As soon as the NFL Draft was over, the Cleveland Browns agreed to a lucrative deal with undrafted free agent defensive tackle Marvin Wilson out of Florida State as confirmed by his agent. He’s getting a similar deal as the one corner A.J. Green did last year, where he’s effectively being paid like a sixth round pick to sign with the Browns.
This is something many teams are doing, effectively bidding their way into an extra draft pick. TCU safety Ar’Darius Washington signed with the Baltimore Ravens in the same type of deal as an example.
With Wilson, he was often projected as an early round pick during the collegiate season and it was easy to focus on his weaknesses. As an undrafted free agent signing, it is now an unexpected opportunity and his strengths really shine.
Wilson is an extremely powerful interior presence. At his best, he’s simply throwing opposing blockers out of his way on route to the ball. He’s a nose who can be a pass rusher with the ability to collapse the pocket, looking likes a bull in a china shop, making a mess of everything. He’s got speed to close and has produced sacks and quarterback hits generating a real fear factor because he’s such a large, imposing force.
The fact that Wilson is best suited to play nose is exactly what makes him such an intriguing prospect. Heavy hands, the ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage, soak up blocks and protect the second level, he can be an effective run clogger. The fact that he’s viable when the opponent drops back to pass is a huge bonus and provides a viable path for him to not only make the final roster but contribute immediately.
The problem for Wilson has been injuries. Dating back to high school, Wilson had surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He tore his MCL in the Spring of his sophomore season, but did not need surgery to repair it.
As a junior, his season ended due to surgery on his hand, though it’s not clear what he actually suffered or even which hand suffered it. It’s the same situation his senior year where he had surgery for a leg injury that shut him down for the year. The specific issue or even which leg had the issue is unclear, but there’s a belief that it was a lingering knee injury that got to a point where they decided to shut him down.
Given the dip in his play in his senior season relative to the previous two seasons, that certainly seems reasonable.
The injuries would help explain why Wilson went undrafted. Save for his speed, he tested poorly in everything else, which begs the question if he’s fully recovered. Not so much in whether he’s cleared, but just in regaining the strength, quickness and confidence to perform agility or jumps.
If Wilson can get and stay healthy, still able to showcase the raw power and ability from his sophomore and junior seasons, he can legitimately create a challenge for the Browns in terms of their roster.
Andrew Billings is the only true nose on this roster currently. If Wilson shows out in camp and does enough to make the team, he would be the second, which does stand out as a hole on the roster.
The issue is the Browns also have Malik Jackson, Jordan Elliott and just drafted Tommy Togiai, all of which who are nominally three-tech defensive tackles. Elliott and Togiai may be able to contribute at the nose in spots, but they are threes first.
Jackson can play both on the interior and as a big end, so he does offer some flexibility. Nevertheless, the Browns would have to be willing to carry five defensive tackles on their roster.
At defensive end, the Browns have Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Takkarist McKinley and then a competition that will feature players like Porter Gustin, Curtis Weaver and Joe Jackson. It’s possible the Browns are comfortable just taking the best of those three and then keeping nine players overall with Wilson as the ninth.
That would require the Browns to be comfortable with only having four edge rushers, who will be playing a significant amount of reps. If they can avoid injury, they should be fine, but that’s easier said than done. Maybe the Browns would be willing to find a way to keep a tenth defensive linemen if they feel the options are just too good, but a sacrifice would come from somewhere else on the roster.
It’s a challenge the Browns will happily take on ahead of the season. For now, Wilson needs to stay healthy, get his body right and be the player he’s shown capable. If he can do that, the Browns could fill a need at the backup nose, but one that can also rush the passer in a manner that fits their defense.
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