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AFC North Positional Rankings: Defensive Line

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Aug 20, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton (71) takes on Buffalo Bills offensive guard

John Miller

(76) during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

2. Cleveland Browns

DE: Randy Starks

DT: Danny Shelton

DE: Desmond Bryant

After a dismal 2014 in which the Cleveland Browns’ defensive line looked like it couldn’t stop a nosebleed, it actually looks like the position could be a strength in Cleveland in 2015. In 2014, Cleveland had the NFL’s worst rush defense, allowing 2,265 total rushing yards and giving up a league-worst 4.5 yards per carry. So why do fans all of a sudden think that Cleveland’s defensive will be good?

Two words: Danny Shelton.

Aug 13, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton (71) in a preseason NFL football game against the Washington Redskins at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Shelton has already been anointed as one of the NFL’s best run-stoppers despite not having played a single regular-season snap. So there’s obvious risk in anointing Shelton as the savior for Cleveland’s defense; but regardless, Cleveland’s run defense couldn’t get much worse than it was in 2014. Shelton recorded 93 tackles, 16 tackles for loss nine sacks as a Washington Husky in 2014; despite a slow 40 time in the combine, the Browns selected Shelton with the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft. NFL analysts have been high on him since before the draft, comparing him to Vince Wilfork in his NFL.com scouting report and anointing him as a “defensive terror in the making.”

Alongside Shelton are Desmond Bryant, a solid starter who recorded five sacks in 2014, and Randy Starks, an offseason free agent signing who last played for the Miami Dolphins. Starks should immediately help the Browns’ defense; he hasn’t recorded less than four sacks in a season since 2010 and has played at least 14 games in all 10 years he’s been in the league. Starks will be reunited with former Dolphin, middle linebacker Karlos Dansby in a system that Starks is perfectly suited for. Coach Mike Pettine sang Starks’ praise in the offseason, applauding his durability and pass-rushing skills.

Cleveland’s offseason acquisitions, coupled with Desmond Bryant and Phil Taylor should bolster a defensive line that was dismal in 2014. The Browns’ defensive line boasts the most exciting young defensive linemen in the AFC North and two versatile veterans in Randy Starks and Phil Taylor. Add Desmond Bryant to the mix, and Cleveland’s line should be very good in 2015, bar injury.

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