How the Browns can combat the Ravens' run game in the NFL draft
The importance of divisional games cannot be overstated. Sweeping both games from a rival can be the difference between a bye week through the wildcard round and being out of the playoffs altogether.
The NFL has evolved into such a matchup-heavy league that it’s critical for teams to identify, evaluate and fix unfavorable matchups in the offseason — and one way to do so is the NFL draft.
Every day this week I will highlight one current NFL player that has recently dominated a divisional opponent, and pair him with the college prospect best equipped to shut him down. Today’s focus will be on the Cleveland Browns, and how they can use the NFL draft to solve the puzzle that has been Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda.
The NFL problem: Marshal Yanda, OG Ravens
The NFL draft’s answer: Bronson Kaufusi, 3-4 DE BYU
Marshal Yanda of the Ravens has been the best guard in the NFL over the past five years, and no team knows this better than the Cleveland Browns. Since 2009, Yanda has started and finished 13 games against the Browns, posting a ridiculous overall cumulative grade of 36.6. Just how ridiculous is it? If his games against Cleveland were considered a full season (keep in mind this score was accumulated over 13 games, not a full NFL season of 16), the only guard in the league to post a higher overall grade in any season since 2012 is Yanda himself.
His bad games are obviously few and far between, but a deeper look into one-on-one matchups against him over the past three years unveils one apparent weakness — the defenders that have had success against him have generally been able to beat him with inside moves. Since 2013, Cincinnati’s Brandon Thompson has eight wins inside against Yanda. Pittsburgh’s Stephon Tuitt has five since 2014 (his rookie season), and the Rams’ Aaron Donald had four in Week 11 of this past season. In 2014 Jacksonville’s Sen’Derrick Marks had an outstanding game against Yanda, beating him on five of six one-on-one reps, four of them to the inside.
Cleveland has a need at defensive end on its three-man front regardless of the team’s recent struggles against Yanda alone, but considering the importance of divisional games, our data makes it clear that the Browns should target a draft prospect capable of winning inside. Analysis and film study of the top 3-4 defensive end prospects shows that BYU’s Bronson Kaufusi could be the perfect target for the Browns.
Kaufusi notched 34 stops on 282 run snaps, good for second in the draft class among 3-4 defensive ends in stop percentage. Even more impressive was his pass rush productivity in 2015, as his 57 total pressures in 344 pass rush snaps, number one in the class at his position. His excellent hand usage allows him to win a number of ways, but further making him a strong fit in Cleveland is that just over 30 percent of his wins at the line of scrimmage were with a variety of inside moves (speed off the snap, rip, spin, etc.).
The Browns pick second overall have gaping holes all over their roster, thus it’s important for them to identify prospects like Kaufusi who match them schematically and won’t require premium picks. He looks like a future long-term starter, but is unlikely to be a Day 1 pick because 3-4 defensive ends generally aren’t prioritized unless they are elite athletes. This being said, he would be an excellent choice for Cleveland and likely won’t require a higher investment than their third-round selection.