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2007 Season Previews
Cleveland Browns (Last Year: 4-12)
Veteran Additions:
RB Jamal Lewis, WR Tim Carter, G Eric Steinbach, DE Robaire Smith, NT Shaun Smith, DE/OLB Antwan Peek, CB Kenny Wright, S Mike Adams.
Draft Picks:
QB Brady Quinn, WR Syndric Steptoe, OT Joe Thomas, DE Melila Purcell, DE Chase Pittman, CB Eric Wright, CB Brandon McDonald.
Major Subtractions:
FB Terrelle Smith (ARZ), WR Dennis Northcutt (JAX), DE Alvin McKinley, DE Nick Eason (PIT), CB Daylon McCutcheon, CB Ralph Brown (ARZ), S Brian Russell (SEA).

Offense This Year: One of my friends has a son who has been trouble getting to sleep. He tried everything - bed-time stories, warm milk, Tylenol PM - but it all failed. So, I suggested that he pop in a video of Cleveland's offense. The kid was asleep in no time. This shouldn't be surprising, as the Browns scored in single digits five times, and 14 or fewer points on eight occasions in 2006. Nothing seemed to work; the team couldn't pass, run or block.

But that was last year. Will the Browns be able to improve in any of those areas in 2007? Let's start at the quarterback position. Charlie Frye was extremely mediocre in his second season. Although he maintained a 64.3 completion percentage, he threw 17 interceptions to only 10 touchdowns. In relief, Derek Anderson tossed eight picks to just five touchdowns, although his completion rate was much lower (56.4). So, it's easy to figure out why the Browns dealt next year's No. 1 draft selection for Brady Quinn. It remains to be seen whether or not Quinn is the long-term answer for Cleveland, but one thing should be fairly obvious: Like 99.9 percent of all rookie quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, Quinn will struggle in his rookie campaign. And that's if he even plays; Frye will likely be the starter on Kickoff Sunday.

When Quinn steps in, he won't exactly have the greatest supporting cast in the NFL around him. Receiver Braylon Edwards (61 receptions, 884 yards, 6 TDs) and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (89 catches, 875 yards, 3 TDs) are both exceptional, but that's where the positives end. Joe Jurevicius (40 receptions, 495 yards, 3 TDs) is the No. 2 wide out, even though he's nothing more than a role player at this point of his career. The rest of the receiving corps is worthless; Tim Carter, Travis Wilson and Syndric Steptoe aren't exactly dangerous targets. At running back, Jamal Lewis was signed to a 1-year deal to relieve the ineffective Reuben Droughns (758 yards, 4 TDs). Lewis once ran for more than 2,000 yards, but those days are long gone. He's way over the hill and barely has anything left in the tank.

Lewis will be running behind an offensive line that permitted Reuben Droughns to rumble for 3.4 yards per carry. The good news is that the Browns made enough upgrades to the front to give Lewis lanes to charge through. Cleveland signed Eric Steinbach away from the Bengals. Steinbach's one of the top players at his position, and he'll be penciled in as the starting left guard. With the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, the Browns chose offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who will likely be protecting Quinn's blind side for at least a decade. With Thomas and Steinbach loaded up on the left, it looks like Lewis may have some success running to that side. And hopefully, Cleveland's quarterbacks aren't sacked 54 times this year.

Defense This Year: Talk about disappointment. The main reason why I predicted the Browns to finish 7-9 last summer was because of all of the major acquisitions they made on defense. They obtained Willie McGinest, Ted Washington, and rookies Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson a year ago, and appeared to be on the threshold of assembling a dominant defense.

So much for that. Cleveland was ranked 25th against the run in 2005, but despite the addition of the run-stuffing Washington, the team somehow managed to get worse last year, as it was ranked 28th, giving up 4.7 yards per carry to opposing running backs. At age 39, Washington is simply too old to take on some of the premier interior offensive linemen in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Browns will be stuck with him for another season. Orpheus Roye once again joins Washington on the line. The third member is newly acquired Robaire Smith, a journey man who has very little to offer. I'm really confused as to why Cleveland didn't attempt to upgrade its defensive front, save for Smith.

The linebacking corps didn't experience much of a change either. Actually, it has remained completely static, excluding the addition of reserve Antwan Peek. The unit is led by Kamerion Wimbley, who generated a whopping 11 sacks as a rookie in 2006. Problem is, the team had only 28 as a whole, which is up from 23 in 2005. No one else can get to the quarterback. Willie McGinest, the Browns' other starting outside linebacker, only managed four sacks. McGinest is another old star (35) who wasn't able to bring anything but Super Bowl experience to the table. Meanwhile, the inside linebackers seem pretty solid. Andra Davis was second on the team in tackles (104) despite missing two games. Second-year D'Qwell Jackson started every single contest as a rookie last season, though I still think he needs to bulk up a bit and gain 10 pounds.

The secondary is, without a doubt, the top group on this defense. Despite the front seven's inability to get to the quarterback, Cleveland's defensive backs limited opposing offenses to just 3,242 passing yards. Cornerback Daven Holly and strong safety Sean Jones were largely responsible, accumulating five interceptions each. The team's No. 1 corner, Leigh Bodden, didn't get much of the credit, as he was usually asked to defend the offense's top wide out. The secondary will only improve in 2007; the Browns signed corner Kenny Wright and spent their second-round pick on the talented, but troubled Eric Wright. If the latter Wright can stay out of Roger Goodell's office, he'll be a star cornerback in the NFL; he has already shown flashes of brilliance during some of the offseason workouts.

Schedule and Intangibles: Cleveland will need a new punt returner with Dennis Northcutt in Jacksonville. The team won't, however, be looking for a kick returner; Josh Cribbs took one to the house last year. The Browns surrendered a special-teams touchdown in 2006, so they'll have to do better in that department. ... The usually reliable Phil Dawson really struggled last season, nailing 21-of-29 attempts for a 72.4 field-goal rate. That's his lowest since his rookie year in 1999. I expect him to rebound. ... It's about time for Cleveland to build a dominant home-field advantage; the team is a dreadful 20-44 at the Dawg Pound. ... Four of the Browns' first five opponents are Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore and New England. Pretty unfair for a squad that was 4-12 a year ago. In fact, I can only find five beatable opponents on Cleveland's schedule: Oakland, Miami, Houston, Arizona and Buffalo (maybe).

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Baltimore Ravens: The home team has claimed five of the past six battles. The lone exception was in 2006, as the Ravens beat the Browns by a slim margin, 15-14, despite being heavy favorites.
Cincinnati Bengals: Not even close. The Bengals won last year's matchups, 34-17 and 30-0. Carson Palmer is 5-1 against the Browns.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh has won 13 of the last 14 meetings. Yawn.

Fantasy Football:
Brady Quinn: Charlie Frye will play a portion of the season. Brady Quinn will play the rest. I wouldn't draft a rookie quarterback in a traditional league. If this is a keeper league we're talking about, I'd still look elsewhere.
Projected Stats: 1,600 passing yards. 9 passing TDs. 100 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 150.

Jamal Lewis: The left side of Cleveland's offensive line looks promising. Jamal Lewis doesn't.
Projected Stats: 1,100 rushing yards. 100 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 168.

Kellen Winslow Jr.: Kellen Winslow Jr. had an exceptional season, notching 89 receptions for 875 yards and three touchdowns. What's remarkable is that he did so with Charlie Frye throwing him the ball.
Projected Stats: 800 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 104.

Braylon Edwards: If only he had a quarterback who can get him the ball. Braylon Edwards will have his wish in 2008 when Brady Quinn's a second-year signal caller. Edwards won't reach his full potential until then.
Projected Stats: 850 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 133.

Joe Jurevicius: A weak No. 2 receiver with a weak quarterbacking corps.
Projected Stats: 450 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 57.

Tim Carter: Had just 253 yards with Eli Manning. What's he going to do with a rookie and a no-talent?
Projected Stats: 200 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 26.

Phil Dawson: I have no doubt in my mind that Phil Dawson will rebound from a dreadful 2006 season. He was 27-of-29 in 2005.
Projected Stats: 26-29 FG (1-1 50+). 24 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 110.

Cleveland Defense: No sacks. No shutouts. No glory. Worth starting against Oakland, Miami and Houston, perhaps.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.

Analysis: The Browns won't have any success until Brady Quinn and Joe Thomas mature, and they find a long-term solution at running back. By the time that happens, it could be too late for Romeo Crennel and his staff.

Projection: 3-13 (4th in the AFC North)


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