While the NFL is still stuck in a labor abyss and players are enjoying an extended vacation, the OBR staff took the opportunity to engage in a roundtable discussion regarding some of the more intriguing Browns' storylines heading into the 2011 season*.
*Assuming such a thing occurs.
What follows is the fourth in a series of questions posed to OBR writers. Today's topic regards which current unheralded player will come out of nowhere and have an impact on the 2011 Browns. Or, let's just call this the Peyton Hillis Award.
Last year during training camp, it was apparent that Peyton Hillis was a pretty good player. He made a lot of plays during training camp, but since it was just practice, those watching thought there must be some reason he was thrown into the trade for Brady Quinn.
As the preseason games began, it became apparent that Hillis was indeed a good player and the Browns were planning on using him in their offense. Hillis surprised many people with his emergence, including the coaching staff and front office. Eric Mangini insisted that Hillis was a big part of the Quinn trade, but the Browns also made a big trade to select Montario Hardesty in the second round.
If we talk about a player coming out of nowhere to emerge as Hillis did, he really wouldn't be coming out of nowhere, would he?
But here's an estimate of a player or two who might be on the edge of emerging and playing a key role for the Browns.
Offensively, Carlton Mitchell might be the dark horse of the group of wide receivers. Tom Heckert drafted him, but Mangini didn't play him. Pat Shurmur and Heckert think alike and Mitchell might be a receiver the Browns think can excel in the West Coast Offense. Other than Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, someone has to emerge and if it's not Mitchell, it could be Greg Little.
Because he was drafted in the second-round, he really isn't coming out of nowhere, but the return of Hardesty could be huge. Hillis has a huge target on his back and Hardesty could be the type of player to explode on the scene.
Defensively, Jabaal Sheard is going to be the player to make the biggest impact. He will provide the pass rush the Browns have been lacking in years and because he wasn't the first round pick, he will be a little under the radar.
Carlton Mitchell did not catch a pass in 2010. His official rookie stat line read one rush for nine yards and zero catches. Not exactly what you'd like from a wide out.
That does not take away the fact that Mitchell is still tall. He is still fast. And he still can catch a football. It is up to Pat Shurmur to put Mitchell's skills to work in the West Coast offense and get him some touches.
Short, quick routes are what make up the West Coast office. Colt McCoy is an accurate passer. Mitchell is fast and strong. You like where this is going? If McCoy can get the ball into the hands of Mitchell on a short, quick route, there is the potential for Mitchell to be a playmaker.
In his junior year at South Florida, Mitchell showed a penchant for big-play abilities. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch and two of his career catches are an 85-yard touchdown reception and a 75-yarder.
And isn't that is what has been missing from the Browns offense? A playmaker? Last season, one emerged in running back Peyton Hillis. Not much was expected of him entering the season, but soon Hillis showed he could make plays. The result? The Browns offense benefited.
If Mitchell can "come out of nowhere" in 2011, the Browns offense will no doubt benefit.
If I pick Montario Hardesty, does this mean that he will make the cover of Madden 13?
However, considering our current Madden cover boy's running style, it's probably a safe bet to assume that Hillis will not survive through the entirety of the coming season. In this case, Hardesty – despite his lingering knee injuries – could be the beneficiary of some increased playing time.
Regardless of the team's new West Coast offense, the Browns will still rely heavily on their ground game in 2011. Based on the lack of receiving threats and Pat Shurmur's own recent history in St. Louis, Hardesty will become an important component of the team's new offense.
Assuming of course, that Hardesty can survive the preseason.