Top five rookies that could force hard decisions
1. Defensive Line — Danny Shelton (1st round) and Xavier Cooper (3rd round).The Browns finished last season with just six players on the active roster with Phil Taylor, Ish Kitchen and Armonty Bryant on injured reserve. John Hughes was signed to a contract extension and Randy Starks was signed as a free agent. Desmond Bryant and Billy Winn also return.
If the Browns keep all of the above, they would take up nine roster spots. Barring injury, Shelton and Cooper could force a hard decision on Winn, Kitchen or even Taylor coming off injury, should the Browns elect to keep less than nine on the defensive line. However, the Browns might keep the higher number because of the devastating injuries they suffered on the line last season.
2. Running Back — Duke Johnson (3rd round). The Browns finished last season with four running backs on the active roster, but with no fullback. Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and Glenn Winston all return for their second season. Shaun Draughn returns as well after joining the team late in the season.
Johnson will likely dispel one or two of the backs, the most likely being Winston and/or Draughn.
3. Wide Receiver — Vince Mayle (4th round). With the indefinite suspension of Josh Gordon, the Browns added Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline to go along with Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin and Andrew Hawkins. Marlon Moore is a core special team player and the coaching staff kept Rodney Smith around all last season. Terrelle Pryor is trying to make the roster as a wide receiver. Last year, the Browns carried six wide receivers and if Mayle shows he was worthy of the fourth-round pick, he might force a tough decision at receiver. Last year, the Browns chose to put Charles Johnson on the practice squad and he was snagged by the Vikings, only to end up as their top receiver.
4. Cornerback — Charles Gaines (6th round). With veterans Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert, K’Waun Williams, Pierre Desir and Robert Nelson returning to go along with free agent signee Tramon Williams, the Browns have six veterans competing for playing time. The Browns finished the 2014 season with five cornerbacks. Gaines will likely push Nelson for a roster spot.
5. Tight End/Fullback — Malcolm Johnson (6th round), E.J. Bibbs (undrafted rookie free agent). The Browns finished last season with three tight ends and no fullbacks on their roster. The Browns lost Jordan Cameron in free agency and replaced him with Rob Housler. The Browns drafted Randall Telfer, but he is coming off surgery and isn’t expected to contribute much, if at all this season.
Johnson is listed as a tight end/fullback on the roster. Bibbs from Iowa State showed flashes in minicamp and could make a push for a roster spot. Another UDFA rookie, Luke Lundy could also push Johnson for the fullback role.
Honorable mention Safety — Ibraheim Campbell (4th round). Pro Bowl safeties Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner return as starters with Jordan Poyer as the primary backup. Johnson Bademosi is listed as a safety but is primarily a special teams player. The Browns carried four safeties last year but Jim Leonhard retired. With Gipson possibly becoming an unrestricted free agent and Whitner getting later in his career, the Browns need a young safety to emerge and Campbell is the leading candidate.