Let’s face it. It hasn’t been fun to be a Browns’ fan since 1989. They’ve only made the playoff twice over the last 27 years, which includes 14 straight non-playoff outcomes. Cleveland won 10 games in 2007 while failing to make the playoffs. Last season they allowed 188 more points than they scored, which was worse than 2015 (-154). The Browns ranked 31st in point scores (264), 30th in offensive yards, 30th in points allowed (452), and 31st in yards allowed. The bottom line here is this team didn’t do anything well, and it’s time to put this package together. Hue Jackson has 16 years of NFL experience with most of his coaching falling on the offensive side of the ball. Jackson was the head coach of the Raiders in 2011 (8-8) and the Browns in 2016 (1-15). His offenses in his career as an offensive coordinator only had one year of a high level of success (Oakland in 2015 – 5th in points scored). Hue will run the offense again this year. Gregg Williams takes over as defensive coordinator after holding the same job for 16 seasons in the NFL for five different franchises. Williams struggled over three seasons at the head coach of the Bills from 2001 to 2003 (17-31) while picking up a Super Bowl title as the defensive coordinator for the Saints in 2009.
Cleveland didn’t lose or add any defensive player of value in the offseason. CB Tramon Williams and DT Stephen Paea were released. Williams lost a set at age 34 while Paea looks like a neutral rotational player. The Browns dumped four offensive players – QB Josh McCown, WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Andrew Hawkins, and TE Gary Barnidge. Pryor was the player with the best chance of being an asset, but his age (28) and his success in 2016 led to him being overpriced for the direction of this franchise. G Austin Pasztor remains a free agent after starting 16 games in 2016 with league average value. Cleveland did sign CB Jason McCourty in mid-May to upgrade the secondary.
WR Kenny Britt was brought in to help bridge the gap to the next generation at wide receiver. Cleveland signed RG Kevin Zeitler to a five-year $60 million contract in March. They took a swing in C J.C. Tretter who struggled with some injuries over the last couple seasons with the Packers.
Houston gave away QB Brock Osweiler in the offseason. The Browns may still cut him with the development of rookie QB DeShone Kizer being the key.
I thought the Browns did a nice job in this year’s draft while keeping an eye on the future. They had three first round drafts – DE Myles Garrett, S Jabrill Peppers, and TE David Njoku. Garrett looks like the real-life version of Vontae Mack who Cleveland drafted in the movie Draft Day. Myles has a great burst off the line of scrimmage with high value rushing the QB. He’ll be a disrupter on many plays while needing to prove he can beat double teams and improving his motor. Garrett is the first move toward the climb to the top of the NFL mountain. He showed plus speed and strength in this year’s NFL Combine.
S Jabrill Peppers will add value in run support with enough speed to handle himself in the passing game. Peppers will have an edge in speed at his position while showing the willingness to hit. Jabrill comes with questions in ball skills while offering value as a returner. Once he learns to react rather than think, he’ll be one step closer to the ball where his returns skills will be exciting.
TE David Njoku was the third TE selected in the first round. As this point of his career, Njoku is more of an athlete with enough speed and quickness to make plays all over the field. His route running needs development while improving his catch rate especially in the heat of a battle. David has the rise to win many jump balls. He needs to improve his release when pressed by physical defenders plus add bulk to improve his value as a blocker. At age 21, he has a bright future in the NFL when the pieces come together.
The Browns placed their future bet at quarterback with DeShone Kizer in the second round. He has an NFL arm, which will threaten the defense in all areas. He stands tall in the pocket with the willingness to make some players with his legs. His accuracy in the medium and short ranges need improvement as well as his ability to read the whole field. I don’t get the feeling he makes the players around him better, which is what the great NFL QBs do. NFL defenses will have success against him when they force him to reload or move off his spot. DeShone will need some time to develop, but this team may need him to learn on the fly.
In the 3rd and 5th round, Cleveland added a pair of defensive tackles – Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley. Larry is aggressive at the point of attack leading to his best impact coming off his first step. When shutdown off the snap, Ogunjobi lacks the second gear to finish plays plus he needs to add more bulk to stand his ground against power run game. If he has an edge in his matchup, his name will be on the stat sheet. If Larry struggles to beat his man, he will be a non-factor on many plays. Overall, his game will offer rotational value with starting upside down the road. Brantley projects more as early down player with value off the snap. He lacks follow through to finish plays when rushing the QB after being shut down early off the snap. He tends to cheat the snap leading to many offside, which may be a sign of less upside down the road. Caleb needs to add more weight to upgrade his value as a run clogger.
CB Howard Wilson was added in the fourth round. His best asset is his short area quickness. Despite his lack of strength and size (6’1” and 184 lbs.), he handles himself well when asked to tackle. Wilson has a feel for the ball, but he needs more time to develop defending plus route runners. Looks the part with some risk in his deep speed. Howard missed much of 2015 due to a torn ACL. Value pick with more upside coming.
The Browns do have talent on the offensive line, so T Rodrick Johnson was the only swing to improve the depth on the line. His scouting report paints an interesting picture, but he clearly has some issues with his technique. It seems like he fears speed and he tries to offset this shortfall by beating his man to the punch. If he misses, Johnson has downside risk. With better awareness and understanding of his ultimate goal, his game will improve quickly. It may take a downgrade in position, but he will help the Browns at some point in his career.
With two picks in the seventh round, Cleveland invested in K Zane Gonzalez and RB Matt Dayes. Gonzalez has a big leg leading to upside in the long kicks and delivering touchbacks. Dayes has pass-catching ability, but he lacks the talent to break many tackles and create in the open field. His finishing gear is below NFL standards while bringing questions about his ability to pass protect.
Game score led to the Browns averaging only 21.9 rushes per game, which tied Detroit for the 31st ranking in the league. They averaged a surprising 4.9 yards per rush (2nd) just below the Cowboys (5.3). Their lack of attempts led to a 19th place finish in rushing yards (1,712) with 13 rushing TDs and 12 runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers had 54 runs over 10 yards with 46 negative rushes.
Cleveland allowed an amazing 66 sacks, leading to poor results in passing yards (3264 – 28th) and 15 passing TDs. Their QBs completed 44 passes over 20 yards while tossing 14 Ints. Was the failure in sacks due to poor QB play, poor receiving options, or a poor pass blocking? I have to say a combination of all three.
LT Joe Thomas is one of the better players at his position in the league. He plays well in both run and pass blocking. Cleveland selected him in the first round in 2007. Thomas hasn’t missed a game in his 10-year career.
LG Joel Bitonio suffered a foot injury in 2016 leading to 11 missed games. The Browns signed him to a five-year $51 million extension in March with $23 million in guaranteed money. This just shows how much they respect him after being selected in the second round in 2014. Joel tends to offer more upside as a run blocker.
C J.C Tretter will have the inside track to start after only playing seven games in 2016 due to a torn MCL that required surgery in January. He has one full season on his resume after the Packers selected him in the fourth round in 2013. His ranking was helped by Aaron Rodgers being an elite QB.
RG Kevin Zeitler was an asset for the division rival Bengals over the last five seasons after Cinci drafted him in the first round in 2012. He signed a big contract as well ($60 million). This gives Cleveland a third high-value option on the offensive line.
RT Cameron Erving missed some time in 2016 due to a shoulder injury plus he suffered a left knee issue in Week 17. His game isn’t where it needs to be after the Browns invested a first-round pick on him in 2015. Erving has plus strength with some quickness for his position. He adds versatility to the offensive line with his biggest asset coming in run blocking.
The pieces are in place on the offensive line with three first-round draft picks and a fourth option that grades highly for his position. The only thing missing is offensive talent at QB and WR. They should run the ball well, and I expect a huge step forward in pass blocking in 2017. I just wonder if the offensive line will be around long enough to see the right combination of players on offense.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
The Browns’ offensive line will get tested in nine games against teams with above average success defending the run. They only had two matchups with that offer a slight edge (IND and @CHI).
The passing side has more hot and cold spots. The Titans and the Packers struggled to defend the pass in 2016 with Colts having some risk as well. Their worst three matchups will come vs. the Texans, the Vikings and the Jaguars plus five more games with some risk in the passing game.
The Browns ran the ball only 38.2 percent of the time in 2016 due to game score and a bad defense. I’m sure this season they will want to run the better with improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The big question is the quarterback play and development at WR and TE.
Cody Kessler (QB)
Cody lacks an impact arm while offering some upside as a game manager. Cody plays more not to lose rather than seizing the moment with impact throws in tight coverage. His accuracy plays well within the pocket with a solid feel for the pass rush. When forced to run, his game loses value leading to minimal big plays and declining success. In his first season in the league, Kessler went 0-8 in nine games played. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 1380 yards with six TDs and two Ints. Cody was sacked 21 times in 195 attempts (9.7 percent of the time). As expected, he had no value as a runner (11/18). His only game of value came in Week 6 vs. the Titans (336 passing yards and two TDs). His success in training camp may be the key to the lifeline for Brock Osweiler. Likely starter, but wins will keep him behind center all year. Kessler has no Fantasy value headed into 2017.
DeShone Kizer (QB)
Over two seasons at Notre Dame, Kizer threw for 5805 yards with 47 TDs and 19 Ints. His completion rate (60.7) didn’t offer an edge, and he had regression in his junior season (58.7). DeShone was active as a runner (264/997/18), which adds a dimension to his game that the other two QBs don’t have. There is a lot to like here, and his complete game may give the Browns the best chance to win in his first season in the league. Cleveland has a very good offensive line, and a running QB will clean up a lot of sacks. He made a look of tight throws in college downfield with flashing a solid pump fake. Player to follow and I expect him to start at some point in 2017. His legs could give him playable value late in the season.
Brock Osweiler (QB) – As bad as he’s perceived as a starting NFL QB, Brock has 13-8 record. Granted, he did play for two teams with strength on defense that helped keep a win alive even with below par QB play. Last year he averaged 5.8 yards per pass attempt even with one of the most dynamic WRs in the game. His completion rate (59.0) had regression leading to only 15 passing TDs in 15 games with 16 Ints. Brock was sacked 27 times on 510 attempts (5.0). He did rush for 131 yards on 30 carries with two TDs. Coin flip to make the roster with minimal upside if he earns a starting job.
Other option: Kevin Hogan
Isaiah Crowell (RB)
Early in the season, the Browns gave Crowell double-digit carries in seven of eight games leading to two games of value (148 combined yards with a TD and a catch and 142 combined yards with a TD and three catches). From Week 8 to Week 15, Isaiah gained only 276 yards on 73 carries with 113 yards coming in Week 14. He finished the year on the uptick in Week 17 (168 combined yards with three catches). Crowell had an excellent step forward in the passing game (40/319) with his second straight season of growth in carries (198) and rushing yards (952). Overall, he had 68 percent of the running back rushes (291) and 48.1 percent of the RB targets. Improving player with value on three downs, but Duke Johnson will be the top passing catching option out of the backfield. This team will run the ball well, and their rushing attempts will improve. Next step: 1500 combined yards with double digit TDs and a nice floor in catches. Target him as an RB3 while understanding his skill set works as the second RB in PPR leagues for owners that cheat the RB2 position.
Duke Johnson (RB)
Even with growth in his yards per rush (4.9) and yards per catch (9.7), Johnson had a weaker opportunity in 2016. He had 31 fewer rushes and eight fewer catches while finishing with the same number of targets (74). His playing time had regression in many games over the second half of the season with his year ending with a sprained ankle in Week 17 and four snaps. The Browns lost 15 games in 2016, so they needed to pass late in many games. Duke never developed into a high-volume pass catching back. Over the last eight games last year, he had three catches or fewer in seven games while failing to gain over 35 yards rushing in his last 12 games. RB4 at best for me while still offering upside if the Browns decide to feature him in the passing game.
Darius Jackson (RB) – In his senior season at Eastern Michigan, Jackson had 1289 combined yards with 16 TDs and 21 catches. According to the once great Mark Deming, he flashed in the preseason with the Cowboys in 2016, so I’ll throw his name out there to watch this summer.
Other options: George Atkinson, Matt Dayes
Corey Coleman (WR)
Over three seasons at Baylor, Coleman caught 173 passes for 3009 yards and 33 passing TDs highlighted by his 2015 season (74/1363/20). Corey also had 33 rushes over his sophomore and junior seasons for 164 yards and a TD. He has excellent speed (4.4) with upside in his leaping ability helping him win many jumps balls. On many of his highlights, Coleman had a free release off the line of scrimmage creating an instant winnable window. His quickness and strength should help him against press coverage in the NFL. Corey has some wiggle leading to solid value in the open field. After minimal chances in Week 1 (2/69 on five targets) in his rookie season, he exploded for an impact game the next week vs. the Ravens (5/104/2 on eight targets). Unfortunately, a broken hand led to six missed games. Over his last eight games of the season, Corey averaged 7.5 targets per game. He had four catches or fewer in seven games while never having more than 41 yards receiving in any game. His catch rate (45.2) needs a lot of work. There’s more here than meets the eye and he’ll be the WR1 in 2017. Last year the Browns’ WRs caught 168 passes for 2029 yards and 10 TDs on 316 targets. I’d use Terrelle Pryor’s resume in 2016 (77/1007/4 on 140 targets) as my reference point when determining Corey’s opportunity this season. Possible 65+ catches for 1000+ yards and more than a handful of TDs.
Kenny Britt (WR)
After a long career in the NFL, Britt finally delivered a season of value (68/1002/5 on 111 targets). His success fell in line with predicted path after his first two seasons in the league. Kenny had one impact game (7/136/2) with two other games with seven catches (7/109 and 7/82). Considering he played in a weaker passing attack than the Browns, Britt may offer more than expected upside in 2017. He’s been in the league since 2009 as a first-round pick, but he’ll turn 29 in September. Possible floor of 60/900 with sneaky TDs.
Rashard Higgins (WR)
Over three seasons at Colorado State, Higgins caught 238 passes for 3648 yards and 31 TDs highlighted by his sophomore year (96/1750/17). Rashard has solid hands with below par speed and quickness. He won’t win many battles in press coverage while struggling to create separation downfield.
Ricardo Louis (WR) – Louis caught 85 passes for 1302 yards and eight TDs over his last three seasons at Auburn. His best year came in his senior season when he caught 46 passes for 716 yard and three TDs. Ricardo was also active in the running game (68/578/2). Louis has questions with his hands, route running, and his release.
Other options: Mario Alford, Jordan Payton, Josh Boyce, Jordan Leslie, James Wright, Josh Gordon
David Njoku (TE)
Over two seasons at Miami in college, Njoku caught 64 passes for 1060 yards and nine TDs. His game has elite upside with a unique combination of athletic ability, speed, and strength. David’s route running needs to improve while improving his pass blocking. He’ll offer big play ability while understanding how to sit down in zones. Njoku may not hit the ground running, but he's going to be a future top 10 TE while having enough talent to be one of the best players at his position in the game as his position. Last season the TEs on the Browns caught 68 passes for 760 yards and five TDs on 101 targets. Cleveland doesn’t have anyone blocking him from starting so his floor may be higher than most expect in his rookie season. Excellent TE2 with upside if the Browns improve offensively in 2017. I’ll gamble with 60+ catches for 700+ yards and 5+ TDs.
Other options: Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve, J.P. Holtz, Taylor McNamara
Cody Parkey (K)
In his rookie season, Cody hit 88.9 percent of his field goal tries while making all four chances from 50 yards or more. He missed most of the 2015 season with a groin injury leading to him searching for a new job in the NFL. The Browns gave him 14 starts last year where he had league average success (20-for-25). He made his only kick over 50 yards. Over 17 games, Cody missed one of his 28 extra point chances. Based on the Browns drafting Zane Gonzalez, who made 96 of 116 fields goals in college, Parkey isn’t a lock to win the starting job. Either way, it would be tough to expect this offense to produce enough opportunities to play over the long haul in the season long games.
The Browns have a favorable schedule for their run defense. They play five games vs. teams with weakness rushing the ball (BAL X 2, MIN, LAC, and DET). Cleveland has one game against a team with strength running the ball (TEN).
They have a three-game stretch against teams (NYJ, HOU, and TEN) with risk passing the ball. The Browns do play eight teams that have above league average success passing the ball.
Cleveland has the second worst rushing defense in the league (2,283 yards allowed). They allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 18 rushing TDs.
They finished 21st in pass yards allowed (3,996) while allowing the most passing TDs. The Browns only had 26 sacks and 10 Ints. Cleveland allowed a league-high 16 completions over 40 yards.
DT Danny Shelton showed improvement across the board in 2016 after getting drafted in the first round in 2015. His best asset will come against the run. Over 32 games in his career, Danny only has 1.5 sacks. DE Myles Garrett will instantly upgrade the pass rush while offering steady value in run support. His style may work better in a 4-3 defense early in his career. DE Emmanuel Ogbah had 5.5 sacks in his rookie season after the Browns selected him in the second round. Ogbah looks the part of an upside pass rusher with strength and speed, but he needs to improve his motivations while he does lack impact athletic ability. His talent offers upside, and his game should continue to improve. DE Carl Nassib is motivated by not being respected as a player. He has pass rushing skills with one-dimensional speed. His best asset is his motor with a solid feel for the game. Carl may need time to develop especially when matchup up with power defenders.
LB Christian Kirksey had tremendous growth at a tackler (148) in his third-year in the league while chipping in 2.5 sacks. LB Jamie Collins is a playmaker, and he’ll be better in his second year on this defense. He needs to play within the system to avoid making big mistakes in pass coverage. Last season Jamie had 112 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. LB Demario Davis regressed in the last two years after flashing upside with the Jets in 2014. Maybe he was just part of bad defense so his stats could improve with more talent around him on defense. LB Joe Schobert lacks power and speed while gaining his edge in vision and anticipation. He will hold his own in coverage with sporadic value in the pass rush.
CB Joe Haden has failed to live up to his draft value (1st round in 2010) over the last couple of seasons. Joe missed 14 games over the last two years. If he regains his previous form, it will help this defense tremendously. CB Jason McCourty will fight for a starting CB job after the Browns signed him in May. He’ll compete with CB Jamar Taylor who played his best ball of his career in 2016 (13 defended passes and three Ints). S Jabrill Peppers will compete for a starting job. He’ll have a learning curve at safety so it may take a few games to learn the NFL game. When on the field, Peppers will improve the run defense. The other two options at safety are Derrick Kindred and Ed Caldwell. Both players are league average at best.
The first and second levels of this defense should be improved in 2017. The Browns need someone to develop into a run stopper at the second defensive tackle position, which may come in next year’s draft. The lack a second CB of value while needing a couple of pass covering options in the secondary. This defense will be much improved this year especially if the offense can do a better job staying on the field. Possible gamble as a second defense in the season long games.
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