Cleveland Browns (Last Year: 1-15)
2017 NFL Season Preview:
QB Brock Osweiler, WR Kenny Britt, G Kevin Zeitler, C J.C. Tretter, CB Jason McCourty, S Calvin Pryor.
DE Myles Garrett, S Jabrill Peppers, TE David Njoku, QB DeShone Kizer, DT Larry Ogunjobi, ILB Demario Davis, CB Howard Wilson, OT Roderick Johnson, DT Caleb Brantley. Browns Rookie Forecast
QB Robert Griffin, QB Josh McCown, WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Josh Gordon, WR Andrew Hawkins, OT Austin Pasztor, CB Tramon Williams.
2017 Cleveland Browns Offense:
The Browns don’t have a franchise quarterback, but they’re not in a horrible situation in that regard. With Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson regarded as potential top-10 selections in the 2018 NFL Draft, Cleveland can select a signal-caller next April. In the meantime, the trio of Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and DeShone Kizer will battle for the starting gig in 2017. Kessler enters as the incumbent, but he has an arm that is so weak that he can’t complete routine sideline passes without issues. In fact, he was benched for floating a horrible pass versus Baltimore last year. Kizer, on the other hand, has the opposite problem. He possesses a big arm and mobility, but he doesn’t know how to play quarterback. Osweiler is somewhere in the middle. None of these three quarterbacks are likely the answer, but there’s a slight chance Kizer could be with the appropriate coaching.
That said, the Browns don’t have a defunct offense, or anything. In fact, they could rank in the 15-20 range as far as yardage is concerned. The primary reason for this is their offensive line, which is one of the top blocking units in the NFL. The left side is absolutely elite, as Joe Thomas is arguably the best blind-side protector in the game, while Joel Bitonio is a terrific guard. Bitonio played in just four full games this past season, and to illustrate how important he is to the offense, the Browns reached 20-plus points in three of those four contests. In the other 12, Cleveland got to 20-plus points four times as well. Three out of four compared to three out of 12 is quite the disparity.
Cleveland had major issues at center this past season, as Cameron Erving was an abomination there despite being a former first-round pick. To solve this problem, J.C. Tretter was signed over from Green Bay. Tretter has been a solid center for the Packers, and even if he regresses a bit, he’ll still be a big upgrade over Erving. And speaking of upgrades, Kevin Zeitler was brought in from Cleveland to be the new right guard. Zeitler has been one of the top guards in the NFL, so his presence will further strengthen the blocking. The only issue is right tackle, and there is at least some promise there with 2016 third-rounder Shon Coleman getting a shot.
Thanks to the powerful offensive line, the Browns should be able to run the ball extremely well. They were able to do so last year when Bitonio was in the lineup. In the four full games Bitonio played, Isaiah Crowell rushed for a ridiculous 6.5 yards per carry, eclipsing 120 yards on the ground twice in those four contests. In the remaining 12, he saw his average plummet to 4.07. Crowell should be more potent with Zeitler and Tretter in the mix. Duke Johnson, meanwhile, will continue to serve as a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield.
As for the passing game, the receivers are almost as lackluster as the quarterbacks. Corey Coleman, chosen 15th overall last April, had a forgettable rookie campaign, catching 33 balls for 413 yards. He has potential though, and he did manage to explode for 104 yards and two touchdowns versus Baltimore in Week 2 before getting hurt and missing action until November. Josh Gordon would be a nice complement to Coleman, but his application for reinstatement was denied. Instead, the newly signed Kenny Britt will be the No. 2 wideout. Britt has seldom tried in his career, and his decision to take the money was not encouraging in the slightest. Meanwhile, the Browns will be relying on tight end David Njoku heavily. The athletic rookie, chosen 29th overall, will be replacing Gary Barnidge, who was inexplicably cut following the 2017 NFL Draft.
2017 Cleveland Browns Defense:
Passing on Mitchell Trubisky in favor of Myles Garrett was a no-brainer. It was like the Texans selecting Jadeveon Clowney over Blake Bortles in the 2014 NFL Draft. Cleveland came away with an extremely talented defensive player who will help them own a dominant front seven for years to come. Garrett is an explosive athlete with a high level of production, and he was the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft. Though the Browns held everyone in suspense, fooling ESPN in the process, they ultimately made the correct decision.
The problem, however, is the Browns don’t have much else going for them on the defensive line. Cleveland happens to own some young edge rushers, including Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib, chosen in the second and third rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, respectively, but neither accomplished much as a rookie. Perhaps either Ogbah or Nassib can step up with Garrett on the other side, as he will certainly command attention from opposing offenses.
The Browns also have only one stellar player on the interior. That would be Danny Shelton, a terrific run-stuffer. It would help if Cleveland found a pass-rushing complement to start next to Shelton. Desmond Bryant recorded six sacks in 2015, but missed the entire 2016 campaign with a torn pectoral. Bryant could still be a decent player, but he’ll turn 32 at some point during the season, so he’s a candidate for regression. If so, perhaps rookies Larry Ogunjobi or Caleb Brantley will step up. Chosen in the third and sixth rounds, respectively, both have much promise. Brantley especially does, as he slipped to the sixth frame because he was in trouble for allegedly knocking a woman unconscious. The charges against him were dropped, so he’ll face no legal issues. Lethargy problems, on the other hand, are certainly prevalent, as he showed up to pre-draft workouts overweight. Brantley is talented, but needs to get his life together.
Cleveland had three total first-round selections, and the second one was used on Jabrill Peppers. The athletic Wolverine has no true position, but will begin his professional career at safety. He provides a potential much-needed upgrade at the position. He’ll play next to one of Ed Reynolds, Derrick Kindred or Ibraheim Campbell. Reynolds was the best of the bunch last year, but that’s not saying much.
A pick was also used to upgrade the cornerback situation, but fourth-rounder Howard Wilson was knocked out for the season with a fractured kneecap. The Browns signed Jason McCourty to compensate for this loss, and the move was a decent one, as McCourty is a serviceable corner. He’ll provide insurance, as Joe Haden is talented, but extremely injury-prone. If Haden is healthy, he’ll start across from Jamar Taylor, who performed well for the Browns after flopping as a second-round pick of the Dolphins in 2013.
Rounding out the defense, the linebacking corps is in pretty good shape. The Browns have two very good players at the position in Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins. The latter wasn’t great in 2016 because he was acquired mid-season from the Patriots and never had a good chance to settle in. Now that he’ll have a full offseason to get acclimated, Collins could be back to his dominant self.
2017 Cleveland Browns Schedule and Intangibles:
The Dawg Pound is just not an intimidating place to play. Since their expansion year in 1999, the Browns are a dreadful 51-93 as hosts (24-48 the past nine seasons).
Long-time kicker Phil Dawson hasn’t been on the team since 2012, yet the Browns are still trying to replace him. They just spent a seventh-round pick on Zane Gonzalez, who was 7-of-9 from 50-plus as a senior.
Punter Britton Colquitt was as mediocre as they come, finishing 14th in net yardage.
The Browns were outgained on punt and kickoff returns in 2016. That could change with Jabrill Peppers on the roster.
Here are some of the winnable games Cleveland has on its schedule: Bengals (home), Jets (home), Jaguars (home), Ravens (home) and Bears (road).
2017 Cleveland Browns Rookies:
Go here for the Browns Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2017 Cleveland Browns Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2017 Cleveland Browns Analysis: The Browns aren’t the worst team in the NFL anymore. They own one of the top offensive lines, a strong rushing attack, and some very talented play-makers on defense. They’ll be much more competitive in 2017 than they were last year, so it’s possible that they could squeeze out four, five, or even six victories.
Projection: 4-12 (4th in AFC North)
2016 Projection: 2-14. 2016 Actual Result: 1-15.
NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade
Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: All the talk is that the Browns want a quarterback. Charlie Campbell even broke a story in the NFL Draft Rumor Mill that Cleveland intended to move up from No. 12 for Mitchell Trubisky. The Browns have so many holes on their roster that doing something like that would be foolish. They need to fill the many holes on their roster and perhaps focus on finding a quarterback next offseason. They’re not in any position to determine which signal-caller is the best right now.
2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The scuttlebutt entering the day of the draft was that the Browns were going to select Trubisky. The two ESPN draft analysts even mocked Trubisky to Cleveland in the wake of an Adam Schefter tweet. This would’ve been a truly idiotic move on Cleveland’s part, as reaching for Trubisky and passing on Myles Garrett would’ve been extremely foolish.
The Browns did the right thing with the top pick, and they also continued to make smart decisions throughout the weekend, for the most part. They were blocked from moving up for Trubisky, but that was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed them to trade down and accumulate more selections. They were able to land some high-upside players like Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku as a result.
Cleveland still needed a quarterback, and it obtained one when DeShone Kizer fell into its lap at No. 52 overall. DeShone Kizer is not a great prospect, but he provided solid value in the middle of the second round. I doubt he’s the solution, but the Browns will be able to find out soon enough.
The Browns did a very good job overall with their draft. It wasn’t great, but I think a B+ suffices. The Browns getting a B+ grade for anything is like winning a Super Bowl, so congratulations, Cleveland! I look forward to the parade.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
1. Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M: A Grade
I’m going to assume that Myles Garrett will be Cleveland’s pick. If the Browns are foolish enough to pass on him for a mediocre quarterback prospect who has made 13 college starts, I will change this grade to something far, far worse.
I’d normally mark something like this down as a B+. “A” grades are generally reserved for great value picks. This selection doesn’t provide value, but it’s the right one. The Browns need defensive talent on their roster, and Garrett would provide them with a dynamic pass-rusher, which is something they currently lack. Garrett is the best player in this draft, making this selection a no-brainer.
Or, at least it should’ve been. The Browns apparently had some sort of conflict, where the front office wanted to draft Mitchell Trubisky. This would’ve been a huge mistake, so given that the Browns haven’t been the smartest franchise in professional sports, they deserve bonus points for finally getting something right. Hence, the “A” grade.
25. Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: B+ Grade
I’m going to factor in the trade a little bit here, which takes this grade from a “B” to a B+. I’ll grade the actual draft trades later tonight. As for this actual selection, Jabrill Peppers definitely provides the Browns with the athleticism their new front office has been looking for with their analytics. However, Peppers doesn’t have a true position, and some teams thought he belonged in the second round. This is a bit earlier than I expected Peppers to go, but I don’t have a huge problem with taking him No. 25 overall, especially when taking the trade into account.
29. David Njoku, TE, Miami: B+ Grade
I usually don’t like teams trading up, but the Browns have a billion picks and almost need to in order to grab some talented players. David Njoku is a bit of a project, but he’s an extremely talented tight end who has Pro Bowl potential. The Browns still have Gary Barnidge, but he’s not going to be around for much longer, so Njoku could take over as the primary intermediate target in a year or two. By then, the Browns could compete for a playoff spot, provided that they find a quarterback somehow, some way.
52. DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame: B Grade
Meh. This pick is fine. DeShone Kizer is an extremely raw quarterback. He has upside, but he’s not the perfect mixture of Tom Brady and Cam Newton, like he proclaimed himself to be. I would’ve hated Kizer as a first-round pick, but he makes sense in the second frame. I’m not optimistic about his chances of being a successful NFL quarterback, but he’s worth a shot here in the middle of Round 2. The Browns had to take a shot with some sort of quarterback.
65. Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Charlotte: B Grade
The Browns will have to beat the Steelers at some point, and to do so, they’ll need to contain Le’Veon Bell. Larry Ogunjobi could help them do that. He’s a run-stuffing specialist who makes sense atop the third round. This is a solid choice.
126. Howard Wilson, CB, Houston: B+ Grade
Howard Wilson has nice size and tested well at the combine. He has great instincts despite not having much experience in college. Wilson fits the range, and he potentially fills a need as well.
160. Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State: C+ Grade
Roderick Johnson was seen as a potential first-round pick by many last summer. I had him in the opening round in my mock until team sources told us that he was extremely overrated and belonged in the late rounds. Johnson struggled in pass protection all year, so here we are. Johnson can run block well, but doesn’t have much upside as a sub-par athlete.
185. Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida: TEACH THE ORANGUTAN TO INSERT KIELBASAS MILLEN Grade
I said I wouldn’t give Millen grades to fifth-rounders, but I didn’t say anything like that about sixth-round choices! This pick is just horrible because Caleb Brantley was charged with knocking a woman unconscious recently, and there’s still an investigation going on. The Browns even said they could cut him if they discover negative details! Brantley is a talented player, but he’s lazy and showed up to pre-draft workouts overweight and out of shape. He’s not worth a draft selection.
224. Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona State: B+ Grade
For those who know little about Zane Gonzalez, the Arizona State kicker drilled seven of his nine attempts from beyond 50 in 2016. The Browns would’ve won two games had they owned a better kicker, so Gonzalez will surely be an upgrade.
252. Matt Dayes, RB, N.C. State: A- Grade
I had Matt Dayes going to the Browns in the sixth round, so there’s some value here with the penultimate pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Dayes is a change-of-pace, third-down back with good pass-protection skills. The Browns coached him in the Senior Bowl, so it’s nice that they’re familiar with him.
The Browns, once again, were one of the laughing stocks in the NFL. They have some talented players on the roster, so they at least have some sort of a foundation, but they need to find a franchise quarterback and numerous upgrades to the defense.
- Quarterback: The Browns desperately need a franchise quarterback, as it’s clear that Cody Kessler is nothing more than a long-term backup. There’s talk that Cleveland will take Mitch Trubisky with the No. 1 overall pick. Traded for Brock Osweiler
- Center: Cleveland had one of the worst centers in the NFL starting for them in 2016. Cameron Erving has been a colossal flop, and the Browns need to do everything in their power to make sure he’s not in the opening lineup come September. Fortunately for the Browns, they have two second-round picks to find a new center. Signed J.C. Tretter
- Two Safeties: The Browns need a lot of work done on their defense, beginning with the secondary, which is an absolute mess. They have some of the weakest safeties in the NFL playing for them, and the best of the bunch – more like the least-worst player – is Jordan Poyer, who happens to be an impending free agent.
- Cornerback: An e-mailer had a great quote about Joe Haden, calling him the “oldest 27-year-old on the planet.” Haden can’t stay healthy, so the Browns need to find at least one new cornerback this offseason. Signed Jason McCourty
- Right Tackle: Here’s more offensive line help for the Browns, who really missed the Kansas City-bound Mitchell Schwartz.
- Wide Receiver: Terrelle Pryor and Josh Gordon both have expiring contracts this March. Retaining one of them will be key, and if it’s the latter, the Browns better hope that he stays out of trouble. Signed Kenny Britt
- Edge Rusher: The Browns will be hoping that one of their young pass-rushers – Emmanuel Ogbah, Joe Schobert, Nate Orchard – pans out, but until then, they need a better edge player. No one would blame Cleveland if it chose Myles Garrett No. 1 overall.
- Inside Linebacker: Cleveland traded a third-round pick for Jamie Collins, so I can’t imagine the front office letting him walk. Re-signed Jamie Collins
- Punter: Britton Colquitt will be hitting free agency. Re-signed Britton Colquitt
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Kevin Zeitler, G, Bengals. Age: 27.
Signed with Browns (5 years, $60 million)
Kevin Zeitler is one of the jewels of the 2017 NFL free agency class. He’s been one of the top guards in the league over the past several seasons, possessing no weaknesses in his game. There’s no reason for Zeitler to decline either, as he’ll turn just 27 in March.
J.C. Tretter, C/G, Packers. Age: 26.
Signed with Browns (3 years, $16.75 million)
J.C. Tretter began the year as Green Bay’s starting center, but lost his job when suffering a sprained MCL. It’s a shame for Tretter because he had been performing on a high level, especially in pass protection. The other center, Corey Linsley, has just been better.
Jason McCourty, CB, Titans. Age: 30.
Signed with Browns
Jason McCourty was once an excellent cornerback for the Titans, as they got the most out of their sixth-round pick from the 2009 NFL Draft. However, McCourty struggled through a groin injury in 2015 and never fully recovered last season. He didn’t perform poorly this past year, but he wasn’t back to pre-2015 form either. It’s possible, however, that McCourty could rebound. He may have a couple of decent seasons remaining in the tank, as he’s 29 until the middle of August.
Kenny Britt, WR, Rams. Age: 28.
Signed with Browns (4 years, $32.5 million)
Kenny Britt eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career this past season despite playing with some terrible quarterbacks. Britt possesses very good physical talent, but has always battled horrible cases of lethargy. Perhaps he’s grown up, but it’s difficult to rely on him.
Cleveland Browns Free Agents:
Salary Cap Space: $110.9M.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Browns. Age: 28.
Signed with Redskins (1 year, $8 million)
Terrelle Pryor didn’t quite reach Charles Woodson’s projected 1,800-yardage mark, but he established himself as a dynamic weapon and a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Pryor is still learning the position and had to deal with pedestrian quarterbacks all year, so he could be even better in the next couple of seasons.
Jamie Collins, OLB, Browns. Age: 27.
Re-signed with Browns (4 years, $50 million)
Jamie Collins is an extremely talented linebacker with no physical liabilities. He excels the most in coverage, but can also blitz effectively and stop the run. The Patriots traded him because he clashed with the coaching staff, which is a concern, but Collins’ overall talent makes up for that.
Josh Gordon, WR, Browns. Age: 27.
Josh Gordon is very difficult to grade. Gordon is undoubtedly one of the most talented receivers in the NFL, as he registered 1,646 receiving yards in his second season. Gordon, however, hasn’t been able to stay out of trouble, and he’s played just five games since the beginning of the 2014 campaign. Gordon can still be a No. 1 wideout in the NFL, but will he stay out of rehab long enough to suit up again?
Isaiah Crowell (RFA), RB, Browns. Age: 24.
Tendered by Browns (2nd round)
Isaiah Crowell had some huge performances at the beginning of the season, but struggled following Joel Bitonio’s injury. Crowell has tremendous talent and turns just 24 in January, but comes with off-the-field issues.
Gary Barnidge, TE, Browns. Age: 31.
The Browns drafted David Njoku, but that didn’t mean that they had to cut Gary Barnidge. Njoku isn’t ready to play, while Barnidge is still a very effective player. He caught 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015. His production dropped to 55-612-2 last year, but that was because of poor quarterback play. Barnidge could be a solid addition for a team needing talent at tight end to make a playoff push. Teams that fit are the Steelers, Texans, Dolphins, Lions and Broncos.
Britton Colquitt, P, Browns. Age: 32.
Re-signed with Browns (4 years)
Britton Colquitt was 21st in net punting in 2015, but improved in that department this past season, finishing on the edge of the top 10.
Austin Pasztor, OT, Browns. Age: 26.
Austin Pasztor replaced the Kansas City-bound Mitchell Schwartz and did an OK job. Pasztor is a serviceable starter who pass protects well. He was a clear downgrade from Schwartz, however.
Robert Griffin, QB, Browns. Age: 27.
Ian Rapoport reported that Robert Griffin will be released, so I’m adding him to the rankings. Griffin obviously has great natural ability, as he was a former No. 2 overall draft pick, but he’s an injury-prone quarterback who doesn’t put any work into studying film.
- Jordan Poyer, S, Browns. Age: 26. — Signed with Bills
- Tramon Williams, CB/S, Browns. Age: 34.
- Marcus Burley (RFA), CB, Browns. Age: 27.
- Stephen Paea, DT, Browns. Age: 29. — Signed with Cowboys
- Cody Parkey (RFA), K, Browns. Age: 25.
- Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns. Age: 24.
- Andrew Hawkins, WR, Browns. Age: 31. — Signed with Patriots
- Josh McCown, QB, Browns. Age: 38. — Signed with Jets (1 year, $6 million)
- Corey Lemonier, DE/OLB, Browns. Age: 25.
- Glenn Winston (RFA), RB, Browns. Age: 28.
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