As an undrafted rookie, former Utah linebacker Mohamoud Diabate faces an uphill battle to make the Cleveland Browns’ 53-man roster when the NFL’s regular season starts next month.

Diabate, though, made a strong case with the heavy amount of reps he received Thursday night in the Browns’ 18-18 tie with the Philadelphia Eagles in preseason action.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound linebacker led Cleveland with eight tackles in the contest and added a pair of momentum-swinging efforts — making a tackle for loss for a safety on the Browns’ second defensive play, then forcing a fumble in the second quarter that led to another score.

“He really just plays with a ton of energy. In talking with our guys earlier about competing for 60 minutes, I thought he was right there leading the charge,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters postgame.

What happened on Mohamoud Diabate’s safety?

Cleveland took the game’s opening possession 75 yards before a fumble at the Philadelphia 1-yard line ended a promising drive. 

After the Eagles’ Marcus Mariota threw an incomplete pass on the ensuing first-down play, Philadelphia running back Kenneth Gainwell took a handoff on second down. He was met quickly by Diabate, who wrapped up Gainwell around the waist and kept him from exiting the end zone, resulting in a safety.

“I (saw) my gap open (and) I’m taught to take it ... just trusting my coaches, trusting what my teammates tell me and take the gap,” Diabate told Cleveland.com’s Irie Harris.

What happened on Mohamoud Diabate’s forced fumble?

After Cleveland retook the lead at 5-3 on a field goal a little over halfway through the second quarter, Diabate’s disruptive efforts struck again.

With the Eagles facing a second-and-6 from their own 27, Mariota threw to Trey Sermon on a screen pass and Sermon made his way upfield past the Philadelphia 40. Diabate closed in on Sermon, though, and as he went to wrap him up, Diabate punched the ball loose and the Browns’ Cameron Mitchell recovered, returning the fumble to the Eagles’ 45-yard line.

“He’s very active. He flies around the field, did a great job ball searching there, getting the ball out,” Stefanski said.

Eight plays later, the Browns scored on another field goal to go into halftime up 8-3.

“I had some linemen in front of me, I saw him get some room … and I saw an opportunity to go for the ball so I took the opportunity,” Diabate, who transferred to Utah last season after three years at Florida, told Cleveland.com. “God blessed me for the ball to be able to pop out, so I’m happy with that result.”

Mohamoud Diabate’s case for making the Browns’ 53-man roster

Diabate got the start at linebacker in the preseason game, and he finished the night with 51 defensive snaps — 81% of the team’s total defensive snaps — and 10 on special teams.

Through three preseason games, Diabate has produced in a variety of ways, with 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, a forced fumble, one QB hurry and a pass deflection. The Browns will wrap up preseason play next week with a game against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

With nine linebackers currently on the Browns’ roster — including former BYU standout Sione Takitaki, a fifth-year veteran who’s spent the offseason recovering from a torn ACL — the odds are still not in Diabate’s favor to make the initial 53-man roster when Cleveland opens the 2023 regular season on Sept. 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

ESPN’s Jake Trotter did not have Diabate making the cut when he projected Cleveland’s 53-man roster heading into training camp last month, and last week, neither did The Athletic’s Zac Jackson when he made the same attempt.

Jackson, at least, named Diabate as a player to watch as the preseason wraps up.

“Can undrafted rookie Mohamoud Diabate, who’s been playing on the first special teams units, really make a push?” Jackson wrote. “With (Anthony) Walker (Jr.) and Takitaki going from medically limited to back in team drills, which one becomes the starter in the middle? There’s much to be settled here.”

Performances like Thursday night, though, stood out to those around the Browns organization. 

“The undrafted rookie out of Utah has undoubtedly left a favorable impression on Browns coaches in the preseason,” Browns team writer Anthony Poisal wrote after Thursday’s game.

NFL teams must trim their active rosters to 53 players by Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. MDT, in preparation for the start of the regular season.

With the effort he’s shown, Diabate would appear to be a strong candidate to make the Browns’ practice squad if he were cut and cleared waivers.

“He’s done a nice job. You watch his tape from the previous two games against the Jets and the Commanders, I think you see a guy who’s playing very active,” Stefanski said.