The Cleveland Browns have been prepping for the potential suspension of outside linebacker Scott Fujita long before the 2012 NFL Draft two weeks ago. Fujita was once a cornerstone of the New Orleans Saints defense, but has now come under NFL fire and experts are anticipating a long legal battle stemming from a 3-game suspension handed down by the NFL last week.
The Browns do not have many options to fill Fujita's position if he does not win his appeal in the coming months. James-Michael Johnson is Cleveland's most intriguing option in their linebacking corps and the Browns look as if they are expecting him to contribute early in his NFL career.
According to his draft profile on NFL.com, Johnson "is thick, and it shows when he tackles. He is a form tackler and sure to bring runners down. He is strong and can shed blocks with ease, and he filled the gap quickly in Nevada's defense. He is instinctive and highly active on the field, and is smooth in his pass set. He reacts well to both run and pass and should develop into a starter."
Those type of qualities could be helpful for a Browns rush defense that ranked in the bottom of the league in 2011. Cleveland struggled against the run in seemingly every game and some argue that the pass defense numbers were inflated because of the fact that teams could run without hesitation against the Browns defense.
Johnson received high praise from the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the Browns drafted him with the 120th overall pick. According to the article "He [Johnson] ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds—10th fastest among the 29 linebackers who ran there—and also bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times. Johnson was most impressive in the broad jump, finishing second at 10-feet, 4-inches, and placing fifth with a 37-inch vertical leap. Johnson had a solid senior season at Nevada, finishing second on the team with 100 total tackles—including 5 1/2 for loss—1 1/2 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble."
The Browns have worked to build a solid secondary over the course of the past few seasons and have some of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL. Cleveland has lacked play makers at the linebacker position for much of the past decade and could use players that can stuff the holes in a run-heavy AFC North.
Fujita was considered a team leader on the Browns defense throughout the 2010 season, but seemed to fade into the background when D'Qwell Jackson returned to form in 2011. Browns fans have not been surprised that Fujita was involved in the bounty scandal, but want a player that can be a reliable linebacker for the upcoming season.
Kaluka Miava and Johnson are expected to compete for the available linebacker spot if Fujita's suspension is upheld by the NFL.