Last week a took a look at the Cleveland Browns biggest needs. It stirred up quite a conversation as many had their thoughts on what the team's biggest needs were after a 1 - 15 season. (You can check that article out here.)
Today's article is bound to bring even more conversation as finding strengths on a team that is 1 - 15 will likely lead to more strong opinions. It is tough for many to think positive after only one win, especially with the recent history of the team.
Yet, as many of you know, I tend to be the optimist of the Browns media world. So time to take a look the Browns 5 Biggest Strengths:
#1 Head Coach Hue Jackson
While Jackson's record doesn't show that he is the team's biggest strength but everything we have heard says he is.
Jackson was wanted by a number of teams last year but chose to come to Cleveland. When he could have been the Niners, Giants or even Eagles Head Coach, he is all ours.
When you listen to his current players, they all universally sing his praises. Players he has coached with both the Bengals and the Raiders have done the same.
What about the guys coming into the league? Well the perception is starting to change based on Jackson as well:
Jackson is the team's biggest strength right now and hopefully for years to come
#2 Running Back
Jackson has made it clear that he wants to be a run-first team, even if his play calling didn't always back that statement up. His desire to be a run first team fits perfectly with the quality 1-2 punch of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. Crow ran for 952 yards on less than 200 carries, for a 4.8 yards per carry average. That, along with his 7 TDs, was an impressive season given his limited carries. Extrapolate his YPC to 250 carries would have led to a 1,200 yard season and maybe a couple of more TD's.
His partner, Duke, got far fewer carries but was still impactful. Johnson had 358 yards on 73 carries, for a 4.9 YPC average, while also catching 53 passes. His 53 catches were seventh most among running backs, showing off his versatility. Johnson showed his ability both outside and between the tackles in his limited carries. His ability to always fall forward and fight for the extra yard had fans calling for him to get the ball even more.
Behind those two are two interesting waiver wire pickups. George Atkinson and Darius Jackson are higher measureables players that are bound to excite during Training Camp and into next season. Atkinson is a straight ahead speedster who can play in the return game and be a threat out of the backfield.
Jackson was a breakout star in camp for the Cowboys but failed to find time in a very talented backfield. He was claimed by half the league when he was waived, one benefit to having the league's worst record. Jackson has a chance to be a 3 down back in this league with the combination of his size and speed.
With the two guys at the top and two developmental guys with obvious physical traits, the Browns are unlikely to draft the position in at least the first 2 Rounds, maybe more, of the upcoming NFL Draft.
With the change to DC Gregg Williams, the Browns are going to have players playing different roles, no matter what the "scheme" is called. 3-4, 4-3, 3-3-5, Bear, UFO and more will be seen from Williams' base defense. Based on his history, as well as the recent history of the NFL, the Browns are likely to have only two linebackers on the field about 75% of the time.
For the Browns, those two linebackers will be Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey. Those two can play the run, pass and rush the passer. They give the team a ton of versatility and can be counted on for all 3 downs. If the Browns lineup with 4 linebackers, Emmanuel Ogbah, Joe Schobert and likely #1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett would give the Browns a ton of options.
In the needs article I noted Strong Safety/Linebacker based on how Williams often uses his big safety, not because of lack of options when the Browns go with 3 or 4 linebacker sets.
#4 Pass Catchers
The Browns may not have had the kind of offensive year we expected with Hue at the helm but that was not because of the guys catching passes. Terrelle Pryor had a breakout year and should return, either with a long-term contract or with the Franchise Tag. Rookie Corey Coleman showed flashes of great play but had his season interrupted by a fluke hand injury. With Pryor and Coleman, the Browns have two special athletes that complement one another.
Veteran tight end Gary Barnidge didn't have the huge numbers he had the year prior but showed that he can still make plays while rookie project Seth DeValve started to produce late in the season. Barnidge is one veteran that could be traded for some value but only if he is replaced in free agency or the Draft. Together, Barnidge and DeValve give the Browns a talent duo at the tight end position.
The other rookie pass catchers, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton didn't produce a ton but each has upside. Louis is a speedster that was better at running routes than advertised. His hands still present a lot of concern. Higgins is a precise route runner who needs to gain experience and confidence to overcome some other average physical traits. Payton didn't see the field and was suspended for PEDs near the end of the season. He is considered the best combination of route running and hands and could have a role out of the slot.
No matter what the "other" 3 roookies show, Pryor, Coleman, Barnidge and DeValve give the Browns a lot of options in the passing game with 3 of the 4 still having a lot of room for growth. Louis, Higgins and Payton all can continue to develop without being called on to do too much.
After all, often only 2 or 3 receivers are on the field at one time and with Barnidge, DeValve, Crowell and Johnson, there are some limited snaps for quite a few talented guys.
#5 Defensive Line
After the Draft, this could be near the top of the list. If Garrett is added, along with a 3 technique tackle, the Browns could have one of the top lines in the business with a ton of youth.
With 4 down linemen, Ogbah and Carl Nassib can play the ends. Ogbah is the edge rusher with speed and length while Nassib can play the strong end with his length and ability to set the edge and open things up on the inside. How Danny Shelton is used will be very interesting. He came on strong as the team's beast of a nose tackle last year. Will Williams use him in the same way? Can he succeed in a different role? Either way, last season Shelton showed he can be a stud in the middle of a defense.
While the addition of Garrett will be helpful and another 3tech would be great, the Browns already own a very good defensive line.
Trader Sashi - His deals have been amazing for the team, even if you aren't sold on his actually picks so far.
Offensive Line - With Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio on the left side, the Browns have two studs. The team liked what they saw out of Austin Pasztor last year and many were surprised by the play of Spencer Drango. Shon Coleman didn't see the field much but the 3rd Round pick has a lot of upside that the team is hoping pays off at tackle soon.
Where do you see the Browns strength as we sit today, before Free Agency and the NFL Draft? Where do you agree/disagree?