Join the Footballguys Daily Update
Start your morning with our roundup of the most important stories in football - with the fantasy insight you need to make league-winning decisions. Delivered straight to your inbox, 100% free.
Access the August Updates for other teams here:
Arizona | Atlanta | Baltimore | Buffalo | Carolina | Chicago | Cincinnati | Cleveland | Dallas | Denver | Detroit | Green Bay | Houston | Indianapolis | Jacksonville | Kansas City | Las Vegas | LA Chargers | LA Rams | Miami | Minnesota | New England | New Orleans | NY Giants | NY Jets | Philadelphia | Pittsburgh | San Francisco | Seattle | Tampa Bay | Tennessee | Washington
Updates from Week 4
This week provided clarity on the depth chart. Established starter Deshaun Watson saw limited preseason action, while Joshua Dobbs held the primary backup role. However, impressive performances from rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson propelled him up the depth chart. This led to Dobbs being traded to Arizona. Additionally, Kellen Mond was re-signed as the third-string quarterback shortly after being released. Watson’s practice reports this summer paint a mixed picture. While most reports were positive, especially recently, there were bouts of interceptions and inconsistency. While Watson doesn’t yet look like he did in 2020, his 92-yard, 1-touchdown performance against the Chiefs was an encouraging data point.
The Browns boast a marquee running back in Nick Chubb, who will be their workhorse this season. He had nothing to prove this offseason, and keeping him healthy was far more important than putting him through practice reps and preseason snaps. A central preseason narrative revolved around expanding his role as a pass-catcher. Given Kareem Hunt's departure and a lack of standout backups, Chubb is set to take on an even larger workload. Heading into this weekend, the backup options were Jerome Ford, Demetric Felton, John Kelly, and Jordan Wilkins. Ford was expected to be the primary backup, but a hamstring injury casts doubt on his Week 1 availability. Felton capitalized on his opportunities but is somewhat one-dimensional, excelling as a receiver but not as a blocker. The team recently worked out Kylin Hill, and there is talk of reacquiring Hunt or D'Ernest Johnson. The team also just traded for Pierre Strong from the Patriots and released Jordan Wilkins.
Amari Cooper and Elijah Moore have emerged as Watson's primary targets, although both faced preseason injuries. Fortunately, both should be ready for the opener. Donovan Peoples-Jones is the No. 3 receiver and will start outside with Cooper, while Moore focuses mainly on the slot. Rookie Cedric Tillman will be the fourth receiver despite a quiet preseason. Everyone else’s fate hinges on how many receivers the front office is comfortable keeping on the 53-man roster. Jakeem Grant was set to handle kick returns but will miss the season with a broken leg. Veteran free agent Marquise Goodwin battled blood clots and did not play in the preseason. These injury situations have paved the way for David Bell and Austin Watkins. While Bell has the draft pedigree, Watkins outperformed him in the preseason by a wide margin.
David Njoku's touchdown catch from Watson during the preseason was no surprise, reflecting their strong training camp chemistry. Jordan Akins, Watson's former Houston teammate, remains a key contributor. Akins' presence puts pressure on last year's backup, Harrison Bryant, who missed most of the preseason due to medical reasons and may now be on the roster bubble.
Cade York made all three extra-point attempts and a 40-yard field goal, but his 43-yard attempt to beat the Chiefs in the preseason finale was deflected and probably veering off target anyway. It's hard for the team to have confidence in York after he went 4-for-9 on field goal attempts in the preseason, with all five misses coming from 41 to 49 yards. On Monday, the Browns waived York and traded with the Los Angeles Chargers for Dustin Hopkins.
The pass rush was the standout for the defense this preseason. Myles Garrett's reputation as a premier defensive end, combined with the addition of Za'Darius Smith, promises trouble for rival offensive lines. Under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, the strategy is to consistently position one of them for a direct line to the quarterback—a strategy evident in training camp and the preseason games. Linebackers Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker missed time this summer but are expected to be ready for Week 1. During their absence, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah played exceptionally well. Injury concerns also emerged in the secondary, yet all players are set to return for the opening kickoff. Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome anchor the cornerback positions, with Newsome shifting to nickel and Martin Emerson covering outside against three-wide receiver formations. Emerson had a strong preseason while Ward and Newsome were nursing injuries.
After working his way back from a ruptured Achilles in 2022, Jakeem Grant has ruptured his patellar tendon and will miss 2023. Jaelon Darden, Demetric Felton, Jerome Ford, and Donovan Peoples-Jones are all in the mix to handle returns in his absence.
Updates from Week 3
It was another preseason game without Deshaun Watson, who has not played since the Hall of Fame game. However, practice reports suggest this absence may be a blessing in disguise. During joint practices, the Eagles’ defense got the better of Watson and the Browns' offense this week. Watson has a different opinion. Notably, Eagles' safety Reed Blankenship made several interceptions against Watson, prompting one reporter to critique the passing game as "completely unimpressive." Backup Joshua Dobbs also sat out the game. Instead, the Browns turned to rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who, despite starting, couldn't replicate his previous strong performances. Thompson-Robinson completed 13-for-25 passes for 164 yards without any touchdowns or interceptions. In the second half, Kellen Mond posted similar stats but managed to add a touchdown to camp standout Austin Watkins. Although Watson's position is secure, there are concerns about the Browns' offensive performance.
We’re unlikely to see Nick Chubb during the preseason. He doesn't need to prove anything, but there were a couple of bobbled option plays between Chubb and Watson as they got their timing down in practice. Behind Chubb, there are more questions than answers. Jordan Wilkins, formerly of the Colts, was added this week while Jerome Ford deals with hip and hamstring injuries. Additionally, there are reportedly discussions with Kareem Hunt about a return. In the game against the Eagles, Wilkins rushed three times for 18 yards. Demetric Felton led the team in rushing for the second consecutive game, gaining 36 yards on seven carries. John Kelly had eight carries for 20 yards but lost a crucial fumble in the red zone. Felton and Kelly alternated series in the first half. Felton's focus this preseason has been solely on running back duties after switching between that and receiver roles for the past two years. Although he's improving as a runner, his game still has gaps. Running back coach Stump Mitchell highlighted Felton's need to develop in pass protection, "The biggest thing (for Felton) is going to be in protection, and we're not going to ask him to do that a whole heck of a lot. But when given the opportunity, when it presents itself, he's got to be able to do it." Felton's deficiencies as a blocker are yet another sign that Nick Chubb will be on the field in more passing situations in 2023.
Despite the presence of notable receivers like Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones, the preseason spotlight has unexpectedly shifted to Austin Watkins. After stints in the CFL and USFL, Watkins may finally have found his footing in the NFL after several attempts. The injury situation during the summer presented him with an opportunity to shine, as he led the team in receiving across all three preseason games. He had his best outing this week, catching seven balls against the Eagles for 139 yards and a touchdown. It's becoming difficult to overlook him for a spot on the final roster. At the top of the depth chart, Cooper faced challenges in practice against the Eagles vaunted defensive backs. Despite being heavily targeted, Cooper struggled to make an impact and dealt with dropped balls, though the entire passing game had difficulties. Cooper downplayed his off day, emphasizing the importance of supporting his quarterback and focusing on their communication. Elijah Moore is currently nursing a rib injury, so he and Cooper sat out the Eagles game. Coach Stefanski alluded to Moore's multifaceted role, drawing parallels to Percy Harvin. Stefanski said, "I'm sure it's been well reported that we want to use the kid in a bunch of different ways. Teams know that we'll hand it to him, that we'll throw it to him. As you know, there's no shortage of plays." Cedric Tillman is vying for the No. 4 role, catching two balls for 50 yards against the Eagles. Anthony Schwartz caught four balls for 33 yards but remains on the roster bubble.
Amid the attention given to Jordan Akins and Deshaun Watson's existing chemistry, David Njoku has begun forging a stronger connection. Coach Stefanski acknowledged Njoku's progress this preseason, describing it as "the next step." The coach highlighted Njoku's contributions in both running and passing plays and added, "I think Deshaun and David have a good rapport, and we'll always continue to build off of that." During Elijah Moore's absence, Njoku and Amari Cooper have stood out as the primary targets in practice. Njoku is consistently open, and one reporter even calls him the best deep threat on the team. Although Jordan Akins has likely secured the primary backup role, competition is set to intensify this week. Harrison Bryant, who missed a significant portion of training camp for personal health reasons, is reportedly on the verge of returning.
Questions about Cade York persist after he missed a game-winning kick twice against the Eagles. He had successfully made three field goals earlier in the game but faltered from 47 yards when the game was on the line. He was given another chance due to an illegal formation penalty, but his attempt from 42 yards also missed. During the game, someone shared a video of York making a kick on his Instagram account; however, the post was later deleted. Unfortunately, this won’t alleviate the concerns. Although the team has not yet introduced competition for him, that could change if he misses a kick in the upcoming preseason finale.
Despite offensive struggles, the defense showcased its strength against the potent Philadelphia offense in joint practices. As usual, the pass rush, led by Myles Garrett and Za'Darius Smith, garnered significant praise. They consistently disrupted Jalen Hurts, leading to at least five sacks during practice. New defensive tackle Shelby Harris cited the defensive line talent and the team's playoff potential as the reasons he signed with Cleveland. Although Garrett suffered an injury, it seems minor. In contrast, backup linebacker Jalen Phillips endured a severe setback with a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. The team may need additional depth at the position since Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker were already dealing with injuries. On a positive note, cornerback Greg Newsome is set to return after a groin injury temporarily sidelined him. Despite resting many key starters for the game, the defense managed six sacks and two takeaways, ultimately resulting in an 18-18 tie.
With right tackle Jack Conklin in concussion protocol, rookie Dawand Jones has been given a long look. Jones has rare size (6-foot-8, 375 pounds) and has been excellent in preseason action against the Eagles and Jets, teams with upper-tier defensive line depth. His emergence brings optimism, especially given his similarities to Orlando Brown's playing style. Jones could prove a great draft pick with Conklin's various injury concerns and Jedrick Wills Jr’s struggles in pass protection. Under the guidance of positional coach Bill Callahan, the Browns' offensive line boasts depth and talent. The 4th overall ranking attests to their strength.
Updates from Week 2
During this week of camp, the focus was on preparing for the preseason match against Washington. The team confirmed early on that Deshaun Watson would start, along with most of the 1st-team offense. In the lead-up to the game, Watson had his best practices of the summer, displaying precision and efficiency. Coach Kevin Stefanski spoke on why this year would be different for Watson, “One more year in our system, obviously a full offseason, a full training camp where we know he’s playing in Game 1. I think that’s part of it where everything we do in camp is getting him ready. And, ultimately, it’s his comfort level in our system that’s most important.” In a specific practice session, Watson's prowess was evident as he completed six touchdowns out of eight passes during a red zone drill, including five consecutive scoring throws, a positive indicator following a challenging 2022 season. In the actual game against Washington, Watson only played for one series, completing three passes and adding 20 rushing yards. Although there is increasing support for rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Joshua Dobbs remains the favorite to retain the No. 2 spot because of his effective leadership and solid performance in camp. Thompson-Robinson has had difficulties with situational awareness. In the game, Dobbs replaced Watson and completed eight passes for 77 yards, with one interception. Thompson-Robinson was impressive, completing nine of 10 passes, including a touchdown. The Browns will probably keep three quarterbacks, with Kellen Mond being the odd man out.
Nick Chubb showcased his skills this week after a quiet start. Despite some rain, one reporter said Chubb looked like he was running on dry ground with precise cuts. There was one play that caught the coaches and reporters' attention. In a clock-killing drill, Chubb intentionally stopped short of scoring near the goal line to let the clock wind down, in contrast to a 2022 game against the Jets that resulted in a loss for Cleveland. With Kareem Hunt gone, the buzz about Chubb having a larger role in the receiving game continues. Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said, “He’s (Chubb) got more work in training camp at that role because we don’t have Kareem. So now Nick is in there on third down, as well.” Chubb did not play in the preseason game. The backup rotation remains uncertain. Jerome Ford's hamstring injury jeopardizes his availability for the season opener. Ford’s absence makes the door wider for Demetric Felton or John Kelly. While Kelly had a strong showing against the Jets, his performance this week was less impactful, managing a meager six yards on six carries. In contrast, Felton led the team (31 yards on eight carries) for the second-straight preseason game. The Browns aren’t sitting idly waiting for Ford to return, as they worked out free agent Jordan Wilkins.
While Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones lead the group, the recent spotlight is on Austin Watkins. He led the team in receiving against the Jets and excelled in practice this week. Deshaun Watson acknowledged Watkins' contribution, saying, “It was cool to be able to watch his USFL tape and then have him come in and help this team. He played good in the Hall of Fame Game. He had to learn quick… and for him to be productive was great.” Watkins again led in receiving against Washington. He’s vying for the final receiver roster spot while Marquise Goodwin deals with blood clots. The depth chart appears settled. Cooper and Moore will start in 2-receiver formations, with Peoples-Jones joining them in 3-WR sets. There's talk of Peoples-Jones being a trade candidate due to the Browns’ depth and his expiring rookie deal. Cedric Tillman and David Bell are battling for the 4th position, while Watkins currently holds the sixth spot. With Cooper missing some practice, Moore has been a target hog. Cooper didn't play against Washington, and Moore had limited snaps. Bell was the most notable receiver behind Watkins, catching three balls for 33 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Schwartz is firmly on the roster bubble, especially after dropping the first pass thrown his way.
A strong connection is forming between Watson and David Njoku, and the tight end has been on the receiving end of multiple touchdown passes. However, the already-established chemistry between Watson and Jordan Akins from their time in Houston is also evident. After missing four consecutive days, Akins returned to practice this week and has been called a security blanket for Watson. While Akins will not take Njoku’s starting role away, he could cut into his playing time. Last year’s backup, Harrison Bryant, continues to miss time with an unknown issue. Coach Stefanski said of Bryant, “It’s a medical condition. I can’t really comment on it.”
Cade York missed a field goal wide right in a preseason game for the second consecutive week, this time from 46 yards. Head coach Kevin Stefanski said he's not worried about York, even though many observers probably are. Stefanski's comment, “I think Cade is, like every young player, going to continue to learn and grow from all these experiences,” reflects the appropriate stance. However, if York's struggles persist after making only 16 of his last 24 field goal attempts in his rookie year, the team might be inclined to keep him on a short leash at the start of the season.
While everyone focuses on the offense, the defense usually has the upper hand. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves some of the credit for his new scheme, which presents different looks and forces pressure and turnovers. Deshaun Watson talked about the benefits of practicing against this unit, “This defense is very intense, very sharp, very skilled, coached very well, very disciplined,” Watson said, “So it’s putting us to the test, and it’s going to help us for the long run. So, I’m glad to be able to go back and forth and compete, and we want to do the same for them, too.” Though defensive ends Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith shine up front for their ability to generate consistent pressure, the linebackers strutted their stuff this week. Anthony Walker and Sione Takitaki returned to practice, giving a major boost to the lineup. Their presence opened things up for Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who was already one of the stars of camp. Many defensive starters missed the game against Washington, but the reserves held the Commanders to just 17 points, with two sacks and two interceptions.
Jakeem Grant is returning from a torn Achilles tendon. He will almost certainly handle returns if he is healthy enough to make the final roster. If Grant isn't ready, Jaelon Darden, Hassan Hall, and Demetric Felton are all in the mix.
Updates from Week 1
The Browns have a few more practices under their belts than most other teams as they got ready for last Thursday’s Hall of Fame game. Deshaun Watson hopes to put a subpar 2022 behind him and is staying after practice to get in extra time with his coaches. He changes his routine each day, switching between his footwork and agility, then his throwing motion and arm angles. All accounts are that Watson looks good and is building great chemistry with his receivers. It hasn’t been a perfect camp, but many of Watson’s struggles can be attributed to great defensive play.
Joshua Dobbs is currently the No. 2 quarterback, but neither he nor Watson appeared in the Hall of Fame game. The plan from the start was for Kellen Mond to play the first half and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson to take over at halftime. Mond played okay, completing 13 passes for 92 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Thompson-Robinson led a second-half comeback and created some buzz for his campaign to be the backup. He finished 8-of-11 for 82 yards and a touchdown, plus 36 rushing yards on six carries.
Nick Chubb is having a quiet camp, and that’s probably a good thing. He is the unquestioned starter, and with Kareem Hunt gone, there is talk of his role expanding. Coach Kevin Stefanski remarked, “Nick’s a huge part of our offense, obviously hand it to him, throwing it to him, he’s been adept at both. I think he’s a schematic fit really in anything.” Jerome Ford seems the favorite to back up Chubb, but he did miss some time for personal reasons and did not appear in the Hall of Fame game. John Kelly and Demetric Felton got the carries in the game. Kelly led the Browns in preseason rushing last year but did not make the final roster. He finished with 69 total yards and a receiving touchdown. Felton has spent two training camps bouncing between practicing with the receivers and running backs but appears to be filling the team's need at running back in 2023. He carried the ball seven times for 46 yards and a touchdown against the Jets on Thursday.
The receivers have been the talk of camp. Amari Cooper missed some time with a minor tweak but returned before the week ended. Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones have all shined at times playing with Deshaun Watson. While Watson has spread the ball around, Moore has been called the best receiver in camp. Moore is lining up at multiple positions, a role he said he was built for, “I’m super excited. I feel like growing up in Florida; we don’t coach to play slot, outside, or inside. You coach to play receiver, so it doesn’t really matter where I’m lined up.” Unsurprisingly, none of the top three receivers played in the Hall of Fame game.
When asked about the best camps so far, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt listed Elijah Moore, Cedric Tillman, and Daylen Baldwin. Tillman, a rookie, has been playing well with the backups and taking time away from David Bell in relief of Amari Cooper. In a demonstration of how quickly things can change, Baldwin went from praise to the waiver wire after suffering a hamstring injury. No receiver made a significant impact against the Jets, as Tillman and Austin Watkins led the group with just two catches for 35 yards.
The top four receiving targets in camp are receivers Cooper, Moore, Peoples-Jones, and tight end David Njoku. Njoku and his two primary backups all sat against the Jets. The addition of Jordan Akins has made Harrison Bryant almost an afterthought. Akins has caught a few touchdowns in practice, and the chemistry he built with Watson during their time in Houston is resurfacing. Akins has a slight edge for the No. 2 role, though he has missed some practice with nagging injuries.
The Browns don’t have anyone else on the roster to compete with 2022 fourth-round pick Cade York, but York didn’t exactly instill confidence in the Hall of Fame Game after struggling at the end of his rookie season. York badly sliced a missed 49-yard field goal attempt, and while he did make all three extra point attempts, one barely snuck inside the uprights. Head coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t seem concerned, saying, “I don’t know that it’s anything for the future that is majorly concerning. He’s a young player that’s working, and I know he’s going to continue to work.”
The defense has had a solid camp. In fact, it’s been hard to find a negative thing said about them. The team is led by Myles Garrett, and Jake Trotter of ESPN called him a “total menace.” Garrett and the new addition Za'Darius Smith are doing a great job of creating pressure, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is scheming one of them a straight line to the quarterback on seemingly every play. Like with the receivers, the pecking order seems set for the cornerbacks. Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome are the top two, with Newsome sliding to slot in nickel packages and Martin Emerson playing outside. All three corners have made plays on the ball, including multiple Pick-6 plays.