Considering what might be the latest indication of the Cleveland Browns defensive priorities in the wake of the release of Sheldon Richardson, both in terms of what they want from their defensive line as well as how they plan to invest at the position, one name that continues to come to mind is Gregory Rousseau, the rangy edge rusher from the Miami Hurricanes.
Rousseau does not seem like Plan A for the Browns as it really appears as though they will happily pounce on a corner like Greg Newsome II from Northwestern or perhaps Caleb Farley from Virginia Tech if they’re available at their pick. Should the Browns find themselves in a situation where their primary options are off the board, many are quick to suggest a wide receiver, but whether it’s at 26th pick or perhaps after trading down, the Browns might select Rousseau.
Currently, the Browns have a defensive line that includes Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and Malik Jackson that can play on the edge or the interior. Some have been extremely critical of Rousseau because so much of his statistical production has come from him matching up against guards, but as the Browns would likely utilize him in the same fashion, that may be additional reason to take him.
At defensive end, his tape may not be as flashy in terms of highlight plays, but he was assignment sound for only being 19. Rousseau shows an incredible amount of awareness in terms of positioning, keeping his outside arm free and then being able to squeeze back inside to cut down runs or chase them down from behind. He does his job while keeping himself viable to stay with plays and make tackles with a second or third effort.
He does a really nice job squeezing, gaining ground against blockers, limiting running lanes and eliminating potential avenues for quarterbacks to extend plays. Then with his immense length, he can reach out and tackle players trying to get away from him. Rousseau was viewed as a speed rusher because he had so many plays from the interior where he’d get into the backfield so quickly, but he’s really a power player.
In that sense, he’s a perfect fit for how the Browns want to stop opposing quarterbacks. The fact he was so dominant lined up inside is a feature rather than a bug.
And his teammate Jaelan Phillips could go higher than Rousseau, but it’s worth noting that at 19 years old, Rousseau was able to generate 34 solo tackles (7.2%), 19.5 tackles for loss (18%), 15.5 sacks (33.6%) in 13 games. Phillips, as a junior, had a great season amassing 21 solo tackles (5.3%) amassing 15.5 tackles for loss (18%) 8 sacks (28.5%) in 10 games, but not quite as special as Rousseau.
Maybe Phillips is the more polished pass rusher. He should be. Phillips had a great season, but he older and has more experience. Rousseau’s tape is understated from his redshirt freshman season, but it was still impressive. In terms of his statistical production, he was nothing short of a force of nature.
Rousseau measured in at 6’6 1/2″ 266 with 34 3/4″ arms, all of which would be attractive to the Browns. Since he was a receiver in high school before becoming a defensive end in college, it’s been a process of him gaining weight over the last three seasons, but he’s also got room on his frame, particularly in his lower body to continue adding muscle.
The issue for Rousseau is his athletic testing, which is where Phillips has a decided advantage. His 40 time of 4.68 was solid for his size. It’s just difficult not to be frustrated with his agility and his explosion. His jumps were underwhelming, particularly his 30″ vertical and his 7.5 3-cone was mediocre at best. It’s worth pointing out that his 3-cone was on the third attempt because of a pair of stumbles, which might have dropped his time on the third attempt due to fatigue, but neither attempt looked great. So even if he shaved a 10th of a second off of his time, that wouldn’t change anything significantly.
As Rousseau opted out, there was a hope that he would turn in a better performance at his Pro Day since that was such an important date for him. Maybe he had a bad day, but unless the Browns either found a way to test him again or see something on tape that makes them confident in his athleticism, he just didn’t test like a special athlete, which is a big part of projecting potential.
On the plus side, Rousseau only turned 21 at the beginning of April, so he’s still quite young. So his tape, production and age are great, but his athletic profile isn’t, which all adds up to someone who could be a really nice player, but may never be a great one based on historical evidence.
Rousseau could outperform expectations, but wish casting as opposed to relying on evidence can be perilous and result in major disappointment.
The Browns may feel that their scheme, utilizing a player like Rousseau to stop the run on the edge and then rush from the interior will help maximize him in terms of his potential.
Rousseau has been able to win with a combination of power and quick hands. That could minimize his issues with agility. The fact he didn’t test better in terms of explosion raises question there.
Having Jadeveon Clowney on a one-year deal doesn’t mean they couldn’t keep him longer, but it only adds to the reasons the Browns would want to stabilize this position. A player like Rousseau would give them options with some difficult financial decisions to make after this season.
The Browns would most likely prefer to get a corner with their top pick, but if the players they have targeted aren’t there and particularly if the Browns can move down and gain an asset while adding Rousseau, they can then focus on getting a corner, potentially trading up to do it.
If the Browns are able to get a corner they like in the first round, they might turn their attention to someone like Payton Turner out of Houston in the second round for many of the same reasons as Rousseau.
READ MORE: Browns Fits in 2021 NFL Draft – Payton Turner, EDGE Houston