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Who will the left man DE opposite Myles Garrett? Here’s one candidate: Alex Wright

There is Alex Wright the wrestler. There is also Alex Wright the musician of the band Raised by Swans. Alex Wright the Tottenham soccer star. Perhaps Alex Wright the Irish race walker. Or even Alex Wright the author.

None of these can play American Football. Alex Wright of the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) can.

Wright is one of the newest Browns taken in the third round of this year’s NFL draft. Cleveland had three picks in Round 3 and took Wright with their second choice in this round at pick #78. The good news for Wright is that there is currently an opening on the defensive line at left defensive end.

It just so happens, he plays that position. All he has to do is win the job.

Beginnings

Wright (6′-5”, 270 pounds) grew up in the small town of Elba, Alabama nestled along the Pea River located halfway between Montgomery southwards toward the Florida line. He attended Elba High School and throughout his tenure he played wide receiver, outside linebacker and defensive end.

Alex Wright of Elba High School

He ran a 4.8 in the 40 in high school and could squat 355 pounds. He became a three-star football prospect on Rivals.com. Wright always took studies serious and was a good student growing up.

He was also a very good basketball player and was recruited by colleges to play hoops at the next level for the center position as he averaged 11.2 points a game with 12.5 rebounds. At the time he was just 6′-4” and weighed 210 pounds. Elba was the 2A Champs in basketball while Wright was named to the AHSAA All-Tournament team.

With football, Wright had offers from Duke, UAB, Louisville, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Tulane.

The summer before he had attended a football camp at UAB. He caught the eye of UAB linebackers coach Nick Gentry who worked with him. The university was the closest at 151 miles and the college he chose.

NCAA Football: Independence Bowl-Brigham Young at UAB

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As a freshman he played sparingly but in every game. The snaps he did play were productive as he had 29 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 8.5 tackles for loss with two starts. For his efforts he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team.

At the time, Gentry said this about Wright on AL.com:

“If you can play, you can play. It doesn’t matter what the size is, but length does help. You can’t coach it, that’s one thing about it. He’s (Wright) a different breed of length. He’s got a lot of power, and he doesn’t really realize how much power he really has and how he can really handle an offensive lineman. If he ever figures it out, he’s got a lot of first-round ability. He’s just got to let it go.”

Wright started only seven games as a sophomore plus his production wasn’t the same. As a junior, I have flipped that into an excellent year.

He was named Second Team All-USA in 2021 while ProFootballFocus (PFF) selected him as their USA Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

On Wright, PFF noted:

“Wright earned a 91.3 PFF grade over the regular season, the second-highest in the FBS, and played soundly against the run and pass. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound edge defender finished the regular season as one of the seven FBS edge defenders who put up an 80.0-plus PFF grade in both run defense and as a pass-rusher. Wright generated a 19.9% ​​pressure rate and 26.1% pass-rush win rate in 2021, top-five marks at the position.”

While at UAB, their defense finished ranked 17th nationally in total defense and 14th in rushing defense. Wright had an incredible season starting as an EDGE defender with 42 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 12 QB hits, seven sacks, 12 hurries, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles along with 31 starts.

His defensive coordinator at UAB David Reeves had this to say about his former star player:

“He’s a very soft spoken, unassuming, humble person. Now, when the lid goes on, he’s a fierce competitor. I mean, when the lid goes on, he’s two different guys — when he is on the field, and when he is off the field. And I think that’s one of the other reasons that make people just fall in love with him so much.”

Wright did very well at the Combine as he expressed to The Southeast Sun:

“It has its good days and bad days, its stressful days and tiring days along with the fun days. At the beginning, it was all about training and getting my body right and then teams started contacting me and then it came time for the (Draft) Combine. That’s where I met the best players in the nation and got a chance to build chemistry with people from different areas and different colleges. Working out for coaches and meeting coaches that I’ve been seeing on TV since I was little was a cool experience. Just worrying about where I’m going and all of that has made this probably the most stressful week I’ve ever had.”

Scouting report on NFL.com:

“Developmental defensive end who is still growing into his body and his position. Wright will likely look much different in pads within a couple of years. His current play by him lacks recognition, sophistication and technique. However, he’s a young player who flashes and still posts good rush production, albeit versus lesser blockers. In a projection-based model where additional size, strength and technique improvements are likely, his athleticism becomes an even more impressive weapon as both a run defender and pass rusher. He will require a runway for development, but he’s worth a middle-round selection as a potential three-down starter for odd- or even-front teams.”

Fell in love with the kid

GM Andrew Berry and the entire coaching staff were in love with Wright during his pre-draft visit to Berea, and explained:

“With Alex, he was really a favorite across the organization – scouts, coaches and our research and strategy group. We like him because he is a player who profiles as what we call a big end or a strong-side end, but with Alex, he really has the versatility to rush outside and inside. We love his frame from him. We love his ability to rush the passer. This is a guy who when we brought him in for a 30 visit, everybody just spoke glowingly. He is very driven, he is very smart and a very humble individual and we think he is a player who can really grow into the ideal big end for us and rush in and out. We are excited to have him. He is a perfect scheme fit for our defense.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Central Arkansas at UAB

Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For one, it is uncertain if Wright has stopped growing. When he entered the collegiate level, he was just 210 pounds and is now a solid 270. Before long he could very well tip the scales at 295 and might find himself as an inside guy with speed. Which right now he can play either – something the coaching staff was intrigued with. And with getting larger this means he will also be gaining strength.

Glenn Cook, the Browns VP of player personnel agreed:

“He came into UAB at 210 pounds. He is 270 pounds now. Yeah, I still have room to grow. There is a lot of clay to work with there,” he said. “We are going to get him with our sports science group and with the coaching staff and see what his best weight is and go from there. We are excited about what he could be.”

Who will claim the starting LDE?

So Wright’s versatility is seen as a huge plus and is one of the reasons Cleveland drafted him. Plus, his length of it enhances his versatility of it.

Which will come into play this season.

The Browns currently have Chase Winovich penciled in at left defensive end. The Wild Card to this position isn’t even a roster member. That man is Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney has had an offer from the Browns to continue his tenure in Cleveland before the free agency period even began. But Clowney operates on his own schedule. It is speculated that he is seeking a longer term deal, probably in the neighborhood of three-years.

Which Berry is almost assuredly willing to do. That would lock up both defensive ends slots for many years to come and enable younger bucks such as Wright to grow into the position and learn from the seasoned veterans.

Wright signed his four-year contract worth $5.293 million last week.

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Winovich would be a nice change of pace and provide a fresh set of legs. And there is plenty of competition for the position from Curtis Weaver, Stephen Weatherly, Isaiah Thomas and Isaac Rochell. Not that the coaching staff will keep all these guys, but for now, the competition will be fierce in order to find that one athlete who can fill the void in case Clowney does not return.

And Wright’s ability to move inside in certain situations is something that DC Joe Woods always looks for along the defensive line including both Garrett and Clowney. Wright could be just another who would be able to make that adjustment.

Berry knows that Garrett is a willing instructor:

“We are very fortunate to have Myles Garrett. He is one of the best in the game and can really model the work ethic needed to be at the top of the profession. Young players in that position group are very fortunate, and we certainly do not take it for granted either.”

What Wright should focus on is securing a spot on the defensive line rotation. He is a guy who wants to learn and will listen to the ones who have been performing at a high-level and ultimately become a team guy and maybe the starter. While Wright did show flashes of being a very good professional athlete, he is very much a work in progress. He will need to soak in the experience and tutelage he receives in order to grow into a valued NFL player.

But just imagine for one second the defensive end position which features Garrett, Clowney, Winovich and Wright.

A lot of folks assume that the most NFL players got their experience at major Power 5 schools. However, a good percentage actually comes from smaller schools. They don’t all go to Ohio State or Clemson or Alabama or Georgia or Notre Dame.

If they are a good football player, then the NFL’s eyes-and-ears are going to seek them out and find those athletes regardless of school, division, conference or small town versus big city.

Just like these scouts found Alex Wright.

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