2013 will be a critical year for Cleveland Browns‘ newest outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard.
Sheard, who has lined up at the defensive end position for his first two years with the Browns, makes the transition to linebacker this year. That transition should be a smooth one for Sheard, a second-round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2011.
A sack specialist, he followed up an 8.5 sack performance his rookie season with seven last year. After a slow start in 2012, he had only one sack in the first eight games of the year, eventually bouncing back with six in the final eight games.
That production will make it hard for the Browns to keep him off the field in 2013, and how much playing time he gets will determine the kind of year he has this season.
The thing is, don’t look now but the Browns might be overstocked at pass-rushing outside linebackers. They signed free agent Paul Kruger to a lucrative deal this spring, then used the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft to take Barkevious Mingo from LSU. Mingo, a defensive end in college, is expected to also be making the transition to outside linebacker.
Both those players will bring pass rush from the outside, and both will make it harder for Sheard to find playing time.
But Sheard has shown he has talent. He is explosive off the line and has a knack for getting to the quarterback, and that’s one of the most valuable talents in the NFL today.
In the end, having too much pass rush in football can be like having too much pitching in baseball — it’s a problem that a team wants to have. More and more, NFL teams are using multiple pass rushers in the same games, and to really good results.
Less can be more when it comes to snaps for pass rushers. Even though Sheard may not get as many opportunities to get to the quarterback this year, he will be rested and ready to go when he does get on the field.
2013 will be a make-or-break year for Sheard. If he can make the most of his opportunities, he will make it very hard for the Browns coaching staff to keep him on the sidelines for very long.