In a two part blog series I will look at two teams who were formerly laughing stocks, and why we should all be buying stock in them making pushes for the playoffs. Second up, the Cleveland Browns
This pick was probably a little easier to forecast than the Jets pick, and there is some actual proof to suggest the Browns may not stink next year! To begin with, they literally cannot get any worse than they were last season. 0-12 is impressively bad for an NFL team. That means they couldn’t sneak out a close one, or even pick up a meaningless win in the last few weeks of the season where Pittsburgh would have been looking to rest some players. I mean come on, 29 year old Stevan Ridley led their last game of the season in rushing yards. It’s not 2012, and still he managed 80 yard, almost 80% of his season production last year with a total of 108 yards all year!
So lets jump into it – how the HELL do the Cleveland Browns become not as much of a laughing stock next season. As I mentioned, the bar isn’t high but I don’t think that they are going to let the season goal be “just get one win.” Cleveland is in an interesting division with elite talent at the top and question marks in the middle.
Pittsburgh looks poised to continue Pittsburgh things. They have that rare mix of veteran reliability, mixed with youthful explosiveness, and have elite options at almost every offensive position. Big Ben Roethlisberger, Le’veon Bell, Antonio Brown all rounding out the veteran spots, with Juju Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant, and even TJ Watt bringing youthful skill to both sides of the ball. Cleveland can aim high and look to compete against the Steelers, but not surpass them any time soon.
But Baltimore and Cincinnati are both more approachable divisional rivals. Cincinnati is odd – are Andy Dalton, Joe Mixon, and AJ Green elite? Green is without a doubt, but Mixon is coming off of a not spectacular rookie season where he was limited by his coaches inability to pick a lead back between him, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill. Thankfully, Hill moved on to the Patriots in free agency, limiting the options now. Dalton is a fine QB, but he isn’t elite. Far too reliant on one or two big plays, Dalton seems to be ineffective in low risk situations, and has never taken the next step towards being in the upper echelon of NFL QB talents.
Baltimore has really been a shell of themselves since Ray Lewis retired. Their Superbowl over the 49ers was so polarizing, but saw Joe Flacco receive a contact that made him elite, by pay scale anyways. While their defence is not as good as it used to be, it is reliable and will not hurt their chances at winning, their offence on the other hand…
Flacco is the mainstay here, a strong passer, but despite his pay-grade not an elite talent. He gets two good adds at WR with Crabtree coming from Oakland and John Brown coming from Arizona.
Flacco will surely see an uptick in passing yards from last season with these two upgrades, but their future success will rely on whether running back Alex Collins can cary the mail for the Ravens on the ground. Volume was his friend las season and he put up nearly 1000 yards, but broke 100 yards only twice in 2017. For Cleveland, there is certainly ground to be made up divisionally with Cincinnati and Baltimore not looking to shake things up massively to challenge Pittsburgh.
So what have Cleveland done to make themselves better? Well they actually have some good, young talent that has been brought up in their system. Defensive End Myles Garrett, #1 overall pick from 2017 is a force on defence, picking up seven sacks in his first season while only playing in eleven games. Corey Coleman, WR also showed flashes of brilliance last season putting up 305 yards and two touchdowns in nine games played.
Cleveland also added back their blunt smoking prodigal son, WR Josh Gordon. Gordon showed off his natural (wasted) talent in five games in 2017 with 335 yards and one touchdown on 18 receptions.
With the addition of Miami Dolphins elite slot receiver Jarvis Landry, Cleveland has a very respectable three wide receiver set. Both Gordon and Coleman are young and explosive with big play potential. While Landry, just 25 years old, can suck up targets in the middle of the field as he proved last year with 987 yards on a whopping 112 receptions with nine touchdowns. Even more impressive – Landry did this with Jay Cutler throwing to him. Look out for the Cleveland receiving corps, as they sneakily have one of the most talented and well rounded group of receivers in the league.
To solve the problem of the revolving door of QB’s in Cleveland, and to hopefully end (at least for a bit) the played out, crossed off name jersey joke that every other self hating Browns fan has to make themselves, the Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills. Not elite, but a stable talent, Taylor is a good passer and elusive rusher. Third last season in QB rushing yards Taylor has the ability to extend plays and grab yards himself.
He isn’t the answer for Cleveland, but he is the best option they’ve had in a while and enjoyed some moderate success in Buffalo, too. More of a bridge to their franchise QB Taylor is a good option to start his new team off on the right foot. Drew Stanton has also been signed as veteran back up QB to Taylor. Coming from Arizona, Stanton (33) would provide stability should Taylor get injured, and can also act as a mentor to the up and coming QB of the future for the Browns.
Perhaps their biggest offseason get, Cleveland signed running back Carlos Hyde out of San Francisco. Like Landry, Hyde is an elite talent and upgrade over the now gone Isaiah Crowell. He’s has game breaking ability and is is built to be a bell cow RB, exactly what Cleveland have needed. He will be backed up and relieved on passing plays by Duke Johnson Jr., a RB with great upside as a receiver, and can also limit overuse and the likelihood of injury for Hyde.
Cleveland is actually trending up this offseason. Wow, even as I type that I can’t really believe it isn’t written with facetiousness or in a joking manner. The Browns can build even more so upon their strong off season by taking advantage of their high picks. With pick #1 and #4, Cleveland can get their franchise QB, and don’t have to rush him into a the starter job immediately. Pick #4 can be used to add to their Offensive line as there is a Joe Thomas sized hole in their O-line now. Cleveland also has three second round picks to add to their teams depth, should they not dispatch a few of those for roster players before the draft.
I don’t think they’re going to make the playoffs, I’m not crazy here. What I think Cleveland can do is actually make waves divisionally and move up amongst their AFC North peers. Cincinnati? Watch out. Flacco and the Ravens? Duck and hide. Cleveland can ride out a suddenly high powered offence to some much needed success next season. Their biggest threat outside of injury would have to be keeping the bong out of Gordon’s hands – they’re are a different team with him on the field and need to man-manage him to reach his massive potential.
Take the paper bags off your heads, Cleveland fans. The sun is peaking through the impossibly thick clouds as the NFL draft approaches. All the Browns players need to do is play like they can and there is no reason they can’t become a jump-started up and coming team starting this season.