2018 NFL Offseason: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns (Last Year: 0-16)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Tyrod Taylor, QB Drew Stanton, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Jeff Janis, TE Darren Fells, OT Chris Hubbard, DE Chris Smith, LB Mychal Kendricks, CB E.J. Gaines, CB T.J. Carrie, CB Terrance Mitchell, S Damarious Randall.
Draft Picks:
QB Baker Mayfield, CB Denzel Ward, OT/C/G Austin Corbett, RB Nick Chubb, DE Chad Thomas, WR Antonio Callaway, LB Genard Avery. Browns Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB DeShone Kizer, QB Cody Kessler, RB Isaiah Crowell, TE Randall Telfer, OT Joe Thomas, DT Danny Shelton, LB Tank Carder, CB Jason McCourty, CB Jamar Taylor.

2018 Cleveland Browns Offense:
The Cleveland Browns haven’t gone 1-31 the past couple of years because they’re the Cleveland Browns. They’ve gone 1-31 the past couple of years because they haven’t had a healthy, professional quarterback. Those at the helm have been injured veterans (Josh McCown); disinterested players (Robert Griffin); late-round-caliber nonsense (Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan) or extremely raw athletes who simply weren’t ready (DeShone Kizer.)

That’s no longer the case. The Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor and then spent the first-overall choice on Baker Mayfield. Head coach Hue Jackson has stated that Taylor will be the starter to begin the year because he learned his lesson from last year after throwing Kizer into the fire too early. That’s smart, and it’s not like the Browns won’t be competitive with Taylor. The former Bill isn’t great by any means, but he just led a team to the playoffs, so Cleveland will at least win some games with him.

It could be argued that the Browns have more offensive play-makers than the Bills did. Sure, LeSean McCoy was in Buffalo’s backfield, but Cleveland’s receivers are unquestionably superior. That happens to be the case in the wake of the Browns obtaining Jarvis Landry in a trade with the Dolphins. Landry is often criticized because he once ran a 4.7 at the combine, but that sort of Al Davis-level insight is irrelevant. Landry is extremely quick and especially potent out of the slot. He hauled in 112 receptions last year, scoring nine touchdowns. He’ll form a nice tandem with Josh Gordon, an extremely talented receiver who has had trouble staying on the active roster because of off-the-field troubles. However, Gordon, now 27, claims to have turned his life around, so perhaps he’ll be able to play all 16 games for the first time since his rookie campaign in 2012.

The Browns have some young, intriguing weapons in addition to Landry and Gordon. Corey Coleman has endured injury woes thus far in his career, but the 2016 first-rounder has some major potential. The same can be said of tight end David Njoku, the 29th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Njoku flashed last year with some big games – four receptions, 74 yards, one touchdown versus the Chargers – and he’s expected to improve now that he has a real quarterback throwing to him.

Once again, there’s no McCoy in the backfield, but Carlos Hyde is a solid alternative. Hyde has played well when healthy – he averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2016 – but hasn’t been able to avoid injuries. He’ll be effective to start the year, and when he goes down, the Browns will be able to replace him with second-round rookie Nick Chubb. Duke Johnson, meanwhile, will reprise his role as the team’s receiving back.

Meanwhile, the offensive line was the strength of this offense last year – at least until Joe Thomas went down. Thomas had never missed a snap in his career until that moment, but he was lost in the seventh game of the season. He then announced his retirement this spring. The Browns didn’t have a viable replacement for him heading into the draft, and they still don’t possess one. The only blocker they selected early in the draft was Austin Corbett, who is limited athletically, so it remains to be seen if he’ll be better than the other option, Shon Coleman, who struggled at right tackle last year.

The good news for the Browns is that the rest of their blocking unit is quite sound. They found an upgrade at right tackle in Chris Hubbard, who played well in relief of Pittsburgh’s Marcus Gilbert last year. The two guards, Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler, are both studs, while there’s some room for improvement with center J.C. Tretter. Perhaps Corbett will be able to overtake him if the Browns eventually find a legitimate blind-side protector.

2018 Cleveland Browns Defense:
New general manager John Dorsey made a flurry of moves this offseason, even before free agency began. He wheeled and dealed, acquiring numerous talents on defense. Most of those were used to bolster the defensive backfield, which was miserable last year.

The most talented defensive back Dorsey acquired was cornerback Denzel Ward, chosen fourth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Ward could start across from E.J. Gaines, whom Dorsey acquired cheaply in free agency. Gaines was terrific in Buffalo last season, but his primary concern is his injury history; he’s missed 10 games in the past two years. However, if healthy, Gaines is an extremely potent starter. T.J. Carrie, signed to a 4-year, $31 million contract this spring, will compete with Gaines for the starting job across from Ward, while Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who did a good job in the slot last year, will reprise his role as the team’s nickel.

Dorsey also traded for Damarious Randall, who played cornerback for the Packers previously. Randall will make the move to safety, which seems like his natural position. He’ll presumably start next to 2017 first-rounder Jabrill Peppers, who must improve his play this season. He was atrocious as a rookie, which didn’t surprise the NFL talent evaluators who thought he was overrated heading into the 2017 NFL Draft because he didn’t have a natural position.

The improved secondary will greatly benefit from the Browns’ pass rush. Myles Garrett, chosen first overall a year ago, should make a giant leap in his sophomore campaign. He notched seven sacks as a rookie, but did so in just 11 games. Emmanuel Ogbah, slated to start across from Garrett, is just a mediocre player who should rack up a half-a-dozen sacks or so because of all the attention Garrett will receive. Carl Nassib will help in run support once again.

Speaking of stuffing the run, that’s exactly what Larry Ogunjobi did very effectively as a third-round rookie last year. He did such a good job that the Browns were willing to trade away Danny Shelton, who handled a similar role. Now, Cleveland must find an interior pass-rusher, as it currently lacks a potent one on the roster. Trevon Coley, expected to start next to Ogunjboi, had just two sacks in 2017.

Rounding out the defense is a linebacking corps that must improve this year. Christian Kirksey signed a 4-year, $38 million extension last offseason, but didn’t live up to it. He struggled mightily in 2017, and for no apparent reason aside from perhaps lethargy. He must rebound, while Jamie Collins needs to finally live up to the player the Browns thought they were getting when they acquired him from the Patriots during the 2016 season. Joe Schobert, meanwhile, was the top player in the linebacking corps last year, doing a great job defending the run while not being a liability in coverage. Mychal Kendricks was signed in early June, and he’ll be a big upgrade.

2018 Cleveland Browns Schedule and Intangibles:
The Dawg Pound is not an intimidating place to play. Since their expansion year in 1999, the Browns are a dreadful 51-101 as hosts (24-56 the past 10 seasons).

Long-time kicker Phil Dawson hasn’t been on the team since 2012, yet the Browns are still trying to replace him. Zane Gonzalez went 15-of-20 as a seventh-round rookie last year.

Punter Britton Colquitt was as mediocre as they come, finishing 17th in net yardage.

The Browns were outgained on punt and kickoff returns in both 2016 and 2017. Better coaching is needed.

Here are some of the winnable games Cleveland has on its schedule outside of the division: Jets (home), Chargers (home), Buccaneers (road), Falcons (home), Panthers (home).

2018 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.

2018 Cleveland Browns Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Cleveland Browns Analysis: The Browns are not going winless again in 2018. In fact, it’s not out of the question that they’ll make a push for 8-8. They’ll definitely be more competitive with an actual, professional quarterback, and they have far better play-makers on their roster. The AFC North is also the weakest it has ever been, so there will be some opportunities for the Browns to get some wins versus their weakened divisional foes.

Projection: 5-11 (4th in AFC North)

2017 Projection: 4-12. 2017 Actual Result: 0-16.
2016 Projection: 2-14. 2016 Actual Result: 1-15.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Browns are the first team since the 1992 Colts to have two picks in the top four heading into the draft season (the Redskins picked second and third in 2000, but they moved up from No. 12 a couple of months beforehand.) Cleveland has just one win in the past two years, and needs to do something special. The team must select Saquon Barkley first overall, as it has an extremely rare luxury of also obtaining a franchise quarterback with the fourth pick. Unfortunately, it appears as though the Browns are going with the homoclitic route instead, meaning they’re going to lose out on Barkley for no good reason.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The consensus among analysts and casual fans is that the Browns bungled the top picks, but there are varying opinions on why they did this. There are those questioning Baker Mayfield over Sam Darnold and Denzel Ward over Bradley Chubb. I thought they were the right players in the scenario that the Browns felt they needed to go quarterback with the top pick. Mayfield is a great leader and a hard worker, unlike Johnny Manziel, and he stands a good chance of being successful in Cleveland. As for Ward, the Browns should’ve traded down, but taking him over Chubb made sense because the Browns wouldn’t have been able to afford three $100 million contracts in a span of 12 months in 4-5 years.

The Browns, however, made a mistake of not selecting Barkley first overall, as they also would’ve obtained Mayfield at the No. 4 spot. The Browns’ inability to think heteroclitically could cost them in the future, but I don’t have a big issue with the players they obtained in the top four. Cleveland will certainly be much better in 2018.

Elsewhere, Cleveland acquired some intriguing weapons around Mayfield in Nick Chubb and Antonio Callaway. Unfortunately, Callaway comes with off-the-field problems, and I wonder if he’ll be a bad influence for Josh Gordon. I don’t think the Browns should’ve made that pick, and I also don’t think they should’ve reached for Chad Thomas in the third frame.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma C Grade
*** All reports indicate the Browns will select Baker Mayfield first overall, so I’m going to publish a grade for it. If Mayfield is not the pick, I’ll change this grade. ***

This “C” grade doesn’t have much to do with Mayfield, as it does the position Cleveland is selecting. The Browns are the first team since the 1992 Colts to have both the top pick and another choice in the top five. They have more top-five selections in this draft than wins over the past two years! They needed to do something special with this pick, and this is not it.

I really like Mayfield. He’s a great leader and a hard worker. He’s very accurate and mobile. He fits what the Browns want. However, the Browns legitimately liked three quarterbacks in this process. Considering the amount of time it took them to make this decision, there can’t have been much of a difference between Mayfield, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold. Thus, the correct move would have been selecting Saquon Barkley No. 1 overall. Barkley would have completely transformed Cleveland’s offense, much like Marshall Faulk did with the Rams in 1999. Passing on a special player like Barkley is a mistake.

There’s a very small chance Barkley will be available at No. 4 (the Giants will need to trade down or select a quarterback.) However, if the Browns take Barkley first, there’s a 100-percent chance one of their three preferred signal-callers would be available at the four spot. This would be a completely different situation if the Browns had, say, the first and ninth picks. They would absolutely have to take a quarterback in that scenario. But they’re in such a unique situation, and their inability to take advantage of it seems like an egregious error.

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4. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State D Grade
I have no problem with Bradley Chubb as a prospect. He should be terrific as a pro. The problem is financial. The Browns will have to give three $100 million contracts in five years. Thus, it made no sense for him to be the pick, so I’m not giving the Browns a “D” for Denzel Ward.

I like Ward as a prospect as well. My issue with this is that the Browns did not trade down. They had offers from the Bills, and they may have been able to take Ward at No. 4. Cleveland surrendered way too much value by not moving down.

33. Austin Corbett, C/G, Nevada B+ Grade
I like Austin Corbett, and I’m not sure he would’ve made it far in Round 2 had the Browns not taken him. He doesn’t fill an immediate need on the offensive line unless the Browns think he can play left tackle. Center J.C. Tretter didn’t perform very well last year, so Corbett is a solid option. Corbett, at the very least, will provide strong depth on the interior, as he can play all three positions. There’s a chance he could be the blind-side protector as well.

35. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia B Grade
There were better running backs available than Nick Chubb, including Derrius Guice and Ronald Jones, but Chubb is a fine selection at No. 35. The Browns had to add a running back to their backfield, as they won’t be able to rely on the injury-prone Carlos Hyde. I don’t have an issue with this pick, but the Browns could’ve done better.

67. Chad Thomas, DE, Miami D Grade
Chad Thomas has nice size, but is inconsistent, often looking clueless. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of a third-round pick. I thought Chad Thomas would go somewhere in Rounds 4-6, so this seems like a pretty egregious reach. It’s not a Millen, but it’s close.

105. Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida C+ Grade
The third day of the NFL Draft is a time to take risks, and that’s certainly what the Browns are doing here. Antonio Callaway is supremely talented, and he may have been a first-round pick if he were completely clean. However, he has major off-the-field issues. If he stays clean, he’ll be great. However, I don’t know if pairing him with Josh Gordon is the best idea.

150. Genard Avery, LB, Memphis B Grade
Mike Mayock mentioned that Genard Avery has a knee problem of some sort. This was news to me, but the Browns apparently aren’t too concerned. Avery was seen as a fourth-round prospect who would have to be limited to two downs because of his struggles in pass protection. He should be a force versus the run, however.

175. Damion Ratley, WR, Texas A&M B Grade
There were better receivers still available, but I think this is a decent pick. Damion Ratley is a quality route-runner who should be able to contribute sooner rather than later. This pick makes sense for the Browns.

188. Simeon Thomas, CB, Louisiana D Grade
The Browns have completely stumped me. I didn’t have Simeon Thomas in my top-600 rankings. We talk to several teams, and no one has ever mentioned him. This has to be a reach, or maybe the Browns have some super-secret intel no one else has.

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Season Summary:
The Browns haven’t made the playoffs in 15 years, and they lost all 16 games in 2017. They’ve lacked stability, and they are once again beginning anew with general manager John Dorsey, who was a former Chiefs executive. Dorsey at least has a football background, which couldn’t have been said about the previous analytics-based regime.

Offseason Moves:
  • Browns sign WR Jeff Janis
  • Browns sign QB Drew Stanton
  • Browns sign CB E.J. Gaines
  • Browns sign CB T.J. Carrie
  • Browns announce retirement of OT Joe Thomas
  • Browns sign CB Terrance Mitchell
  • Browns sign TE Darren Fells
  • Browns sign RB Carlos Hyde
  • Browns sign OT Chris Hubbard
  • Browns sign DE Chris Smith
  • Patriots acquire DT Danny Shelton from Browns
  • Browns acquire QB Tyrod Taylor from Bills
  • Browns acquire WR Jarvis Landry from Dolphins

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Is DeShone Kizer the answer? That’s the question the Browns must figure out in the next few months. Kizer certainly has talent, but he’s very raw and needs to be coached up. No one could fault the Browns if they select a quarterback first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Perhaps they’ll sign a veteran and develop Kizer. Traded for Tyrod Taylor; signed Drew Stanton

    2. Running Back: Isaiah Crowell was a big disappointment this past season, struggling to run behind a talented offensive line. There’s plenty of running back talent in the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft, and Cleveland has three second-rounders. Signed Carlos Hyde

    3. Two Wide Receivers: Cleveland needs to make sure its quarterback doesn’t have to throw to Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis as his top options. Traded for Jarvis Landry

    4. Cornerback: The Browns were woeful against the pass last season for numerous reasons. One happened to be the play of their cornerbacks across from Jason McCourty. A second-round selection could be used on the position. Signed E.J. Gaines, T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell

    5. Offensive Tackle: The Browns have shored up their right tackle needs, but now they need a blind-side protector because Joe Thomas has retired. Signed Chris Hubbard

    6. Linebacker: Joe Schobert was Cleveland’s only viable linebacker in 2017. Christian Kirksey played hurt, so he’ll likely rebound, but Jamie Collins was a colossal disappointment.

    7. Defensive Tackle: Danny Shelton is an excellent run-stuffing presence in the interior, but the Browns need to find someone to produce consistent inside pressure.

    8. Safety: It’s never too early to say any first-round pick is a bust. Jabrill Peppers had plenty of skeptics heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, and he lived down to their expectations, struggling mightily and looking completely lost in coverage. He also missed a healthy amount of tackles. He was utterly awful, so perhaps he just needs to be a return specialist. Traded for Damarious Randall

    9. Defensive End: Myles Garrett has been a stud thus far, and Emmanuel Ogbah is OK, but the Browns could stand to add another potent edge rusher to the mix. Signed Chris Smith

    10. Kicker: The Browns have endured kicking woes since allowing Phil Dawson to leave. Lil’ Zane Gonzalez was atrocious, routinely missing easy kicks.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. E.J. Gaines, CB, Bills. Age: 26.
      Signed with Browns

      E.J. Gaines was terrific for the Bills as a Pro Bowl-caliber cover corner this past season. He’d be rated much higher than this if it weren’t for his poor durability; he’s missed 26 games in the past three seasons, including five in 2017.

    2. Mychal Kendricks, OLB, Eagles. Age: 27.
      Signed with Browns

      Talent is certainly not the reason why Mychal Kendricks was released, as he had a terrific 2017 campaign. Kendricks was owed close to $6 million in 2018, so the Eagles needed to trade him to create cap space. They couldn’t find a partner, so Kendricks was cut. Kendricks can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4, though he’s better in the former, and as a skilled linebacker in all facets, he should find a home quickly.

    3. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Browns (3 years)

      Carlos Hyde has averaged better than four yards per carry throughout his career despite never running behind a strong offensive line. He has also been paired with mostly terrible quarterbacks throughout his time in San Francisco. Hyde has the potential to explode in the right situation.

    4. T.J. Carrie, CB, Raiders. Age: 28.
      Signed with Browns

      T.J. Carrie has made great strides from when he was a seventh-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was Oakland’s best cornerback this past season when Gareon Conley wasn’t in the lineup. That’s not saying much, but Carrie played well. He’s improved his game each year, and he should continue to get better.

    5. Chris Hubbard, OT, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Browns (5 years, $37.5 million)

      Chris Hubbard filled in well for an injured/suspended Marcus Gilbert this past season. He deserves a shot at earning a starting role on another team.

    6. Terrance Mitchell, CB, Chiefs. Age: 26.
      Signed with Browns (3 years)

      Terrance Mitchell performed well down the stretch for Kansas City in 2016, but his high level of play didn’t carry over last season. Mitchell struggled, but is just 26 (in May), so he’s still young enough to make strides.

    7. Chris Smith, DE, Bengals. Age: 26. — Signed with Browns (3 years)
    8. Greg Robinson, OT, Lions. Age: 25. — Signed with Browns
    9. Drew Stanton, QB, Cardinals. Age: 34. — Signed with Browns
    10. Darren Fells, TE, Lions. Age: 32. — Signed with Browns
    11. Jeff Janis, WR, Packers. Age: 27. — Signed with Browns

    Cleveland Browns Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns. Age: 25.
      Signed with Jets (3 years)

      Isaiah Crowell has a lot of natural talent, and he flashed it early in 2016 before the Browns had offensive line issues. However, he was a big disappointment this past season, failing to do anything behind an excellent front (when Joe Thomas was healthy.)

    2. Jamie Meder (RFA), DT, Browns. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Browns
    3. Tank Carder, ILB, Browns. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Browns
    4. James Wright, WR, Browns. Age: 26.
    5. Marcus Martin, C, Browns. Age: 24.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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