So Long, LeBron: Browns' Myles Garrett Ready to Sit Atop Cleveland's Throne

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJuly 3, 2018

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, center, squeezes between Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, left, and offensive guard Lane Taylor in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Cleveland. The Packers won 27-21 in overtime. (AP Photo/David Richard)
David Richard/Associated Press

LeBron James abdicated his throne when he decided to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, but Cleveland has a worthy successor in place with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. 

Other Cleveland athletes may attempt to fill the enormous void James left, but each lacks the necessary ingredients to fully capture the city's attention. 

The Cleveland Indians feature two of MLB's best young players in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Even so, the Indians are a small-market organization with pitiful attendance figures after multiple successful seasons.

At its heart, Cleveland is a football town. 

Two years ago, the city celebrated its first championship in 52 years. As James and the rest of the Cavaliers circled the city during the parade, the same sentiment could be heard throughout the overjoyed crowd: "Can you imagine what would happen if the Browns won a championship? This town would burn to the ground."

James is Northeast Ohio's native son, yet the Browns are still the city's favorite franchise even after a horrifying 0-16 campaign. The fanbase just can't quit them despite all of the heartaches. 

This year's No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, plays a far more prestigious position than Garrett, but trust must be earned after years of failed quarterback experiments. Garrett, on the other hand, is the ideal candidate to represent The Land as he develops into one of the NFL's most dominant performers. 

Like James, Garrett is a No. 1 overall pick with otherworldly physical gifts and an affable personality. More importantly, the burgeoning star is willing to take on the responsibilities of representing the city. 

Garrett wanting to take over that role automatically endears him to the Cleveland faithful. Furthermore, one year was more than enough to see his potential.

James delivered on his promises. Now, it's Garrett's turn. 

The start of Garrett's career is the stuff of legend. After dealing with an injury and missing his first five professional contests, a less-than-100-percent version showed up against the New York Jets and recorded a pair of sacks, including one on his very first snap.

Garrett, who was still dealing with a high ankle sprain, easily beat guard James Carpenter off the snap. Carpenter isn't a chump, either. The 2011 No. 25 overall pick is an established veteran who won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014.

Even the league's best blockers had to be prepared to deal with Garrett's raw natural ability. 

"The guy's got a good first step," Titans two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan said of Garrett, per the Tennessean's Jason Wolf. "He's a strong guy. He's fast. He's got all the accolades, as far as combine measurables. The guy really checks off every box. He's fast. He's good with his hands. He's got great power. He's shown a good spin move in the past, so he's got three ways of attacking a tackle."

Garrett, a dinosaur fanatic, attacked offensive linemen like the Indominus Rex hunting and devouring prey in the Jurassic World franchise. His adaptability is not unlike the fictional creature. He becomes one with his surroundings, whether he's playing as a defensive end or moving all over the line of scrimmage to find the weakness to exploit. 

The 2017 first overall pick quickly developed into a difference-maker along the Browns defensive front. Garrett tied for second among rookies with seven sacks despite playing at least four fewer games than the Cincinnati Bengals' Carl Lawson and Pittsburgh Steelers' T.J. Watt. The number doesn't fully portray the amount of pressure Garrett applied on opposing quarterbacks, since he led last year's first-round edge-defenders in pass-rush productivity, according to Pro Football Focus.

His conversion rate ranked among the league's best as well. 

"Surrendering pressure to Garrett proved to be costly to opposing offenses as he converted 48.6 percent of his pressures into sacks or hits, tied for the fourth-highest rate among edge defenders with at least 250 pass-rush snaps," PFF's Brett Whitefield wrote. 

Garrett still has a long way to go before he reaches his full potential, which is even more terrifying. At 6'4" and 272 pounds, the All-Rookie performer has the length (35 ¼-inch arms) and strength to disengage from blockers, the Gumby-like flexibility to bend the edge and enough speed to run with defensive backs and receivers during practice sessions, according to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon

Plus, the 22-year-old could do so much more damage if his teammates provide more assistance. 

"I've got a video of 28 snaps of Myles Garrett pass-rushes last year where he gets within two steps or less of the quarterback when the ball comes out," Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams told The MMQB's Peter King. "Basically, we aren't covering long enough to let him get to the quarterback."

The Browns made sure to address their defensive backfield this offseason with the additions of Denzel Ward, T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines, Terrance Mitchell and Damarious Randall. This new-look secondary will allow the Browns to be far more aggressive after utilizing off-coverage nearly 67 percent of the time last season, according to PFFWilliams wants to employ far more man-press to create an extra half-second for Garrett and Co. to unleash havoc in the backfield. 

Gary Landers/Associated Press

One thing is certain: Garrett will be a superior player compared to last year's version. 

"I feel like I was just a little slow with my hands and not as good as I wanted to be last year with disengaging with the offensive linemen," he told McManamon. "I think that I have really improved."

But the defensive lineman must stay healthy. He dealt with ankle injuries each of the last two seasons. The Browns coaching staff knows it needs to keep him in check until he can be unleashed on game days. 

"He is one of the few guys that I have had to coach that I know I am going to have to keep my hand on to hold back," Williams told McManamon. "One of the things with him is his overworking. He works so hard because he does not want to be good; he wants to be great."

Greatness is now the threshold placed upon Garrett. Everyone sees the potential. His ability yields comparisons to Von Miller, J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman—defenders who didn't just dominate but served as the faces of their franchises as well. 

Smashing quarterbacks may not be quite as sexy as a superstar hurtling through the air and blocking what appeared to be an uncontested layup with less than two minutes remaining to secure a championship, but Cleveland doesn't have to look far for a shooting star who's eager to light the way for another successful run. 

Garrett is now the chosen one. Prepare to witness his rise. 

           

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.

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