In this third edition of Cleveland’s 2009 positional rankings, we’ll take a look at the playmakers of the 3-4 defense—the outside linebackers.
Different teams have different versions of the 3-4 defense asking their OLB’s to do different things, and have slightly different skill-sets.
As you’ll soon find out, it appears that Eric Mangini likes his outside linebackers to be bigger and stronger at the point of attack to more adequately control the line of scrimmage.
The Chris Gocong acquisition is a prime example of this notion.
It’s difficult to get a read on where the Browns currently stand at outside linebacker. With question marks as to where players like Chris Gocong, Scott Fujita, and David Bowens will play—no one really knows what to think right now.
Hopefully, this article will shed more light on this situation.
Note—Rankings are out of 28 3-4 OLB’s with at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps to qualify.
It’s a little surprising to see Wimbley all the way down at 25th (fourth to last) in the overall rankings. It looked like he played much better, and there were numerous reports about him playing much better, but the numbers speak different words. Looking at the rankings in 2008 when he finished second to last in overall 3-4 OLB rankings, Wimbley did improve his numbers in 2009, but ever so slightly.
In half a season at OLB, Roth literally played lights out. If you averaged his stats out over the course of an entire season, he would have finished top three in the entire NFL.
These are some pretty average stats for the OLB’s, especially when their coverage skills are below-average. Wimbley was right in the middle of the pack of pass-rushing OLB’s, as this was his only category with a positive ranking.
As for Matt Roth, he displayed great pass-rushing production in limited time.
Against the Run
You can’t really ask for more from Roth. He was top 10 in rushing the passer and defending the run last year, which is exactly what Mangini is looking for. Bowens did a pretty good early in the year at OLB, and Wimbley…well, Browns fans know how he is against the run. Nothing has ever changed in that department as he finished third to last for all 3-4 OLB’s.
I know what you’re thinking…Matt Roth was eighth against the pass too? Don’t look too far into it—he was only thrown at two times with one completion. Looking over these numbers, it appears that Roth was never really put into a position to cover anyone. He just pinned his ears back and played like a wild man.
This could be a result as to why Wimbley finished third to last among all 3-4 OLB’s against the pass. He had to cover TE’s and RB’s much more often…and that’s not really his strong point. In fact, it’s his weakest point.
Wimbley actually was thrown at the most times (24) than any other 3-4 OLB in the league, and Roth was thrown at the fewest (2) than every other 3-4 OLB in the league.
Kamerion Wimbley—9th (7)
Matt Roth—16th (5)
David Bowens—24th (1)
The Browns actually received decent sack production from all of their OLB’s. Give Roth a full season and he might put up some great numbers in this department…possibly in the double digits.
Kamerion Wimbley—12th (8)
David Bowens—16th (6)
Matt Roth—22nd (3)
Kamerion Wimbley—8th (24)
Matt Roth—19th (14)
David Bowens—28th (2)
This is a testament to Wimbley’s pass-rushing skills, which are still good...but his inabilities against the run have been his major downfall. Again, if our coverage downfield can give our OLB’s one more second to get to the QB, some of these hits and pressures will turn into sacks.
Give Roth a full season on the Browns in the 3-4, and he could easily double his QB hits and pressures, also putting him near the top of the league. You might look at stats like QB hits or pressures and scoff at them, but they do have a certain amount of relevance, and they do tell a story.
Kamerion Wimbley—4th (46)
Matt Roth—24th (18)
David Bowens—24th (18)
Now, this is completely backwards from the rest of the stats. This tells us that even though Wimbley was bad against the run and in pass coverage, he at least made the tackle when he needed to.
Roth’s numbers here are a smaller sample size, but he could still finish near the top of the league in this category next season. Bowens ultimately didn’t play that many snaps at OLB to actually accumulate a lot of tackles, but he did end up with 45 tackles total when combining both his ILB and OLB stats, which is solid.
Exit Kamerion Wimbley, enter Chris Gocong. When it comes to evaluating a 3-4 OLB, you need to look at three major things…pass-rushing, ability against the run, and pass-coverage. Wimbley was great at all facets of pass-rushing, but severely lacked in the other two. This ultimately made him a liability on the field. He should actually fare better in Oakland where he won’t have to worry about pass-coverage as a 4-3 DE.
As for Gocong, he’s almost a carbon copy of Matt Roth—stout and heavy. The trade for him has Mangini’s fingerprints all over it. He admitted to targeting Gocong during the draft in 2006, only to miss out on him because of Tom Heckert and the Eagles.
In 2007, Chris Gocong finished number one in the NFL against the run for all 4-3 OLB’s. In 2008, he finished fifth. This is what Mangini was looking for…an OLB who can be solid against the run and good at rushing the passer.
It seems that Gocong and Roth won’t be put into coverage very often, as this is something that neither one excels at. This is where coverage help at inside linebacker comes into play, because once D’Qwell went down, we had no one to cover the middle of the field.
When you look at it this way, Cleveland basically traded Kamerion Wimbley and a fourth or fifth round pick for Chris Gocong and a third round pick. The Browns got rid of a player who didn’t fit their system for a player that does…and improved their draft positioning in the process. These were two very solid moves.
After Wimbley was traded, it looked as if Cleveland would be targeting an outside linebacker early, but with the acquisition of Gocong, it can be put on the backburner. With David Bowens still going strong and the need to further find out about David Veikune and Marcus Benard, Cleveland probably won’t be looking at spending a high draft pick on an OLB, unless the guy is a can’t miss prospect.
Even then, with more pressing needs on the roster, it’s still very unlikely.
Cleveland needs to worry about defensive end, safety, and inside linebacker before they go after an outside linebacker…and this is without factoring in offensive needs.
Generally and statistically speaking, looking over the defensive stats of the NFL, the good 3-4 defenses don’t put their OLB’s into coverage very often, and the bad ones do. Just a little something that was noticed when looking everything over.
While scanning over 3-4 OLB’s vs. 4-3 OLB’s, it was determined that 3-4 outside linebackers as a whole have extremely better overall numbers than their counterparts of the 4-3 in terms of overall production on a football field…much, much better in fact.
At first glance, it appears that Matt Roth and Chris Gocong are going to be the two starting outside linebackers. David Bowens did a fantastic job playing inside and outside for Cleveland, but it seems that Mangini and Ryan have found their guys to move forward with.
Also, don’t forget about David Veikune. This is a guy that is making a huge position change, so don’t give up on him yet Browns fans. Just because he barely saw the field as a rookie is no reason to write him off as a bust. He was a factor on special teams last year and just needs to learn a few more things on defense. If Veikune can learn to play on instinct, he could wind up being a very solid, versatile linebacker in the near future.
Matt Roth was one of the best free agent pickups in recent memory, especially when you factor in the fact that he was acquired for free. As soon as he arrived and received significant playing time, the run defense improved dramatically. Given his production and how he seamlessly contributed right away, the Browns should definitely look at signing Roth to a long-term contract.
Jason Trusnik just missed the cut playing 267 snaps at OLB, putting up average stats and had a negative ranking in every category except against the run. Alex Hall had 45 snaps and had average ratings in every category.
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All rankings are based from profootballfocus.com. Stats don’t tell the entire story, but they do reveal a lot and these stats are about as close as you’re going to get in terms of judging a player’s overall season—position by position, game by game, and play by play.