The Browns fanbase seems to have already forgotten the scenes of the parade after the winless 2017 season. After years of losses and embarrassment, the Factory of Sadness is redeeming itself, following two huge offseasons that finally brought the Browns back in the playoff radar.
While the team was getting dismantled every Sunday in front of an empty First Energy Stadium, the front office started rebuilding the whole roster. The 1-31 spell between the 2016 and 2017 seasons produced two back-to-back first overall picks and five total first round picks, crucial for their rebirth.
Ultimately, Cleveland Browns’ rise from hell started with the appointment of GM John Dorsey right after the infamous 2017 season. Since his start in the Browns front office, John Dorsey hasn’t wasted a second working towards making Cleveland one of the most active football realities in the league. In 2018, trades brought in Pro Bowl Wide Receiver, Jarvis Landry, and defensive back, Damarious Randall. The draft additionally was highlighted by the selections of all Heisman winner Baker Mayfield, Ohio State cornerback, Denzel Ward, future Pro Bowler Nick Chubb, LB Genrad Avery, and WR Antonio Callaway.
The Browns fanbase started dreaming of an imminent playoff comeback and Cleveland became a football city again. However, the start of the season didn’t go as planned, quickly leading to the firing of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams taking over as the interim coach. The team ended on 5-3 run, Baker Mayfield’s talent exploded and four players made the Pro Bowl.
The final step of the Brown’s reconstruction is currently underway. The 2019 offseason has been nearly perfect, especially with the key free agency additions of Sheldon Richardson and Kareem Hunt, topped by the blockbuster trade that brought in superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The hype and excitement around the Browns has been overwhelming with fans even talking about a Superbowl run. Dreaming is priceless, but there is still many questions to answer. The team under newly promoted head coach, Freddie Kitchens, has to find their identity and chemistry. It will be a long offseason for the Browns. After reinforcing almost every spot of the roster, five position battles appear to remain still unsolved in the Browns offseason
CB: Who will be Denzel Ward’s sparring partner?
The final balance of the 2018 season shows the harsh reality of the defensive performances of the team. The Browns ended 30th in total yards allowed per game, 28th in rushing yards allowed per game and 25th for passing yards allowed per game. The secondary was reinforced in 2018 with the Damarious Randall trade and the draft selection of Denzel Ward, but terribly struggled when the former Ohio State cornerback had to miss three games because of injury.
Denzel Ward was a freak in his rookie season, making it to the Pro Bowl and to the All-Rookie team, however he needs support and a potential replacement when injured. Adding up to his injuries, even starter Terrance Mitchell struggled to stay on the field, missing half of the games, but still managing to put up impressive stats in such little playing time. The only Browns cornerback that appeared in every contest was the 28-year older T.J. Carrie who posted a season total of two forced fumbles, one interception and 58 tackles.
The Browns have tons of talent at this position, especially with Denzel Ward, however they can’t afford to keep conceding over 200 passing yards per game and constantly have the two starters not healthy. Therefore, GM John Dorsey went ahead and drafted with the 46th pick one of the top prospects at that position, Greedy Williams. Once again John Dorsey was able to snag a top-rated player in the draft, showing how this team is set for a gradual development in the years to come.
Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie appeared to look in terrific form in the OTA’s and the excitement about Greedy Williams is increasing. However, the Browns will not rush the transition process to pro football for the LSU product. Terrance Mitchell will presumably keep his spot on the starting lineup, at least for the first few games of the season. T.J. Carrie will provide crucial help from the bench and Greedy Williams will progressively sneak into the lineups. Williams was ultimately drafted to pair up with Ward in a potentially intriguing combo, but the Browns will give him all the time he needs to cut his teeth and become the future star cornerback he is projected to be.
SS: The starter could be not on the roster yet
Great part of the responsibility for the terrible defensive production, especially looking at the pass defense, is attributable to the lack of talent at safety. With Jabrill Peppers being sacrificed to get to Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns have to address the situation at safety.
With training camp approaching the battle for the starting job at strong safety will be between Morgan Burnett and Jermaine Whitehead. Both players will be given a chance to prove themselves during training camp, but Morgan Burnett will probably win the race and obtain the starting spot .
John Dorsey tried to address the team’s need at strong safety during the draft, selecting Sheldrick Redwine in the fourth round. However, the University of Miami product will likely spend his rookie season developing his game and playing most of his snaps on special teams.
Morgan Burnett seems destined to win the starting job at strong safety, however John Dorsey might take a shot at signing free agent Eric Berry. Since his appointment, the Browns GM has brought in various names from his previous team, the Kansas City Chiefs. This season he has already given a second chance to Kareem Hunt and might want to do the same with Eric Berry, as his name keeps on being connected to the Browns. Due to continuous injuries, Berry is past his prime, but could still contribute with his elite coverage against tight ends and experience. Don’t be surprised if the Browns go after him to solve to address their need at strong safety.
TE: Njoku, Charles and who else?
The current Cleveland Brown roster is one of the most talented in the league for receiving corps. A star-studded group of wide receivers and a promising young tight end David Njoku give plenty of options to Baker Mayfield.
Considering Baker Mayfield’s weapons and his game in the pocket, he is going to need great protection from his O-line. The Browns have a solid O-line, but having good blocking tight ends would hurt. Njoku is a great receiver and veteran Demetrius Harris is an elite blocker, representing a good mix. Therefore, the last tight end spot would probably be given to a player able to execute in both cases.
At the moment the race for the last tight end spot is between third year tight end Seth DeValve and veteran Orson Charles. These two differs in their contribution to the team with DeValve being more of a catcher and Charles being mostly used as a blocker ( but also an underrated catcher ). DeValve has struggled with injuries in his short career and his catching ability doesn’t seem to be a difference maker in the Brown offense, who could be oriented towards a better blocker like Charles.
The last tight end spot would ultimately go to the most versatile player. Therefore, Charles starts ahead of DeValve in the team rankings. An outsider to make the cut could be Pharaoh Brown. Since entering the league in 2017 as an undrafted free agent, Brown has yet to play his first career game due to injuries and competition. However, John Dorsey has seemed to opting for giving him a chance, promoting him to the active roster last year. Pharaoh Brown is probably still not third tight end material, but he will definitely be given a chance to make the Browns practice squad.
Kicker: Joseph or Seibert?
The memories of the 21-18 away loss to the Saints in Week 2 are still haunting Cleveland football fans. Zane Gonzalez, the Brown kicker at the time, missed two field goals and to extra point attempts, including a 52 yard field goal with 3 seconds left that could have sent the game overtime and possibly gave the team the first win in almost two years.
Gonzalez was waived the day after the infamous loss in the New Orleans and promptly replaced by Florida Atlantic product, Greg Joseph. Joseph’s production was relatively solid for the remaining games of the season. He made 17 of his 20 attempted field goals, including the game winner against the Ravens in Week 5. However, breaking down his statistics from the season, what surprises the most is the four extra point attempts not converted and none of them was blocked by the opponents’ special teams.
Greg Joseph, despite being efficient in big times, has not fully convinced GM John Dorsey, who drafted the former Oklahoma Sooners placekicker, Austin Seibert, in the fifth round. This move by the Brown’s GM should clarify the team’s plans for the starting job at this position. However, special teams coordinator Jack Priefer has seemed to be impressed by the potential offered by both kickers, opening another position battle in the roster.
Joseph could keep his starting job when the season resumes in September, however the front office’s plan seems clear after spending a fifth round pick on Austin Seibert. Seibert’s production was nearly impeccable in his collegiate career hitting 89.5% of his field goals and breaking the record for most career point by a kicker in FBS history. If he is able to translate his kicking accuracy to the NFL, Austin Seibert will be the Browns kicker for the years to come.
OLB: Avery, Kirksey or the young Takitaki?
The Browns defensive struggles in 2018 were not just limited to their secondary. The linebacker position was, in fact, one of the least productive in the whole defense. 2017 Pro bowler Joe Schobert kept his phenomenal numbers, despite being restrained by injuries that forced him to miss three games. The rest off the linebackers team, however, did not match Schobert’s production. Christian Kirksey, amongst all, had a disappointing season, playing only seven games and ended up being ranked 85th out of the 92 linebackers graded by Pro Football Focus.
The Browns defense is slowly developing and, despite the terrible 2018, there is hope even at the linebacker position. Once again, the team will be able to the test a rookie for a starting job. John Dorsey, indeed, selected BYU product Sione Takitaki in the third round. Takitaki will have to develop and will presumably move up the rankings quickly.
Kirksey’s scarce production in 2018 could lose him his spot in the starting lineup. The starter for the moment could be Genard Avery, who did not disappoint in his scarce playing time in his rookie season and can count on the GM’s support. Kirksey will face good competition to maintain his starter status and few will be surprised if coming Week 1 Avery and Takitaki will be ahead of him in the rotation.
Cleveland Browns Key Players
CB: Mitchell will start in Week 1, but Greedy Williams will take over soon potentially forming a phenomenal young duo with Denzel Ward
SS: Burnett will be the starter, but John Dorsey could bring in Eric Berry
TE: Charles will the be the 3rd Tight End and Pharaoh Brown could finally make his NFL debut
K: It’s Austin Seibert’s time
OLB: Avery will start while Takitaki will develop to become the starter