Paul Kruger has been less-than-stellar this season. That's putting it lightly.
It seemed like only yesterday that Browns fans were rejoicing in Kruger's signing. Cleveland was finally turning the corner. Getting the top free agent at his position was hardly something the Cleveland Browns of the last decade would have done, after all. Getting him from a division rival was the icing on the cake. And the fact that he was only 27 years old and led the aforementioned division rivals in sacks was bottle of Dom Perignon that came alongside the cake.
As it turns out, the cake was stale and the bottle of Dom was actually a bottle of Andre.
Cleveland Browns Outside Linebackers
Total # of Plays
Kruger's production has left a lot to be desired. After recording nine sacks for Baltimore in 2012, Kruger has tallied only half of that in his first season in Cleveland. His 4.5 sacks are the lowest of any of the Browns three major outside linebackers. His 17 tackles are 7 less than Barkevious Mingo's despite Kruger being on the field for 184 more plays than the first-round rookie.
To be fair, the entire OLB crew has been underperforming. The defense, as a whole, has been underperforming. But Kruger was the insurance. Jabaal Sheard was asked to move from defensive end in Dick Jauron's 4-3 to outside linebacker in Horton's 3-4. The position switch would undoubtedly lead to a learning curve. Barkevious Mingo is a rookie. Transitioning to the NFL is hard enough, add on the position switch for him as well and his struggles are to be expected. Some would even say Mingo is outperforming expectations. Kruger was the guy expected to be the constant in this OLB crew, yet he's turned in the worst performance of them all.
Kruger is currently ranked 420th in the NFL in solo tackles. He shares that rank with Drayton Florence, the 32-year-old nickel corner of the Carolina Panthers who's seen action in 12 games this year. He shares that rank with Tony Jefferson, the undrafted rookie from Oklahoma who is currently the backup strong safety of the Arizona Cardinals. Jefferson, for the record, has only recorded stats in 6 games this season, being on the field for only 16% of Arizona's defensive snaps. But, in my most favorite comparison of all, Kruger actually ranks lower than Courtney Upshaw, the guy who's currently backing up the guy who replaced Kruger in Baltimore.
It's fair to say that Horton relies on his OLB's more in the pass rush than in coverage, generally. In that regard, Kruger is ranked slightly higher, with his 4.5 sacks earning him an equal share of 72nd in the NFL. Unfortunately, Kruger is tied in his ranking primarily with defensive tackles and a handful of 4-3 defensive ends, including Horton's former end Darnell Dockett.
For a player earning, on average, $8 million dollars per year, you would expect a little more production. Kruger is getting paid like a superstar and is playing like a half-a-star.
It's beginning to look like Ozzie Newsome has fleeced the Browns yet again. Some were concerned about Kruger's ability to be an every-down linebacker. Some were concerned at his lack of production with Terrell Suggs out of the lineup. It seems those concerns may have been well-placed, as Kruger has shown to be overwhelmed on multiple occasions this season.