With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at whether the No. 1 selection from the 2017 NFL Draft is ready to dominate in his second season.

The Browns passed on exciting rookie quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes to make Myles Garrett the fourth defensive lineman drafted with the No. 1 overall pick since 2000. An elite quarterback is the most valuable commodity in the NFL, but the ability to pressure the quarterback is also of utmost importance.

Garrett missed five games as a rookie due to a high-ankle sprain and concussion but flashed enough ability during his time on the field to warrant Von Miller comparisons.

AFC North Quarterbacks Beware

It took literally one snap for Garrett to record his first sack, as the 6-foot-4, 272-pound athlete quickly proved more than capable of knifing his way through opposing backfields. The problem was the Browns remained unwilling to truly unleash their beast until they were 100% certain he was healthy and well conditioned; Garrett played fewer than 75% of defensive snaps in five of his games.

The good news for the Browns is that Garrett largely dominated during his time on the field:

  • Pro Football Focus’ No. 12 overall edge defender
  • 17th among 68 4-3 defensive ends in pass-rushing productivity, per PFF
  • Tied for 2nd among all rookies in total sacks (7)

Garrett’s seven sacks were the most any Browns player has recorded in a season since 2014. The Browns allowed 22.5 points per game and 30+ points in just one of their six games with at least three quarters of action from Garrett, compared to 27.5 points per game and 30+ points in five of their 10 games when he didn’t play at least three quarters.

There’s reason to believe Garrett could take his game to another level in 2018. Thirteen of the last 20 edge rushers drafted with a top-10 draft pick increased their sack total during their second season, by an average of 4.3 sacks. Pressure is a better indicator of defensive-line excellence than sacks, and PFF’s 13th-highest graded edge defender in pass rushing already possesses a ridiculous blend of power and burst.

The Browns should certainly be pleased with Garrett’s early development, and a turnaround on defense could be near.

The Browns Finally Have Defensive Talent

The expected 2018 version of the Browns defense … *deep breath* … doesn’t look that bad on paper. At the very least, they’ve compiled a group of players that were mostly evaluated as worthy of a top-100 selection in their respective draft class by one regime or another.

In addition to Garrett’s aforementioned injuries, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Jamie Collins combined to miss 16 games with injuries. A healthier front seven could be complemented with a more talented secondary, as the Browns were able to add a pair of experienced starters in cornerback E.J. Gaines and safety Damarious Randall. They also added the draft’s best cover corner in Denzel Ward. Former Raiders slot corner T.J. Carrie and former Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks will both see plenty of action as well.

Of course, talent only gets you so far. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has directed exactly one top-10 scoring defense over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, 2002 was the last time the Browns fielded a top-10 defense in overall DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Assuming Williams can refrain from playing second-year safety Jabrill Peppers 30 yards off the line of scrimmage on a regular basis, next season’s Browns should at the very least boast more individual talent at all three levels of their defense than we’ve seen in a long time.

2018 Outlook

The Browns have been one of the top defenses to target in fantasy for years. Per our NFL Trends tool, both quarterbacks and running backs have posted top-eight marks in DraftKings and FanDuel points per game and average Plus/Minus against the Browns since 2014, and unsurprisingly, the public has owned players at those positions against the Browns at a top-12 rate during that span.

The Browns are still a young defense with more question marks than exclamation points on their depth chart and coaching staff alike. A strong showing wouldn’t necessarily result in even a top-10 defense, but the team’s overall talent level should at least give the unit a higher floor than we’ve become accustomed to. Add in what appears to be an improved offense and a potential leap from Garrett, and targeting the Browns defense might not be as good of an idea in 2018 as years past.

Pictured above: Myles Garrett
Photo credit: Scott R. Galvin – USA TODAY Sports