At 6’3, 307 pounds, Caleb Brantley is the kind of defensive lineman who can swallow up blockers and eclipse running lanes. But the Cleveland Browns are betting he’ll be more than just a run specialist, selecting Brantley with the 185th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
On the field, the Florida product flashed the power and explosion to be a pass-rushing presence from the interior. The All-SEC honoree lacks the speed of an edge rusher, but his ability to grind through blocks and into the pocket could make him valuable in the NFL. He tallied 16.5 tackles for loss — including 5.5 sacks — in his final 23 games as a Gator.
But that production and potential are mitigated by character concerns. Brantley is facing a misdemeanor battery charge after allegedly striking a woman on April 13. The outcome of that case is still pending, but the Browns seem aware that things could get worse.
#Browns Sashi Brown on Caleb Brantley: "Facts may come up that may prevent us from keeping him on our roster''— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) April 29, 2017
#Browns Sashi Brown on Caleb Brantley: "It may be something we can't get comfortable with.''— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) April 29, 2017
While Cleveland may never make use of Brantley’s talent, the high ceiling made rolling the dice at the top of the sixth round an interesting use of the team’s many draft selections.
Why did the Browns draft Brantley?
Brantley’s biggest strength on the field is his ability to exploit gaps in blocking schemes. These opportunities come most often in running plays — pulling guards and shifting linemen leave small windows the 300-pounder to rip through — but he also positions himself well to cross up linemen in pass protection. The combination makes him an impact player who can erase short-yardage situations with one explosion downfield.
Here he is, splitting blockers to stop one of the top-rated runners in the 2017 draft class, Leonard Fournette, in a key third-and-goal situation.
And here he is, blowing up Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen’s pocket from the interior of the line before dropping him for a significant loss.
What are the concerns with Brantley?
Brantley’s pending battery case complicates the start of his NFL career. According to the police report, the 120-pound woman pushed him, and the 300-pound athlete responded by punching her in the face, allegedly knocking her unconscious and knocking out a tooth.
Brantley’s attorneys released video footage of the victim walking away, but it wasn’t enough to sway police officers, who state that Brantley’s “use of force was clearly out of retaliation and not self defense,” and that the force used “far exceeded what was reasonable or necessary” in that situation.
If the case goes to trial, it would likely land the Florida star in the league’s personal conduct program.
On the field, questions remain about his ability to transition from taking on SEC East blockers to AFC North ones.
He’s slightly undersized as a lone tackle in a 3-4 defense, though his pre-draft bulk-up from 297 to 307 helped boost his stock. He doesn’t have great side-to-side movement, though with his power and drive he hasn’t really needed it. He just drives centers and guards backwards.
Brantley also established a reputation as a snap jumper, which made him easy to draw offside with hard counts. That’s something he can work on, but also a point veteran quarterbacks could exploit.