of his ability, but because he hasn’t played nearly this well since joining the Browns this season.

I asked Delpit in the locker room on Thursday this week if having a new scheme or a change in attitude has been more beneficial for him (and the defense at large) this season.

He said that there have been a whole bunch of little changes that have added up to a much better bigger picture result.

While he wouldn’t go into any details about it, Delpit’s emergence as a reliable option stopping the run and in defending the pass has been hugely impactful for the Browns as a whole.

Using a loop hole here and going with Jim Schwartz as the unsung hero of the defense, and there’s probably an argument to be made for him to be the MVP of the defense. He’s completely changed the outlook and attitude of this unit from 2022.

Yes, the new faces and additions help, but since he arrived in the winter this defense was built to his liking and he’s got them thriving. Seems like a fitting place to recognize Schwartz.

As the 3rd defensive end on this loaded front, Ogbo doesn’t get as many opportunities to make an impact like Myles or Zdarius. However, when he is on the field, his presence is known.

Of his 17 tackles, seven of them are tackles for loss and 2.5 of them are sacks. Over half of his tackles have resulted in the opponent losing yards – that’s making an impact!

He also adds five quarterback hits and one fumble recovery. It has been awesome to see Ogbo be a star in his role and take advantage of his opportunities.

I’m not really sure any one particular player in the defense is having that surprising of a season.

Just about everything has gone to plan, which is a huge credit to Jim Schwartz maximizing all the talent on that side of the ball. Owusu-Koramoah, though, deserves a spotlight for having a bounce-back year after a bit of an underwhelming season a year ago.

The 2021 second-round pick played in only 11 games in 2022 and missed time with injuries, but he’s stayed healthy this season and has rebounded nicely.

He’s currently second on the Browns with 38 tackles, trailing only Delpit (53), and his 76.5 overall defensive grade from Pro Football Focus is also on track to be a career-best. 

Browns Player Most Likely to Have Major Impact in the Second Half of the Year

Call it a hunch, but I think Elliott is on the verge of a big second half of the season. He’s been a pleasant surprise this fall and with the way the defensive line rotates to keep guys fresh, I think Elliott is going to get lots of chances to make plays.

Sophomore seasons always come with talk of regression and slumps. Not for Emerson Jr. He’s continued his upwards trajectory in the first half of the season with two picks and six pass breakups.

Just this week Pro Football Focus shared that Emerson Jr.’s 40.8 passer rating allowed this season is third best in the NFL so far.

He’s been locking it down already but now that the turnovers are coming in bunches for the Browns defense – they have at least one in five straight games now – he could be the beneficiary of more of those in the second half.

Considering that opposing teams don’t want to throw Denzel Ward’s direction, they have to throw somewhere.

Denzel has been fantastic to this point in the season. He has 25 tackles, nine passes defensed, two interceptions, and one tackle for loss.

According to PFF he is holding opposing quarterbacks to a 24.1 quarterback rating when targeted. Elite production so far.

The Browns find themselves in the thick of a playoff race and they have some true showdowns coming up.

Sunday in Baltimore, a trip to Denver, a visit from Jacksonville, a trip to Houston and a New York to Cincinnati finish.

All of those teams can throw it all around the field. If the Browns want to make the playoffs, the Warden will have a massive impact on it.

Similar to Okoronkwo, Smith has delivered the way the Browns had hoped despite totaling just two sacks so far.

He’s helped draw attention away from the rest of the defensive line and has been remarkably efficient as a pass rusher — despite what the sack totals suggest — and has earned an 80.7 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranks 15th among edge rushers.

More sacks should come soon for Smith, and even if they don’t, he should still be a major weapon for the defensive line with the attention he has commanded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *