Monday, June 29, 2020

Is Anthony Pleasant the best to wear No. 98? Ranking the best Browns to wear each jersey number: 96-99

Updated 1:25 PM; Today 1:00 PM

Oilers quarterback Warren Moon is sacked by the Browns defensive end Anthony Pleasant during a game in 1990. Plain Dealer photo.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – We’ve reached the end of our rankings of the best Browns to wear each jersey number. The series concludes with numbers 96-99, highlighted by edge rushers and defensive linemen.
The rankings are below. 
NOTE: Rankings consider how players performed while wearing a specific number, not their careers as a whole. The goal is to rank five players at each number. However, some numbers are low on impactful candidaes. 
To get caught up the numbers so far, check out:

Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway (7) tries to elude Cleveland Browns defender Reggie Camp during the AFC Championship game in 1987.AP

Years: 1983-87.
Others: Kenard Lang, DE/LB (2002-05); James Jones, DT (1991-94); Dave Bowens, LB (2009-10); Don Shula, DB (1951)

A third-round pick in 1983, Camp stepped right into a starting role and started every game over his first four seasons. A knee injury in 1987 limited him to six games, and he was waived before the next season.

But before he left, Camp had 35 sacks, including 14 in 1984, a total that is second-most in a single season for the Browns.

Lang, a first-round pick of the Redskins in 1991, signed with the Browns as a free agent. He had 22.5 sacks over four seasons, along with 209 tackles. The Browns tried to convert him to linebacker in 2005, resulting in just five starts and two sacks. He was released shortly after the season ended.

Jones, a third-round pick, started every game for the Browns in his first two seasons, and 49 of 62 games over four seasons before leaving in free agency. He had 13.5 sacks and 165 tackles in Cleveland.

Bowens was a nine-year NFL vet when he was signed as a free agent in 2009. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns in 2010 and had six sacks and 111 tackles over two seasons.

Shula, the Hall of Fame head coach, was a ninth-round pick of the Browns in 1951 and wore No. 96 for his rookie year. He started six games and had four interceptions that season. In 1953 he was one of 10 players sent to the Colts in a 15-player deal. The Browns received Hall of Famer Mike McCormack in the trade, along with Don Colo. Both players claimed jersey numbers earlier in our rankings.

Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (97) fights off Detroit Lions center Travis Swanson (64) during a preseason game in 2014.AP

Years: 2011-14.
Others: Alvin McKinley, DL (2001-06); Robert Banks, DE (1989-90).

Sheard was a second-round pick and had an immediate impact, totaling 8.5 sacks as a rookie. He was moved to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense his final two years with the team. After 15 sacks in his first two seasons, he managed 7.5 over the next two and left in free agency in 2015.

Still, Sheard’s 23 sacks, 190 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 92 quarterback hits are enough to top the rankings at No. 97.

McKinley, claimed off waivers from the Panthers after his rookie year, didn’t become a starter until his final two seasons with the Browns. He had five sacks and 68 tackles in 16 starts in 2005.

Banks, the best of the rest, had four sacks in 1989 and started 24 games over two seasons.

Houston Oilers quarterback Chris Chandler (12) throws a pass as Cleveland Browns lineman Anthony Pleasant (98) reaches for it during a game in 1995.AP
Years: 1990-95.
Others: Sheldon Richardson, DT (2019); Phil Taylor, DT (2011-14); Ebenezer Ekuban, DE (2004); Jamie Meder, DT (2015-17). 

A third-round pick, Pleasant was a full-time starter over his final four seasons. He had 11 sacks in 1993 and an NFL-high six forced fumbles in 1995.

His final numbers included 33.5 sacks, 297 tackles and nine forced fumbles.

Richardson’s one season with the Browns so far propelled him to second place in our rankings. He had three sacks, 62 tackles and three forced fumbles in 2019.

Taylor, the 21st pick in 2011, started all 16 games as a rookie, totaling four sacks, but injuries became a staple of his career. A chest injury in 2012 limited him to eight games, and a knee injury in 2014 idled him for 11. He had seven sacks and 109 tackles over four seasons before being released.

Ekuban, signed as a free agent, played one season with the Browns, totaling eight sacks in 11 starts. He was traded to the Broncos a year later in the deal that brought Reuben Droughns to Cleveland.

Meder sneaks onto the rankings as a 15-game starter in 2016. He has just two career sacks, but one of the biggest blocked field goals in recent Browns history, allowing the Browns to defeat the Chargers for their only win in 2016.

Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Orpheus Roye stretches during a training camp practice in 2007.AP

Years: 2000-07.
Others: Paul Kruger, LB (2013-15); Bill Boedeker, HB (1947-49); Keith Baldwin, DE (1982-85); Corey Williams, DE (2008-09).

Roye completes our rankings by easily claiming the No. 99 jersey. Signed as a free agent after four seasons with the Steelers, Roye was a mainstay along the interior of the defensive line for eight seasons.

He started 102 of 113 games, had 9.5 sacks and 387 tackles. His most productive season might’ve been 2005 when he had 88 tackles and three sacks. A knee injury hampered his final season (2008), and he was released.

Kruger turned his nine sacks in a limited role with the Ravens in 2012 into a five-year, $40-million deal with the Browns in 2013. He had 18 sacks over three seasons with the Browns, with 11 coming in 2014. He was released in 2016 as part of the Browns’ roster rebuild.

Boedeker was an example of the depth the Browns had in the AAFC. He rushed for 717 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 32 passes for 783 yards and five touchdowns (averaging 24.5 yards per catch) over three seasons.

Baldwin, a second-round pick, had 4.5 sacks in 1984, his one season as a full-time starter.

The Browns traded a second-round pick to the Packers in 2008 for Williams, who was coming off two straight seasons with seven sacks. He signed a six-year deal worth $38.6 million, then had 4.5 sacks and 81 tackles over two seasons. The Browns traded Williams (along with a seventh-round pick) to the Lions for a fifth-round pick in 2010.

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