With the Cleveland Browns on their bye and the calendar hitting November, it's time to start peaking ahead at what the team could look to do in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft. The Browns are currently scheduled to make their first selection in the second round.
No position has been more problematic for the Browns in 2021 and 2022 than defensive tackle. The acquisition of Deshaun Watson caused the Browns to defer a year to make a big investment, instead bringing in Taven Bryan as a free agent and then drafting Perrion Winfrey in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
With Watson's situation no longer clouding free agency for either the Browns or players, expect them to be more aggressive in attacking the position and for players to be more interested in the idea of signing in Cleveland. A pattern the organization has developed is bringing in both veteran help as well as adding talent in the draft to address a position. They did it this past year at defensive tackle but on a much smaller scale.
Unlike in 2022 where the defensive tackle class was limited to put it kindly, the 2023 class projects to have a number of viable candidates in a multitude of styles that can appeal to NFL teams including the Browns.
Siaki Ika could be one the Browns appreciate. After starting his collegiate career with LSU as part of their national championship team, Ika would end up transferring and going to Waco, Texas to attend Baylor. He is currently a redshirt junior, so he could opt to remain in school if he chooses.
Celebrating his birthday on November 8th, Ika will be 22 years old.
Weight: 358 lbs
Ika is enormous. Despite the tonnage, he carries the weight pretty well. It might be preferable to have him drop a few pounds, but that's up to him and the team that drafts him to determine where he's most effective.
He's quick off the ball and nimble for his size. Ika has notable strength and he can rag doll blockers that try to take him on alone, dominating in a phone booth.
He may not have great range, but it would be a mistake to dismiss him as immobile. When he's able to work in one direction, he has pretty good speed. Ika will occasionally catch opponents by surprise with his reach. He just has a difficult time changing direction and flipping his hips, which isn't surprising given his carriage.
Ika is a man amongst boys in terms of his power, but it's fair to ask about the competition he's facing in the Big XII. Nevertheless, his ability to work down the line while still moving the line of scrimmage is impressive.
Part of what can make him such a challenging opponent is so many blockers understandably want to anchor in an effort to counter his power, which opens the door for him to blow through the gap and make a mess in the backfield. There are times when he can fly past the play doing this, but a team is likely to try to aim it rather than have him stop doing it. entirely.
His height and ballast are excellent, making him ideal to be a two-gapping clogger that can obstruct the view of opposing linemen, backs and passers. That enables him not only to clog up blockers to protect linebackers but can occasionally hide them from opponents.
2022: 5 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass deflections through 8 games.
2021: 17 solo tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 pass deflection in 13 games
His production is worrisome. There's no way around it. It's less problematic as a sophomore but it's still a hole in his resumé. Much of the argument for Ika is based around his ability to generate pressures of which he has a ton. That's good because if that translates to the NFL, it makes him more viable to contribute when opponents drop back to pass on early downs or short yardage situation.
The team that gets Ika isn't going to want him in on 3rd-and-long, but if he can occasionally collapse the pocket when teams pass on first down, that would be valuable.
Still, relying on what amounts to be theoretical production can be tricky. From a historical standpoint, his athleticism which should be good, will need to make up for the lack of production unless he goes on a tear to finish the season.
Playing in the Big XII, a conference known for spread offenses and throwing the ball around can hurt Ika's ability to produce, but it remains a concern.
Why the Browns Could Like Him
Obviously, he could provide some beef up front and help the Browns in defending the run. His arms don't look short, which is going to appeal to them as well.
The question is how do the Browns really view the position. They clearly value speed all across the defense, but just because Ika is enormous doesn't make him slow. The fact he might be available to them on day two is also key. The Browns don't have a first round pick to use, but a second round pick doesn't automatically mean he needs to start as a rookie.
More likely, the Browns would also bring in proven veteran help. Say the Browns were to sign a player like Daron Payne in free agency. He's unlikely to re-sign with the Washington Commanders, so he's poised to hit the open market. Payne could man the nose and allow Ika to be eased into the lineup, being utilized in situations where he is likely to succeed, similar how the Philadelphia Eagles have deployed rookie Jordan Davis. If Ika can excel early, he can take some of the running downs off of Payne's plate, allowing him to play on more passing downs. Additionally, the Browns could go with a heavier front and utilize Payne as a three with Ika at the nose against certain opponents or situationally depending on down and distance.
The best case scenario is both guys thrive, but the Browns don't want to be in a situation where they are forced to start a rookie. This past year was a harsh reminder how relying unproven players can backfire. They want them to prove they can handle the job and go from there. Only left tackle Jedrick Wills and kicker Cade York have been penciled into the starting lineup without any meaningful competition as rookies.
The other dynamic that works in Ika's favor in Cleveland is the presence of players like Myles Garrett, Alex Wright and potentially Jadeveon Clowney if he is re-signed. The Browns play their ends wide with the goal of taking away the outside and funneling plays back inside, having the necessary power to squeeze plays or chase them down.
That could limit the amount of ground Ika has to cover, which should put him in a favorable position. Moreover, when he is tasked with working down the line, he should be able to count on the fact he's not responsible for dealing with cutbacks as the Browns would have capable players taking them away or possess the speed to pursue. Ika would be tasked with winning at the line of scrimmage, which is something he consistently does at the collegiate level.
The Bottom Line
The Browns might still prioritize other positions like defensive end over defensive tackle for the sheer amount of roles that position plays in their defense, but if they want to make a concerted effort to bolster the defensive interior, Siaki Ika could be a great fit.
The hitch is figuring out where Ika is going to end up being drafted. If teams see Vita Vea, who also had production questions coming out of the University of Washington, Ika could go near the top of the draft. Should he be available to the Browns when they pick, Ika could go a long way in addressing their run defense with the upside to impact the passing game.