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Genard Avery is a versatile weapon for Brian Flores and the Steelers

Looking at what the former Brown and Eagle could be in the Steelers defense.

Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Genard Avery was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 5th round in 2018. That was the Hard Knocks Browns, the Browns with rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb. The Hugh Jackson, Todd Haley and Gregg Williams Browns.

While it wasn’t the greatest season, 2018’s 7-8-1 record was far better than the 0-16 record in 2017, and the team showed equal parts potential and dysfunction. It was in that environment that rookie Genard Avery started 5 games opposite Myles Garrett, playing 58% of the defensive snaps while putting up solid rookie year numbers with 4.5 sacks, 14 QB hits, 5 TFL, 4 passes defended and 30 solo tackles.

For comparison, Bud Dupree as a rookie started 5 games, played 51% of snaps, and recorded 4 sacks, 6 QB hits, 4 TFL, 1 pass defended and 17 solo tackles. Genard Avery was a hit as a 5th round pick, and he made an impact from Week 1.

Browns vs. Steelers, 2018

Genard Avery (#55) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Getting a sack in your first NFL game is great. Getting a strip sack on Ben Roethlisberger to put the Cleveland Browns in position to beat the Steelers in their first game following an 0-16 season? That’s how legends are born.

Sadly for Avery, but not for any of us, his moment in the spotlight was eclipsed when T.J. Watt blocked the ensuing kick to avoid a loss to the Browns.

My favorite part though is after the strip, when he pulls himself up and runs with Joe Schobert to try and clear a lane for a score. If Joe Schobert was faster, the Browns could have scored here and cut T.J. Watt’s heroics out of the script.

Avery’s game wasn’t just rushing the passer though, he was a well-rounded player.

Browns vs. Jets, 2018

Genard Avery (#55) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Here Avery drops into coverage on the running back, stays with the route and breaks up the pass.

Browns vs. Ravens, 2018

Genard Avery (#55) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Not much of a pass rush, but Avery keeps his head up, and makes an athletic play on the ball.

By the end of his rookie season, Avery was growing into his role and putting up good stats and good film.

Browns vs. Panthers, 2018

Genard Avery (#55) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Love the discipline here. Avery keeps after the play, but smartly. He is covering any cutback options for the notoriously shifty McCaffrey, and he stays behind the blocker he meets, keeping himself in the right spot until he’s ready to make the tackle. This is quality run defense from the backside.

Browns vs. Panthers, 2018

Genard Avery (#55) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Great work in zone, reading the quarterback’s eyes, and breaking on the ball to make the play.

Browns vs. Panthers, 2018

Genard Avery (#55) is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

More great zone work. Reading the play, breaking on the route and tackling the catch to keep this gain minimal.

You can see why the expectations for Avery were pretty good heading out of his rookie season, with the only real knock on him being that he didn’t have pass rush moves. He was like a less athletic Bud Dupree as a pass rusher, run hard, push lineman, hope to win with a good first step and hustle.

That offseason the Browns parted ways with their coaching staff, including Gregg Williams, and the 2019 Browns didn’t use Avery as they changed their scheme and didn’t use an on the line OLB like Avery anymore. When October was passing and the Browns were 2-5 with Avery sitting on the bench questions were being asked about the previously promising rookie, and the Browns traded him to the Eagles, where he would play mostly defensive end.

Eagles vs. 49ers, 2020

Genard Avery (#58) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

He wasn’t a defensive end. He didn’t develop pass rush moves, he didn’t fit the position. He’s not that guy, as you can see when he matches up with a left tackle here.

Eagles vs. 49ers, 2020

Genard Avery (#58) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

This is the next play. I love when stuff like this happens, Avery gets thrown to the ground on one play, the next they forget to block him and he gets a sack. You can see he has some rudimentary rushing ability, but more like a Vince Williams pass rush than even a Bud Dupree.

Despite not being a good pass rusher from the edge, Avery has continued to be a reliable defender.

Eagles vs. Panthers, 2021

Genard Avery (#58) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Good navigation to his spot, and great burst to the ball to prevent any gain.

Eagles vs. Panthers, 2021

Genard Avery (#58) is second from the left side of the screen.

Love this play, splits the blockers, keeps square as the back tries to juke him a bit, and finishes the play for a loss on 3rd and 2.

Eagles vs. Saints, 2021

Genard Avery (#58) is the edge rusher to the right side of the screen.

Really good win on the extra lineman, destroys any run lanes near him and finishes the play for another loss.

Eagles vs. Panthers, 2021

Genard Avery (#58) is on the line, second from the top of the screen.

And there is the clip that will set many Steelers’ fans hearts a flutter. That’s an inside linebacker alignment, a stunt and a sack. Anyone else see a little bit of Vince Williams in that play? Take a look from a different angle.

That’s what Steeler fans want to see from their buck linebacker right? Knock the center backwards, get free and go get the ball.

You can see why there is talk that Genard Avery could be the Steelers Buck linebacker, what do we see throughout this film room? Good, smart zone coverage, good run defense, plenty of hustle and the power to move offensive lineman. On the negatives side he doesn't have much in the way of pass rush moves and isn’t a very good edge rusher.

Looking at the traits, it’s easy to pencil this guy in as a shoe-in to play the role Vince Williams played here for years. That wasn’t lost on the Eagles either. Thanks to BTSC’s own Kevin Smith, we have this quote from a member of the Eagles organization.

He’s really a five tech. They played him at outside linebacker in the 3-4 last year to the tight end side and rushed the passer with him. It didn’t work out as well as everyone thought it would. He’s quick and strong but he got swallowed up by big OTs.

They were planning on moving him inside this year to the strong side backer spot to be their run-stuffer. But then they signed the Reddick kid from Temple and it made him expendable.

A five-tech is where a 3-4 DE usually lines up. Someone who is physical, can two gap, Aaron Smith was one of the best five-techs around. I can see that in Genard Avery, he’s just clearly too small to be a 5-tech in the NFL. The strong side linebacker spot makes more sense, he showed he can handle the coverage responsibilities, the run defense and he can blitz decently. It also stands out that the Steelers have had success turning strong side linebackers into buck linebackers (James Farrior). It’s clear he’d be a solid to good rotational outside linebacker, and that he could have value filling a situational role as a buck linebacker. And that brings us to Brian Flores.

Brian Flores often uses bigger inside linebackers outside, lined up like outside linebackers. He aligns them all over, and has them drop into coverage and rush from all over. Genard Avery is a guy who could fit that role well. And that stunt for a sack you can see above? That’s a blitz Brian Flores runs a good bit. Flores uses a lot of stunts, and frequently puts linebackers up on the line like that and has them stunt with the interior defensive lineman.

While Genard Avery is unlikely to supplant T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Myles Jack or Devin Bush on the depth chart, his skill set is a valuable one, especially in a front seven coached by Brian Flores.