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Cleveland Browns Writers
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With Baker Mayfield at quarterback and a pair of top running backs, the Cleveland Browns ran one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league. When the Browns acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson, however, head coach Kevin Stefanski said, "When you're talking about the quarterback position, you better do what that player does best, and that's what we want to do, ultimately." In this case, doing what Watson does best would mean adding more run-pass options and plays designed to get the quarterback out of the pocket to find receivers further down the field.
Baker Mayfield played much of the 2021 season injured and had one of the worst performances of his career. As a result, the Cleveland Browns traded for Deshaun Watson in the offseason. Watson was suspended for 11 games related to sexual harassment allegations. He is eligible to return in week 13 against the Texans. When Watson gets on the field, it will be after spending the 2021 season holding in with the Texans. Watson has elite production in his past and elite potential. One has to worry if it will take time for him to knock off the rust.
The Browns added Jacoby Brissett to the roster, who is expected to serve as the backup behind Deshaun Watson and could be a fantasy viable quarterback in Superflex/2QB leagues during Watson's suspension in 2022. The team also has Josh Dobbs and Josh Rosen as backup candidates for the time Watson misses.
Currently, the Chiefs maintain a status quo among their top three running backs, with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D'Ernest Johnson all under contract. Hunt is under contract for 6.25 million dollars, the 11th most due to a running back in 2022, and the Browns could save the entire number by cutting him. The Browns have the fourth-highest amount of their cap allocated to the running back position. Chubb missed three games in 2021 but has been as consistent year over year as you will find, averaging 93.4, 88.9, and 89.9 yards per game since he became a full-time starter in 2019. Chubb has seen 20.9, 17.1, and 17.4 touches per game since 2019. Hunt missed nine games in 2021 and finished with only 9.8 carries per game, his second-lowest behind only 2019, when he missed half the season with a suspension. Over the past two seasons, Hunt has had the two worst receiving yardage per game of his career, with 19.0 in 2020 and 21.8 in 2021.
Johnson saw the fifth-best yards before contact per attempt (3.0) at the running back position, with Nick Chubb ranking 13th (2.5), both coming in ahead of Kareem Hunt (2.1). The Browns added Jerome Ford in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, which adds depth to the backfield and raises the question of whether Hunt is a preseason cut candidate.
Cleveland's wide receiver position, like the quarterback position, underwent a major overhaul in 2022. The Browns released Odell Beckham Jr in 2021 before releasing Jarvis Landry this past offseason. To fill the void, the Browns traded for Amari Cooper. Cooper is a six-time Pro Bowler but is coming off an uneven year. Cooper tied for the best touchdown total of his career (8) but the second-lowest targets of his career (104) behind only 2017. Outside Cooper, the Browns are unproven at the position, with 2020 sixth-round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones and 2021 third-round pick Anthony Schwartz the remaining veterans.
The Browns added David Bell in the third round of the NFL Draft, who could compete for an open opportunity in the receiving corps. When Watson is the quarterback, Bell could be in the slot, which is an offensive role Watson has targeted going back to his days with Hunter Renfrow. Schwartz will provide speed outside, while Grant will be a more important player in the return game if Bell is ready for prime time.
The tight end position is also in flux, with Austin Hooper released in the offseason. The Browns placed the franchise tag on David Njoku and then negotiated a long-term deal. Njoku had a big breakout in 2018, with 88 targets, 56 receptions and 639 receiving yards, and four touchdowns. In the past three seasons and 33 games, Njoku has been targeted 92 times, with 60 receptions, 729 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. Njoku is the beneficiary of Austin Hooper's release and has an opportunity to grow into the second pass catcher in the offense. Harrison Bryant is also on the roster but has only been targeted 66 times with 45 receptions and 471 yards in two seasons.
- LT Jedrick Wills
- LG Joel Bitonio
- C Ethan Pocic
- RG Wyatt Teller
- RT Jack Conklin
- Blake Hance, Chris Hubbard
The guards in Cleveland are outstanding as both left guard Joel Bitonio and right guard Wyatt Teller performed at an All-Pro level. The tackles set of Jedrick Wills and right tackle Jack Conklin grade as very good. The only question is at center, where Nick Harris was going to take over for J.C. Tretter (released). Harris went down with a season ending injury, and the job will go to Ethan Pocic (40 career starts, FA from Seattle).
- Cade York [R]
The Browns decided to follow in the footsteps of the in-state rival Bengals by taking a kicker on the third day to fix a kicker situation that hasn't been right in a while. York has been reliable and accurate at LSU, including a 78.9 success rate on 50+ yard kicks, including a 57-yard game-winner against Florida in 2020. He'll have to have a terrible camp for the Browns to consider bringing in anyone else to compete and could be relevant in fantasy leagues when Deshaun Watson is the team's quarterback. Keep him on your waiver wire watch list.
While most teams lack experienced return options, the Browns have a surplus. New free-agent signee Jakeem Grant is the obvious front-runner for the job, but both Anthony Schwartz and Demetric Felton have proven capable in the role in the past.
While most teams are lacking experienced return options, the Browns have a surplus. New free-agent signee Jakeem Grant is the obvious front-runner for the job, but both Demetric Felton and Donovan Peoples-Jones have fielded punts in live NFL action and would be up to the task.
The Browns finished 10th in sacks, but their team defense didn't stand out in fantasy leagues because they were in the bottom 10 in takeaways despite ranking #5 in pass yards and total yards allowed. They should be a lot more competitive this year, assuming Deshaun Watson doesn't have a long suspension to open the season, which should give Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney more chances to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. Their defense doesn't have any obvious holes, and youngsters like Greg Newsome II, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Grant Delpit are just scratching the surface of their potential. A run of Sam Darnold, the Steelers starting quarterback, Zach Wilson, and Marcus Mariota to open the season should put the Browns atop your last-round streaming defense list even if Watson won't be with the team for the games.
- DT Tommy Togiai, DT Perrion Winfrey, DT Sheldon Day, DE Curtis Weaver, DE Chase Winovich, DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Alex Wright
The Browns are looking at some new faces on the inside, but their bookends on the outside remain intact. Stalwart defensive end, Myles Garrett, is among the game's elite and is coming off the best statistical season of his career with personal bests in both tackles with 52 combined and sacks with 16. He is poised for another great year and ready to light up opposing quarterbacks again. Jadeveon Clowney tested the free-agent market, then took less money to stay in Cleveland. Clowned struggled with injury and inconsistent play in 2019 and 2020 but bounced back nicely with Cleveland last year, posting nine sacks. Clowney has never lived up to the hype of a first overall pick but is a quality, three-down NFL starter. The third-year pro Jordan Elliott and free-agent addition Taven Bryan are the early favorites to start on the inside. Leaving the Browns a bit undersized at the tackle positions. Bryan was a first-round pick by the Jaguars in 2018 but never blossomed into the dominant player Jacksonville expected. The change of venue could be just what he needs to jump-start what has thus far been a lackluster career. Bryan is penciled in as the 3-technique. Elliott worked as a rotational player over his first two years in the league. The organization hopes/believes their former third-round pick is ready to take on the starting role. He is projected to start as the 1-technique or nose tackle.
The Browns' starters at defensive end are set, but there will be plenty of competition for the remaining roster spots and playing time at the position. Chase Winovich comes over from New England and projects to have a role in the rotation. Winovich is a capable three-down player with experience as a starter. Stephen Weatherly is a strong run defender who will likely see some action on early downs. He is also capable of shifting inside on passing downs as well. The wildcard here is Curtis Weaver. He was drafted by Miami in 2020 but suffered a career-threatening injury early that summer. When the Dolphins tried to slide him through waivers, Cleveland intercepted them. Weaver was a standout pass rusher at Boise State, where he was number two all-time with 34 career sacks in 35 games and 47.5 tackles for loss in three seasons. On the inside, veteran Sheldon Day, last year's fourth-round selection Tommy Togaia, and rookie fourth-round pick Perrion Winfrey will all get their shot over the summer.
Simply put, the Browns are short on playmakers at the second level. Anthony Walker is a rock-solid starter in the middle. He has good range, plays smart, rarely misses a tackle, and is a leader on the field. Walker totaled 70 tackles and 44 assists in 13 games last year but his only mark in the big play column was a single sack. Over four years as a starter, he has yet to record more than two takeaways in a season and has four and a half career sacks. The organization is counting on last year's second-round pick to emerge and fill the big-play void. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had a relatively quiet rookie campaign, posting a sack and a half with a pair of forced fumbles in 14 games. With a year under his belt, the team expects him to look a lot more like the player that forced five fumbles, recovered four, had seven sacks, picked off a pass, and scored once in two years as a starter at Notre Dame. Sione Takitaki rounds out the starting lineup and is a good fit in the two-down role at the strong side position. The bottom line here is that if Owusu-Koramoah can flip the switch in year two, this group is good enough to help Cleveland win many games.
If Anthony Walker or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah were to go down, it could be trouble for the Browns. Jacob Phillips would likely be the next man up at both positions. He had his shot at a starting job in 2020 but failed to impress. Tony Fields II and Willie Harvey are a pair of late-round, developmental picks from last year and are probably not ready for prime time yet. It could get ugly if the team were to get hit by the injury bug. They might have to ring up 12-year veteran Malcolm Smith, who bailed them out in 2020 and filled in some last year.
- SS Grant Delpit, FS John Johnson III, SS Ronnie Harrison, CB Denzel Ward, CB Greg Newsome II, CB Greedy Williams
The Browns have a good problem in the secondary, where they have more starting quality players than there are positions. Once he was fully healthy, 2020 second-round pick, Grant Delpit, played well down the stretch last year. He seemed in line for the starting strong safety spot until the Browns muddied the water by re-signing Ronnie Harrison. That move could indicate the use of more three-safety looks with either Delpit or, more likely, Harrison moving to linebacker depth often. It also means John Johnson III should move back to a deep single high position, as he played early in 2021. In the trio of Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, and Greedy Williams, Cleveland is loaded at the corner position. All three of these guys have CB1 talent. The biggest concern will be Williams' injury history; he missed all of 2020 and several games last year.
The team used a third-round pick on Martin Emerson Jr, who would probably be the next man up at the corner position. The biggest problem for Cleveland, if they have to go deeper than the six defensive backs listed as starters, would be a lack of experience. None of the team's backups have any NFL starts, nor have they been in the league for more than two years.