Today we’ll be breaking down the Cleveland Browns, moving on with our 32 NFL Team Preview. The Browns have only won 6 games or more only twice since their last Playoff appearance in 2002. They won exactly 6 in 2005 and 10 in 2007. During that time frame, they’ve held a record of 52-108. This Offseason, Cleveland hired General Manager Michael Lombardi and Head Coach Rob Chudzinski. Lombardi has always been well known for his ability to scout talent. Chudzinski has never been a Head Coach on any level, and comes from the Panthers where he served as their Offensive Coordinator. It’ll be their job that Cleveland fans can see their team win its first Playoff game since 1994.
Offense: The Browns haven’t finished inside the Top 20 in Total Offense since 2007, when they ranked 8th. In the 2012 Draft, they selected a 28-year-old Quarterback in the 1st Round by the name of Brandon Weeden. Weeden struggled a lot in his rookie year, throwing for more interceptions than touchdowns (14 TD’s, 17 Int’s), and only completing 57% of his passes for 3,385 yards. He’ll get the start at Quarterback for the team in 2013, but they also brought Jason Campbell as an insurance policy in case Weeden struggles again. Campbell has started as the main guy for the Redskins and Raiders in his career, but has never played up to the expectation that comes with being a 1st round pick. The Browns selected Running Back Trent Richardson with the 3rd Overall pick in 2012. Trent’s rookie season didn’t go as the fans expected. He battled injuries throughout the year and only managed to have 2 runs over 20 yards. He did, however, score an impressive 11 touchdowns and proved to be a monster inside the Red Zone. Richardson did catch the ball out of the backfield well, as he hauled in 51 passes. If Campbell did take over at Quarterback, Richardson would be his best friend due to him being known as the “Check Down King.” Montario Hardesty and Dion Lewis will back up Trent. Hardesty was a standout player at Tennessee in his college days, but hasn’t been able to put it all together in the NFL. Lewis also was a standout in college and has made the most of his NFL carries (36), averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. These individuals running the football are going to have to step their game up in 2013 to help take pressure off the Quarterback. The Tight Ends are going to have to make sure they are good security blankets as well this upcoming season. Jordan Cameron is going into his 3rd NFL season hailing from USC. Cameron hasn’t seen a ton of action in either college or the pros. Last season he caught 20 passes for 226 yards, averaging 11.3 yards per catch. Cleveland signed Kellen Davis in Free Agency to add another Run Blocking, Red Zone body to the mix. Davis and Cameron are going to have to play better than back up quality. The Wide Receiver unit for the Browns has some pretty good players. Josh Gordon was selected in the Supplemental Draft in 2012, and led the team in yards (805) and touchdowns (5). Gordon has character concerns off the field, which led him to be in the Supplemental Draft in the first place. However, on the field he seems like the best threat the Browns have. Greg Little led the team in catches with 53 and was a receiver I was high on going into the 2011 Draft. If Little can step his game up a notch, he’ll prove to be just as big of a threat on the field as Josh Gordon. David Nelson, Davone Bess, and Travis Benjamin round out the group. Nelson was a reliable target in Buffalo in 2011 but missed almost all of the 2012 year with a torn ACL. Bess has always been reliable in college and the pros. Like Nelson, Bess should turnout to be vital on 3rd downs. Travis Benjamin is a speedster from the Miami Hurricanes who led the Browns in yards per catch with 16.6 in 2012. With teams focusing in on stopping the other players at his position, Benjamin needs to be able to make some big plays for Cleveland. He can blow by anyone one-on-one and needs to make his mark on field. The Offensive Line has one of the best Left Tackle’s in the NFL, Joe Thomas. Thomas has started every game for the team the last 6 years, and made the Pro Bowl every one of those seasons. Right Tackle Mitchell Schwartz was ranked Top 3 in the NFL at his position during his rookie year in 2012. Alex Mack at Center and Guard Shawn Lauvao will round out all the sure starters in what should be a Top 5 Offensive Line in the NFL. The other starting Guard position is going to be a competition between Jason Pinkston and John Greco. The Browns need to take advantage of their strength, the Offensive Line, to be successful. If the Running Backs can’t perform up to a high standard in 2013, it’s going to be a long season for them once again.
Defense: The Defense took a huge step backwards in 2012. They ranked 23rd in the NFL in Total Defense (25th against the Pass and 19th versus the Run) after ranking 10th in 2011. The Browns tried to make upgrades during the Offseason, choosing Defensive Players with 4 of their 5 picks in the Draft. Joe Haden is the best player in the Secondary and the most well known player on the Defense. Haden has intercepted 9 passes and deflected 47 in his 3 years being a pro. Leon McFadden was drafted, in the 3rd Round of the 2013 NFL Draft, from San Diego State and will get the start at the other Cornerback spot. McFadden intercepted 8 passes in his 4-year college career. T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson occupy the Safety positions. Ward hasn’t been able to finish the last 2 seasons due to injury but some feel he could be a force for the Browns at Strong Safety. The Browns took Jamoris Slaughter in the 6th Round from Notre Dame as an insurance policy in case Ward can’t make it through the season again. Gipson started 3 games last season for Cleveland and will be the full time starter at Free Safety in his 2nd season in the league. The Linebackers for the Browns are the strongest part of their Defense. Barkevious Mingo from LSU was selected with the 6th overall selection in the Draft this year. Mingo totaled 15 sacks and 29 tackles for loss in college. Jabaal Sheard will be competing with Mingo at the Outside Linebacker position. Sheard had 7 sacks in 2012 but that came from Defensive End in a 4/3 scheme. Now that the Browns are transitioning to 3/4 Defense, Sheard might be out of place at Outside Linebacker. On the opposite side will be Paul Kruger who Cleveland signed via Free Agency. Kruger has gotten stronger in each of his 4 NFL seasons. He had career highs, for the Super Bowl Champion Ravens, with 42 tackles and 9 sacks in 2012. Middle Linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson were the leading tacklers for the team last season. They’ll both be looked upon to produce just as well this upcoming season. Jackson has had a lot of up and downs with the organization, since joining in 2006, and hopes to see the team turn around with all the hard work he’s put in over the years. The Defensive Line has the perfect player to anchor their team in Phil Taylor. He’s a big body that commands a double team for the Middle Linebackers to play off nicely. Taylor only played the last half of the season in 2012, after suffering an injury in the weight room during the Offseason. Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin will fill in as the starting Defensive Ends. Bryant comes to the Browns from Oakland who picked him up as an un-drafted free agent in 2009. Over the past 3 seasons, Bryant has tallied 11.5 sacks and is a nice fit as a Defensive End in Cleveland’s new Defensive Scheme. This Defense has talent, but is pretty suspect, and might have growing pains as they transition to their new style.
End Result: Hopefully the team can be patient with first time Coach Rob Chudzinski. I say this because I only see the franchise finishing 3-13 in 2013.