Why isn't Genard Avery playing?
by Pete Smith
After an impactful rookie year as a fifth-round pick, Genard Avery has been inactive for the first two games of the season for the Cleveland Browns. Trying to understand why, the arguments against him aren't convincing.
Despite the notable handicap of not being active for either of the first two games, Genard Avery has had just as much impact on the stat sheet for the Cleveland Browns as Chris Smith and Chad Thomas. In 684 snaps his rookie year, Avery recorded 29 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, four pass deflections, a forced fumble and recovery. He looked like he was primed to be the third pass rusher behind Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon. Now, he's not even active on game day this year. The question is why?
Chris Smith's situation is sensitive and unique. He is going through one of the worst times in his life after his girlfriend and mother of his month old child was struck and killed by an impaired driver. As a result, it's understandable why the Browns supported him in the wake of this tragic event and he made it clear he wanted to play for her. The team wanted to play for him and will likely continue to play for him. It's awful. It's senseless. It shouldn't have happened.
And against a team like the New York Jets, it provided the ability to do that and keep total control of the game on that side of the ball. As the team gets prepared to take on the Los Angeles Rams this week and the Baltimore Ravens next week, that same luxury won't be available.
At the risk of sounding callous, the combination of Smith and Chad Thomas have played a combined 59 snaps through the two games and have produced just two assists on tackles, both provided by Thomas. Stats don't tell the whole story, but it's difficult to see the impact on the field as compared to someone like Olivier Vernon, who is generating pressure and creating plays for teammates.
Thomas has already played more snaps this year, 24, than he did all of last year, 22. The entire argument for Thomas playing appears to be based on his contributions on special teams. He's played 14 snaps on special teams this year, one of which resulted in a holding penalty.
Smith doesn't do much on special teams. He played 22 snaps of it last year and 2 so far this year. On defense, he played 336 snaps last year, producing 14 solo tackles, one sack, 6.5 tackles for loss, two pass deflections and a forced fumble.
In other words, Avery was simply better and does no less on special teams. If the argument for keeping Avery inactive for games is he doesn't do as much as Thomas does on special teams, despite the fact Avery impacts the game more, it's natural to question the Browns priorities. Sure, special teams are important. The Browns are far better at them this year, which is great.
But how is that more valuable than what Avery does for the defense. Not only does he give them another viable pass rusher, he enables the Browns more options in how they want to play against opponents. If Myles Garrett or Vernon need a break, Avery can make an impact. If they want to put Garrett over a particular weakness on the interior, they can have Vernon and Avery rush off the edges.
Jared Goff doesn't respond to pressure well. Lamar Jackson may require that type of athleticism, even if it's just situationally, to keep him contained in the pocket and feeling pressure. If Smith or Thomas can't contribute in a meaningful way to further those goals, Avery should be playing over one of them.
It's wonderful that the Browns have reached a point where they are so loaded with talent, they can allow some of it to languish on the inactive list, but unless there's a great explanation that has yet to be delivered, it's a terrible mismanagement of the roster.
I had Avery on my mock lists and loved watching him perform at Memphis. If we want to stay up in competing against the Steelers or Ravens imho: I believe we need a terminator at LB, whether full-time or in rotation.