WR Donte' Stallworth, G Rex Hadnot, DE/DT Corey Williams, NT Shaun Rogers, OLB Shantee Orr, CB Travis Daniels, CB Terry Cousin.
WR Paul Hubbard, TE Martin Rucker, DE Alex Hall, NT Athyba Rubin, ILB Beau Bell.
WR Tim Carter, OT Nat Dorsey, C LeCharles Bentley, DE Bobby Hamilton, DT Simon Fraser, DT Orpheus Roye, NT Ethan Kelley, NT Ted Washington, OLB Chaun Thompson, ILB Matt Stewart, ILB Keith Adams, CB Leigh Bodden, CB Ricardon Colclough, CB Kenny Wright, CB Gary Baxter.
2008 Cleveland Browns Offense:
The 2007 Cleveland Browns are a perfect example of why the NFL is so difficult to predict. Anyone who says they knew their offense was going to explode is a liar or a psychic. Maybe both.
Scoring begins with the quarterback position, and Derek Anderson is the primary reason why the Browns were able to put up 25.1 points per game. At Oregon State, Anderson failed to complete 50 percent of his passes. In 2006, he threw more picks (8) than touchdowns (5) and was sacked eight times in just three starts. Yet, Anderson somehow compiled 3,787 yards, 29 scores and 19 interceptions in 2007.
Many experts, media members and casual fans have opined that Cleveland should have traded Anderson this offseason, allowing Brady Quinn to step in. This thought process stemmed from Anderson's woeful performance in a must-win against the Bengals in Week 16. Needing a victory to essentially clinch playoff berth, Anderson came up short, going 29-of-48 for 251 yards, two touchdowns and four picks, as Cleveland went down, 19-14.
The argument is that because Quinn is younger, he has more potential. Plus, the Browns could get a key defensive player or two for Anderson. I can see that side of the argument, but I also understand why general manager Phil Savage didn't pull the trigger. First, there's no guarantee that Quinn is going to be a solid quarterback. Second, even though Quinn was a first-round pick, Cleveland doesn't exactly have that much invested in him ($9.25 million over five years). Third, there aren't many good signal callers in the NFL. If you're an NFL GM, can you afford to let one go for a virtual unknown? And fourth, while Quinn is the junior of the two quarterbacks (24 in October), Anderson's not exactly old either. He just turned 25.
Unless Anderson completely falters, he will remain Cleveland's starting quarterback, as he inked a 3-year, $24 million deal in February. With the supporting cast he has around him, I don't see him disappointing. I mentioned earlier that scoring begins with the signal caller position. Well, the offensive line also has a huge say in it. The No. 3 overall selection the Browns used on Joe Thomas was essential to their success last year. Thomas probably should have won Offensive Rookie of the Year instead of Adrian Peterson, as he quickly evolved into one of the premier left tackles in the league.
In addition to Thomas, the Browns' offensive line was able to dominate opposing defenses because of Eric Steinbach, who signed a $49.5 million contract with the team last March. As for the rest of the front, center Hank Fraley once again was serviceable; he hasn't missed a start since joining the Browns two years ago. Newly acquired Rex Hadnot and Kevin Shaffer are passable on the right side but could stand to be upgraded.
As a unit, however, the group surrendered just 19 sacks and allowed Jamal Lewis to rush for 1,304 yards at 4.4 yards per carry. Lewis' production was yet another surprise, as most people gave him up for dead when he had meager yards-per-rush averages of 3.4 and 3.6 in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Though he seems like he's been in the NFL forever, Lewis turns 29 in August. Contrary to popular belief, Lewis probably has another solid three years or so left in the tank. The fact that he showed up in great shape to minicamps is a very good sign. By the way, he needs just 895 yards to reach 10,000 for his career.
Another player who saw his stats skyrocket was Braylon Edwards. In his third year as a pro, Edwards had 80 receptions, 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns, thanks to finally seeing some stability at the quarterback position. Kellen Winslow Jr. was also happy to have Anderson under center; the fiery tight end registered 82 catches, 1,106 yards and five scores. Pretty good for a tight end, huh? Winslow had offseason knee surgery, so there was some concern on Savage's part; the Browns utilized one of their top selections on tight end Martin Rucker.
Meanwhile, Joe Jurevicius also had knee surgery this offseason. The 33-year-old has been a reliable, yet underrated receiver his entire career. But will his knees hold up? As insurance, Savage signed the lightning-quick Donte' Stallworth to be a potent downfield target for Anderson. The Browns may have overpaid for Stallworth (seven years, $35 million), but he should be able to open up Cleveland's offense even further and make it much more dangerous.
As I stated earlier, the NFL's really difficult to predict. But barring a barrage of injuries, I can't see Cleveland's offense slowing down.
2008 Cleveland Browns Defense:
If you look under "Veteran Additions" and "Draft Picks," you'll see that the Browns didn't make many moves this offseason. But when they did, they made them count.
Cleveland's defensive line was overwhelmed on a weekly basis last season. As a unit, Shaun Smith, Robaire Smith, Orpheus Roye, Ethan Kelley, Simon Fraser and Ted Washington were abused, as opposing offenses averaged 4.5 yards per carry against them. The Browns were 27th versus the run.
With two upgrades, Cleveland essentially ensured its defensive front won't be trampled this season. Phil Savage sent corner Leigh Bodden and a third-round selection to the Lions for massive nose tackle Shaun Rogers. Savage also mailed his second-round choice to the Packers for 3-4 defensive end Corey Williams. Rogers and Williams are Pro Bowl-caliber players and will help the team's stop unit to be more dominant. Meanwhile, it appears as though Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith will rotate at the other end position, while Smith and rookie Athyba Rubin will take over at the nose if anything happens to Rogers.
While the Browns' defensive line has immensely improved, I can't say the same thing about the back eight, though there should be a chain reaction if the front can dominate as projected. Rush linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had just four sacks last season after notching 11 as a rookie in 2006. With the line occupying more blockers than last year, Wimbley's sack total will probably eclipse 11. It's just a shame the team doesn't have anything opposite Wimbley. Dinosaur Willie McGinest is currently penciled into the starting lineup, but I'm not sure if the 36-year-old can shake off Antwan Peek and Shantee Orr, both of whom are pretty mediocre.
Meanwhile, Cleveland has another stud at inside linebacker. D'Qwell Jackson is entering his third season and should also reap the benefits of having the massive Rogers in front of him. Next to Jackson, incumbents Andra Davis and Leon Williams (they split starts) will have to hold off rookie Beau Bell, whom Savage traded up for in April's draft.
It's important that Wimbley reestablishes himself as a dominant pass-rusher because the Browns' secondary is the weakest unit on the roster. The outstanding Bodden (sounds like some magician or fortune teller) is gone, while projected replacement Daven Holly tore multiple ligaments in his knee and is out for the year. They're solid with Eric Wright, who started 13 contests as a rookie in 2007. Unfortunately, the rest of the cornerbacking corps - Brandon McDonald, A.J. Davis and Terry Cousin - are either less experienced (McDonald, Davis) or way too old to play in this league (Cousin). Young safeties Sean Jones and Brodney Pool, meanwhile, combined for seven picks and a touchdown, but were very inconsistent and often struggled in coverage. The Browns will need them to grow up in a hurry, as they're the most seasoned players in their defensive backfield, save for Cousin, of course.
Cleveland's defense will not be ranked in the 20s again. That said, Savage still has a lot of work to do if he wants his stop unit to be on par with Pittsburgh's.
2008 Cleveland Browns Schedule and Intangibles:
If you poll everyone and ask them who the best return specialist in the NFL is, 49 out of 50 states will tell you Devin Hester. Ohio, meanwhile, might say Josh Cribbs. He doesn't get as much ESPN publicity as Hester, but Cribbs scored three touchdowns (one punt return, two kick returns) on special teams. Unfortunately, the Browns surrendered a score themselves.
After struggling in 2006, Phil Dawson rebounded with a solid 2007 campaign, hitting 26-of-30 kicks. He was 8-of-10 from 40-plus, including 1-of-2 from 50 and beyond.
Dave Zastudil was a bit disappointing with a 41.8 average and only 14 punts inside the opposing 20.
In my 2007 season preview, I said the following: "It's about time for Cleveland to build a dominant home-field advantage; the team is a dreadful 20-44 at the Dawg Pound." Well, I guess Romeo Crennel was listening because his squad was 7-1 as a host. Winning on the road, however, became a problem, with glaring losses at Oakland, Arizona and Cincinnati. The latter was a must-win and cost the Browns a playoff berth.
The Browns will be tested right away, as they battle Dallas and Pittsburgh to kick off the season. They'll also have to deal with the Giants, Jaguars, Colts, Eagles and Steelers again.
2008 Cleveland Browns Analysis: It's going to be fun watching Pittsburgh and Cleveland compete for the AFC North. Can the Browns finally beat the Steelers? I think they can win one of the meetings, but that doesn't mean they'll claim the division.
So, how do the two squads match up? Cleveland probably has the superior offense because of Pittsburgh's weak offensive line, but the Steelers' defense kills Romeo Crennel's stop unit. The Browns simply won't be able to put enough pressure on the quarterback to make up for their miserable and inexperienced secondary.
With that in mind, I expect both teams to qualify for the Doggone Playoff. Maybe there will be three meetings as opposed to two.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in AFC North)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Derek Anderson: The starting job is Derek Anderson's to lose. The Browns re-signed him to a 3-year, $24 million deal. Anderson has the physical tools and surrounding cast to succeed. There has been nothing but positive reports about him in minicamps.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 3,700 passing yards. 24 passing TDs. 70 rushing yards. 3 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 354.
Brady Quinn: You may want to consider Brady Quinn in the later rounds of your draft. If Derek Anderson struggles (first two games are against the Cowboys and Steelers), there's a chance Quinn could step in. If he does, he'll put up the same amazing numbers Anderson compiles. If not, you wasted a late-round selection. Big whoop.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 500 passing yards. 3 passing TDs. 20 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 43.
Jamal Lewis: Underrated. Everyone has been busy writing off Jamal Lewis this summer, yet he's coming off a season where he had 1,304 rushing yards, 30 receptions and 11 total touchdowns. Lewis is going to be 29 soon and looks like he's in great shape, so he still has something left in the tank, contrary to popular belief. Keep in mind the Browns play the Bengals' soft defense in Week 16.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,250 rushing yards. 175 receiving yards. 10 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 202.
Kellen Winslow Jr.: Kellen Winslow Jr. is coming off knee surgery, but he's looked great in training camp thus far. That was the only thing holding me back here. Winslow is one of the top tight ends in the league, as indicated by his numbers (82 catches, 1,106 yards and five touchdowns).
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,025 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 132.
Braylon Edwards: Last year I wrote, "If only he had a quarterback who can get him the ball." Well, guess what? Thanks to Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards had 80 receptions, 1,289 yards and a mind-boggling 16 touchdowns. With no evidence that Cleveland's offense will slow down, Edwards should be one of the first receivers off the board.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,225 receiving yards. 13 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 200.
Donte' Stallworth: I wouldn't draft Donte' Stallworth until the later rounds. He gets injured too often and is completely unreliable. He'll be a great downfield target for Derek Anderson, but the biggest question isn't how many touchdowns he'll catch, but rather how many games he'll play.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 700 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 100.
Joe Jurevicius: A solid NFL receiver whose numbers will never translate to fantasy success. Joe Jurevicius is coming off multiple knee surgeries.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 250 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 37.
Phil Dawson: Phil Dawson rebounded from an awful 2006 campaign and hit 26-of-30 kicks, including 8-of-10 from 40-plus. A very solid kicker who has hit at least 82 percent of his field goals every year save for one since 2002. With all of his extra points, Dawson is one of the top players at his position in the world of fantasy.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 26-29 FG (1-2 50+). 42 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 128.
Cleveland Defense: The Browns will get more sacks now that they've upgraded their defensive line, while their opportunistic safeties will pick off some passes. They're not a defense you should start every week, but I wouldn't mind having them in the lineup against Baltimore (Weeks 3 and 9).
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
I'd like to revise the grade I had on Beau Bell. I didn't like the pick at first and gave it a D, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Though a pass-rushing linebacker was more of a need, Andra Davis' days in Cleveland are numbered and an upgrade is needed over him. Leon Williams isn't much of a replacement either. ... Athyba Rubin and Paul Hubbard look like great back-to-back selections late on Day 2. Rubin will provide solid depth on Cleveland's three-man defensive line, while Hubbard is talented enough to see significant playing time in the near future.
I don't get why the Browns didn't address the hybrid linebacker and cornerback positions. Those were their two biggest needs. I understand why they took Martin Rucker - Kellen Winslow Jr. is a pain in the rear end - but I would have addressed a need instead. ... I'm not a fan of Cleveland trading away its third-round pick in 2009 either. With all of the crazy reaches taking place on Draft Day, Bell and Rucker may have just fell to them.
Grade give on 4/29/08: B-
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
104. Beau Bell, ILB, UNLV
The Browns traded up for this guy? What about a 3-4 pass rusher? How about a corner? Not so sure about this pick. (Pick Grade: B)
111. Martin Rucker, TE, Missouri
Maybe the Browns should have traded all of their draft picks. I guess they forgot they have Kellen Winslow on their roster. (Pick Grade: C)
190. Athyba Rubin, NT, Iowa State
Athyba Rubin is great value here, but the Browns failed to address the cornerback and pass-rushing linebacker positions. (Pick Grade: B)
191. Paul Hubbard, WR, Wisconsin
Like Athyba Rubin, Paul Hubbard is a steal. Hubbard addresses a need though; Joe Jurevicius might be limited in 2008. (Pick Grade: A)
231. Alex Hall, DE, St. Augustine
Not on my board, but it's the seventh round. (Pick Grade: C)
The 2007 Browns caught everyone by surprise. Derek Anderson came out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Jamal Lewis, given up for dead, revitalized his career by rushing for 1,304 yards. Braylon Edwards was an unstoppable force, collecting 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. Romeo Crennel was able to enjoy eating cookies without getting heckled by fans. And the defense... Well, that can still be improved. It's just a shame the Browns' season came to an end in Indianapolis, where the Colts' defenders let the Titans walk all over them. At least Cleveland got some satisfaction in watching Indianapolis lose right away. Let's hope the Colts, Buccaneers and other teams have learned that you must keep playing your starters.
Browns acquire CB Travis Daniels from Dolphins for undisclosed draft pick
Browns cut CB Gary Baxter
Browns cut C LeCharles Bentley
Browns announce retirement of TE Aaron Shea
Browns sign CB Daven Holly
Browns waive CB Daven Holly (out for year)
Browns sign CB Terry Cousin
Browns cut CB Kenny Wright
Browns re-sign G Seth McKinney
Browns re-sign ILB Kris Griffin
Browns sign OLB Shantee Orr
Browns re-sign S Gary Baxter
Browns re-sign FB Charles Ali
Browns sign G Rex Hadnot
Browns re-sign G Lennie Friedman
Browns sign WR Donte' Stallworth
Browns receive NT Shaun Rogers from the Lions for CB Leigh Bodden and a 2008 third-round pick
Browns re-sign QB Derek Anderson
Browns re-sign S Nick Sorensen
Browns acquire DT Corey Williams for a second-round pick (No. 56)
Browns cut DT Orpheus Roye
Browns re-sign Jamal Lewis
Derek Anderson: The Browns need to settle this situation. The thing is, I'm not really sure what they should do. On one hand, how can you let Anderson go? There are so many crappy quarterbacks in the NFL, and there's no guarantee that Brady Quinn won't be one of them. On the other hand, Quinn might have an even higher upside, and they can surround him with even better weapons with the picks they can get for Anderson. It's a tough call - one that I'm glad I don't have to make. Cleveland will most likely tender Anderson for first- and third-round compensation, praying no one matches it. Re-signed Derek Anderson
Nose Tackle: The Browns like Shaun Smith, and while he's OK, they could look into drafting a nose tackle to move Smith to one of the defensive end spots. Traded for Shaun Rogers; drafted Athyba Rubin
Defensive End: And speaking of defensive ends, Cleveland needs one to replace the mediocre Robaire Smith. Traded for Corey Williams
Outside Linebacker: Willie McGinest has been a great linebacker for many years, but at age 36, he's clearly past his prime. How awesome would Cleveland's defense be with Terrell Suggs operating across from Kamerion Wimbley? Signed Shantee Orr
Running Back: Contract dispute - Jamal Lewis wants a 3-year deal, but the Browns are just giving him two. Lewis is coming off a 1,300-yard campaign, but he was in his contract year. Plus, he turns 29 in August. I can see why the Browns are being cautious. If they let him walk, they'll use some of their money on Michael Turner. Re-signed Jamal Lewis
Right Guard: Current right guard Seth McKinney, a free agent this spring, has missed 24 games the past two seasons. His backup, Isaac Sowells, just tore his rotator cuff. The Browns need some stability here. They have the money to go after Tennessee's Jacob Bell. Signed Rex Hadnot
Wide Receiver: Joe Jurevicius just turned 33, so it's clear he's not going to be around much longer. The Browns should draft a wide out as a No. 3 option who can become a secondary target once Jurevicius either retires or leaves via free agency after the 2009 campaign. I don't think Travis Wilson's the guy. Signed Donte' Stallworth; drafted Paul Hubbard
Inside Linebacker: It looks like Andra Davis' days are numbered in Cleveland. This could be his final year. Drafted Beau Bell
Defensive Back Depth: Some talent is needed behind Eric Wright and Leigh Bodden; Kenny Wright is on the wrong side of 30, while Daven Holly isn't anything special. Meanwhile, I'd like to see the Browns add a reserve safety to push Brodney Pool and Sean Jones. Traded for Travis Daniels; re-signed Gary Baxter
Cleveland Browns Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 17): $30.31 million
Derek Anderson (RFA), QB. Age: 25. Re-signed by Browns (3 years, $26 million)
Derek Anderson had more touchdown passes than Peyton Manning for the majority of the season. He threw 29 of them. That's not easy to do. The Browns would be nuts not to keep him; they are so many bad quarterbacks in this league that they just can't afford to give him up. Just ask the Bears how much a really good signal caller like Anderson would mean to them. Cleveland will tender him at the maximum level, requiring any squad interested in Anderson to surrender first- and third-round selections.
Jamal Lewis, RB. Age: 29. Re-signed with Browns (3 years)
Jamal Lewis deserves all the credit in the world. Everyone called Cleveland's acquisition of Lewis a dumb move, including myself. All Lewis did in 2007 was rush for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns. The Browns are expected to re-sign him.
Seth McKinney, G. Age: 29. Re-signed with Browns (1 year)
Seth McKinney's a solid lineman. The problem is he's way too injury-prone. He's missed 24 games the past two seasons.
Ethan Kelley, NT. Age: 28.
The Browns need an upgrade over Ethan Kelley, who would make a solid backup nose tackle in this league.
LeCharles Bentley, C. Age: 28.
I can't see anyone offering LeCharles Bentley a large contract. Actually, it'll be somewhat of a surprise if he's signed at all. A former Pro Bowl-caliber player, Bentley has been out of football the past two years, thanks to knee injuries.
Matt Stewart, ILB. Age: 29. - Signed with Cardinals (1 year)
Simon Fraser (RFA), DT. Age: 25. - Signed with Falcons
Chaun Thompson, OLB. Age: 28. - Signed with Texans (2 years, $2.4 million)
Tim Carter, WR. Age: 28. - Signed with Texans (1 year)
Nat Dorsey, OT. Age: 25.
Ricardo Colclough, Browns. Age: 26. - Signed with Panthers (2 years, $4 million)
Gary Baxter, S. Age: 29.
Orpheus Roye, DE/DT. Age: 35. - Signed with Steelers
Nick Sorensen, S. Age: 30. - Re-signed with Browns (3 years, $2.5 million)
Charles Ali (ERFA), FB. Age: 24. - Re-signed with Browns
Kenny Wright, CB. Age: 30.
Ted Washington, NT. Age: 40.
Bobby Hamilton, DE. Age: 37. -- Likely to retire.
Divisional Rival History: Baltimore Ravens: The home squad has won six of eight, though the new Browns swept the old Browns in 2007. Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati and Cleveland took part in that crazy 51-45 affair in Week 2 when the world found out how great Derek Anderson really was. Still, Carson Palmer is 6-2 against the Browns. Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh has won 15 of the last 16 battles. The Browns are pretty close to eclipsing them, however.