Season Preview: Cleveland Browns

With the first pick in the NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select…. It’s become all too frequent in recent years, but could the Browns be set for an improved season this time out? Ben Appleby is dreaming of better things…

What to expect?

It all depends on your viewpoint. If you are a diehard Browns fan you will probably still expect the factory of sadness to be pumping out disappointment and despair in equal measure by week 7. The Browns loyal fans will be watching the now third string Cody Kessler throw wobbling passes to no name receivers and weeping as Tyrelle Pryor puts up monster numbers in Washington.

The glimmer of hope from the pre-season was quickly extinguished as number one overall pick Myles Garrett picked up a high ankle sprain just days before the season opener. 

Yet despite all of this there is still reason for some optimism. The defence looks like it actually wants to tackle some opponents this year and with so much youth on the field there is always the possibility of new talents emerging.

Did the Browns address all of their needs this offseason?

There were just too many needs to be addressed. Even with a plethora of draft picks, last years 1-15 team needed a massive amount of help. The Browns focused on improving their offensive line by picking up outstanding Guard Kevin Zeitler from Cincinnati and productive Centre JC Tretter from Green Bay in free agency. With the ever present Joe Thomas and the newly extended Joel Bitonio there is some real quality on the line.

The Browns tried to continue to add speed and athleticism to their defence. With the resigning of Jamie Collins and the drafting of Garrett and SS/ kick returner Jabril Peppers there is hope that the Browns have some playmaking ability at all three levels of the defence. 

Possibly the biggest gamble and most influential new recruit was second round pick QB Deshone Kizer. Any hopes for being able to watch some semblance of an NFL offense this year rests on his extremely young shoulders.

Yet even with a large influx of rookies and some good free agent additions there are still giant holes in team, especially at CB and WR. 

The Browns appear to have done well out of the 2017 NFL Draft

Who should Browns fans feel most excited about?

Until earlier this Week I would have just written Myles Garrett and moved on to the next section of the article. The defensive end looked outstanding in Pre-Season and may well still prove to be a difference maker this year. Yet his recent injury and his history of foot injuries have certainly dampened my excitement for the start of the season. 

The work of Defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams in transforming the Browns Defense is probably still the most exciting thing we will see this year. Watching a Browns defense tackle well, have some attitude and just swarm to the ball is something we have not seen for decades.

Were there any surprise departures?

Joe Haden was probably the biggest shock here. The Browns top brass is keen to only reward players with contacts worthy of their skill sets and it deemed Haden to not be worth his $11 million salary. So after refusing to take a pay cut he quickly ran into the arms of our arch-enemies the Pittsburgh Steelers and we will see how diminished his skills are when we face them in week 1!

Another surprise was losing wide receiver Pryor, who put up a 1000 yard season and was our only bright spot offensively last year. Despite having the most cap space in the NFL the front office decided they were not going to break the bank for a converted QB and he subsequently went to the Redskins on a cheap 1 year deal. This was made all the more surprising due to our lack of weapons on offense and hopefully will not come back to haunt decision makers this year.

What is the biggest strength of the Browns?

It certainly looks to be both our offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line is anchored by a hall of farmer and should take pleasure in creating running lanes for Isaiah Crowell this year. 

On the other side our young defensive line could be outstanding if it stays healthy. With the emerging talent of Danny Shelton at NT and Emmanuel Ogbah and Garrett coming off the edges it could consistently generate pressure this year. What makes the defensive line look even better is the fact that we could actually have some depth to keep the line fresh throughout the games. 

And the biggest weakness?

The offense generally. Assuming Hue Jackson calls some running plays we should be able to gain yards on the ground. Yet with a rookie QB who was inconsistent in college and some very young and untested weapons around him to work with it’s highly unlikely we will be putting up many points this year.

Breakout star to watch?

Common sense says that Emmanuel Ogbah should have an excellent season if he is joined by a healthy Garrett. Even during the pre-season Garrett was being double or triple teamed and this should open up holes for Ogbah to terrorise opposing QBs. 

The other possible emerging star could be Briean Boddy-Calhoun who already jumped to national attention this year knocking star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jnr out of a pre-season game. With so little talent at CB he will certainly see a great deal of action and after picking up three interceptions last year he should be able to eclipse that number with more pressure being generated upfront.

What will the Browns record be?

The Browns never really get a favourable schedule with six games against the consistently tough AFC North teams. With so many young players and a rookie QB it seems unlikely that we have the experience to grind out too many wins within the division.

It will be more likely that we pick up wins against fellow strugglers such as the Colts (assuming Andrew Luck is still injured), the tanking Jets and the Texans if their rookie QB Deshaun Watson (whom the Browns traded their pick to the Texans so they could select him) struggles early.

We won’t be going 0-16 as one ESPN writer predicted but it’s highly unlikely we make it to 8-8 this year either. I’d think a 4-12 season would be a likely scenario but if Kizer turns out to be the real deal and the defence plays to its potential then the sky could be the limit for this team.

Ben Appleby

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