For the Browns to become one of the top teams in the NFL they need to have some of their core young players blossom into elite status. If making the Pro Bowl is the standard of being an elite player, the Browns currently have nine players on their roster that have been named to the postseason all-star game in Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, Alex Mack, Donte Whitner, Tramon Williams, Dwayne Bowe, Randy Starks, Tashaun Gipson and Andy Lee.
Some of those mentioned above are in their prime and some are on the downward side of their careers. The Browns need to add some up-and-coming players to lead the team going forward.
Here are The OBR’s top five players we suggest might have the best chance to break out into elite status. For this list, we’re not considering any of the 2015 rookies, who could obviously emerge ahead of some of the young veterans.
Joel Bitonio — Despite this being just his second season, Bitonio was praised around the league as one of the best new offensive lineman in the NFL. Bitonio received consideration for the Pro Bowl as a rookie and has a chance to emerge as fellow linemen Thomas and Mack have into a perennial Pro Bowl performer.
Tashaun Gipson — Even though Gipson made the Pro Bowl last year, Gipson has a chance to break out into a perennial top safety in the NFL. Gipson was second in the NFL last year in interceptions despite missing the final five games.
Justin Gilbert — Gilbert has the athleticism to be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. His rookie season was a disaster for a number of reasons and by all indications Gilbert is ready for a bounce back year. If he can put it all together, the Browns will have some of the best cornerbacks in the league. There was a reason that Gilbert was drafted eighth overall in 2014 and it is time for him to show it.
Armonty Bryant — The third year pass rusher had his second season cut short with a torn ACL. Bryant had shown flashes in the preseason of becoming an elite edge rusher. There’s a good chance the Browns will play him on the outside in passing situations to utilize his quickness and athleticism and he could rack up sacks in bunches.
K’Waun Williams — In just his second season, Williams continues to cause the coaching staff to rave about him and his cover skills. Williams exploded on the scene as an undrafted rookie to claim the nickel cornerback spot. Williams has worked hard on his upper body strength and has a chance to be one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL.
Gipson is playing on the restricted free agent tender that he signed reluctantly and is expecting a big payday, either from the Browns with a contract extension or hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent. He is hoping for another season in 2015 that would reward him big financially.
Barkevious Mingo — In his third season, it is time for Mingo to step up and be the pass rusher he was drafted to be with the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Mingo played with a shoulder harness that limited his role last season according to the coaches. Healthy this year, he has a chance to become a great pass rusher. However, if he doesn’t blossom this season, there’s a good chance he will never live up to his pre-draft hype as an elite pass rusher, but rather just be a solid cover linebacker.