2020 Cleveland Browns: Perfectly Mediocre
The GZL's Cleveland Browns appeared to be on a nice upward trajectory after Paul Willis arrived to his hometown team. While they did have a rocky finish as Willis transitioned midseason in 2018, 2019's team was one of the surprises of the league. Going 11-5, claiming their first ever AFC North championship and nearly defeating the Titans in the divisional playoffs had the front office thinking aggressively. They mortgaged the future in order to grab playmakers in HB Le'Veon Bell and WR Ulysses Moore from Miami in an unprecedented deal that saw the Browns give up basically every early pick they owned in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. On top of that, Willis doled out big money to veteran WR Demariyus Thomas and QB Howard Christensen in hopes of making a run through the playoffs en route to that elusive Super Bowl victory. Unfortunately things did not turn out as planned and the team got off to another terrible start. Unlike 2020, the furious finish to the season was not enough to send the Browns to the playoffs and Paul Willis finished his season as the "first team out" for the FOURTH time in his frustrating GZL career.
Howard Christensen surprised many by beating out Boston Mallett as the opening day starter despite a poor showing in the preseason. In week one against the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, Christensen seemed to justify that decision by throwing for a GZL record 601 yards. Four receivers topped 100 yards for the Browns on the game, but in what would become a trend on the season, they were not able to seal the deal and lost 36-35 on a last second field goal. Christensen went cold over the next 3 games and the Browns went from a hot Super Bowl pick to 0-4 just like that. Boston Mallett would regain his starting gig in week 5 and lead the Browns to a 2-1 record before getting pulled again in favor of Christensen due to an inability to take care of the football. Aside from an awful performance against the lowly Colts, Christensen was able to perform the game manager role up to the team's expectations on his second go round as starter and the team finished the season 7-2.
The inexplicable loss versus the Colts was frustrating, but the game that ultimately took the Browns out of the playoffs was a 38-34 defeat in Pittsburgh that saw the not so special teams unit give up two kickoff returns for touchdowns to Kenjon Barner. If either of these had been stopped, Cleveland likely would have taken the game and improved their final record to 10-6, which would have been good enough for the 6th seed and a second straight playoff appearance with the team playing as well as anyone in the league at the time. As it was, the team ended the season by winning 4 straight and 6 of their last 7.
Offensively, the quarterbacks were the problem yet again in Cleveland. Christensen finished the season with respectable numbers (52% completion, 7.93 YPA, 24 touchdowns) but his 17 interceptions typically came at the worst possible time, specifically early in the season. His counterpart Boston Mallett only started 3 games and won 2 of them. However, those who watched the games could easily tell you that Cleveland won in spite of Mallett, who finished the season with a 48% completion percentage and a paltry 5.48 yards per attempt. As of the time of this writing, Christensen has become a cap casualty despite the Browns' preference for him. Boston Mallett's contract is a handcuff the team has been eager to break since Willis arrived, but the team has at least one more season to invest in the giant with the big arm.
The Browns thought they had a new set of triplets when they acquired HB Le'Veon Bell and WR's Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore. Bell struggled early while the team decided to let Howard Christensen try to throw for 600 yards every week unsuccessfully but eventually broke in to a rhythm and finished the season with 1649 yards at a 4.58 yard per carry clip. This was good enough to finish 6th in the league in yards but just 16th per attempt. While the offensive line is substandard, Cleveland was hoping that Bell would be able to elevate the play in the backfield despite not having the best 5 in the league in front of him like Trent Richardson had for Willis in Houston. Thomas and Moore both finished with over 1000 yards on the season and had 76 catches a piece. Unfortunately, they did not provide the explosiveness the team was hoping for and combined for 23 drops(15% of catchable targets were dropped). Thomas has lost a step but is still a viable starter in the league and the team expects a step up from Moore in 2021.
As many opportunities as the offense left on the field, they did still finish the season 3rd in total yardage and 7th in points scored. The defense was the unit that took a big step backwards in 2020. The D finished 14th in total defense and 18th in points allowed but perhaps the biggest disappointment was the inability to get to the quarterback and create turnovers. The surprise 2019 Browns made the playoffs in large part to a defense that led the league in sacks and turnovers. In 2020 the Browns finished 20th in sacks and 9th in turnovers. The unit did solidify in the back half of the season which was a huge reason for the 7-2 finish, at one point the Browns were last in the league in both sacks and turnovers. So what happened? The most obvious point was the drop off in production by defensive tackles Eddie Goldman and Malcom Brown, who combined for 18 sacks a season before but finished with just 7 in 2021. Cameron Jordan was an effective run stuffer at right end but fell short of his typical 7-8 sack performance and the linebacking corps completely vanished from the stat sheet with just 4 sacks as a unit (Ross Homan collected all four while subbing for the injured Zaviar Gooden). The good news is that Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 CB Emerson Dupree proved that he's not just a one year wonder by pulling down 5 interceptions. While it's not the 7 he had as a rookie and he gave up way too many catches, he still appears to be on track to be a mainstay for years and justify his draft position. Veteran safety Steve Griffin spent much of the season on the injured list and was only mediocre when he was in and will be allowed to walk in free agency.
Restricted Free Agency: No Point
Restriced free agency has always been a favorite of GM Paul Willis but this season was a definite exception. Previous Browns GM's left Willis with absolutely no one he felt was deserving of a tender on the current roster. The rest of the league had some intriguing players, but there were none with cheap tenders worth going after like in previous seasons.
Free Agency: I'm Broke
After going crazy a few seasons ago in free agency, Willis put himself in a position where free agency essentially had to be a hands off approach. With only 15 million or so earmarked after draft signings and the crazy amount of money getting thrown around, there was no way Cleveland could afford to take part in this exercise. The good news is the Browns felt pretty good about most of the team. They certainly would have liked to upgrade the offensive line, but ready made starters at those positions in particular were the ones receiving the most egregious deals this year. The Browns signed not a single player prior to the college entry draft.
Pre-Draft Trades: Pulled the Trigger
Well, it's almost like Cleveland took the offseason off, huh? Well after blowing their wad of cash in 2019 and blowing their wad of picks in 2020 there really wasn't much action to be had here. Aside from a very short conversation with Dallas revolving around a quarterback the Browns couldn't afford, the phones were extremely quiet all offseason long. Big contracts are keeping the team in check for the moment. Two of those, inherited from previous regimes, are particularly frustrating for Cleveland. QB Boston Mallett is as good of a quarterback prospect as you could ever ask for but for some reason he and Willis just cannot make the thing work. As much as Willis and Mallett would love to move on from each other, the once promising gunslinger would cost the team over 12 million in future cap penalties to move. Similarly, DE Cameron Jordan has been a mainstay in Cleveland for nearly the entire GZL era. He also has a giant contract and is over 10 YP so no one in the league is willing to pay anywhere near the value the club would need in order to eat his cap penalty. The final huge chunk of cash is self inflicted in the form of WR Demariyus Thomas, who regressed this offseason but still provides the team with a wily vet with the potential to put up Pro Bowl numbers. As it stands now, those 3 contracts make any significant moves very difficult.
The Draft: Searching for Gems
2.20 -- WR Josh Doctson - TCU -- After once again finishing the season in position to have the 20th pick in each round and having traded away their first to Miami a year before, the Browns felt lucky to find TCU's Josh Doctson available so late in the day. While he certainly isn't a ready made prospect, Doctson has good size and hands and with the right amount of attention he should be able to take over for Demariyus Thomas alongside Ulysses Moore next season if the Browns don't find a better option in the meantime. The team should have plenty of opportunities to devote training to him as the roster is nearly empty of any young talents that would normally take their attention away from an unfinished prospect like the former Horned Frog.
3.20 -- SS Sam Barbartsky - Rice -- There is nothing that stands out about Sam Barbartsky. He's got good speed, good hands, good agility, good acceleration and good awareness for a rookie safety. The Browns needed someone to take over for Steve Griffin and after passing on a safety in the second round in favor of Josh Doctson, were pleasantly surprised with Barbartsky as an option one round later. He will almost certainly start immediately for the safety needy Browns and, like Doctson, will benefit from the team's lack of progressable young players as competition. Eventually he could not only become a starter for the short term but a player who continues on in Cleveland for a decade.
4.20 -- QB Jacoby Brissett - North Carolina State -- Word is that the Browns were hopeful that Dak Prescott would be available at this selection. Unfortunately, despite the amount of talented signal callers in the GZL, there is still a market for a quarterback with potential in the draft and Prescott went much earlier than anticipated at 2.24. This didn't stop the Browns from taking one though. Brissett is a classic pocket passer which the Browns love, and while he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, he does have excellent starting accuracy and enough awareness to potentially start one day. It will take a Terence Bennett level investment, but the Browns may decide to begin grooming Brissett as the QB of the future now as they count down the clock on the Boston Mallett era.
5.20 -- LE Adam Kelly - Iowa -- The Browns needed a defensive end for depth and there's no cheaper way to do that than by drafting a guy late. Kelly has a good SPD/STR combo and if that was all that mattered he might see playing time one day. Unfortunately his acceleration is the poops and if he ever sets foot on the field Cleveland will be in trouble.
6.20 -- SS Marion Fournier - BYU -- Fournier is actually a pretty intriguing prospect this deep in the draft. Just an inch shorter than Barbartsky and certainly faster. The reason Fournier will not start is because his first step is so slow and he is a year or two behind with his hands and football IQ.
7.20 -- FS Russell Charboneau - Oregon -- Cleveland was still hoping to hit a homerun with a late round pick but Charboneau will only provide depth. Like Fournier he has a fancy sounding name and decent measurables, but also like Fournier, he has an extremely slow first step to the football and will not see the field very often barring injury.
7.27 -- DT Cepheus King - Miami -- The Browns had need of a defensive tackle to fill their roster. Defensive tackles are expensive to sign in free agency. Cepheus King's contract is not expensive. Now you know the reason Cepheus King is on the Browns roster.
Post Draft UFA: Bargain Bin
There really was only one goal in free agency this year: get a team on the field that would meet GZL's roster requirements. Out of this necessity Cleveland signed six players who they have no intention of ever seeing in uniform on an offensive or defensive snap. However, after all the mandatory signings were done the team was still left with a handful of cash to spend on someone who might prove useful. No starters were still around to be hired and none were really thought of as needed although the team did toy with the idea of making room to sign QB Howard Christensen for another season although that idea was quickly abandoned after looking back over his 2020 season stats.
TE Jordan Cameron is a player Willis has long admired from afar during his time with the Miami Dolphins. While the Browns are set with Lance Hendricks as their stud receiving tight end, they had absolutely nothing behind him worth mentioning. Cameron, although heavily regressed from his prime, is still a savvy vet with more athleticism than most who can also be a viable blocker in two tight end sets. Kendricks is no stranger to injury so this move could pay dividends not only in substitutions but if a more disastrous situation develops.
CB Leonard Johnson was a first round pick once upon a time by the Atlanta Falcons. While time has not been kind to that selection (most would call it a bust in production terms), that can't really be blamed on Johnson. He was as dumb as a box of rocks coming out of Iowa State and while he is still not ever going to be considered a field general, he has developed enough of a feel for the game to be a high quality backup. The Browns only had 4 cornerbacks on the roster prior to this pickup, so while not technically a requirement, it was considered a necessity by the front office.
Training Camp: Observations
Offensive linemen Burl Ragsdale and Octavius Warren have been challenging each other in the weight room. Both are converted college tight ends with tremendous athleticism but underwhelming power and technique. If one or both can develop a full game to go along with their outstanding quickness it would go a long way towards improving an already effective, if inconsistent offense.
Rookie CB Emerson DuPree is on a mission to become a better player than Buford McKay. While that is a tall order for the Oregon alum, he does seem a step quicker than he was in college, which was already very fast. He has taken his new partner in the secondary, Sam Barbartsky under his wing in an effort to get the third rounder ready to start alongside him on opening day.
WR Josh Doctson has a chip on his shoulder after being passed on until the second round of the draft. The 6'3" Doctson spent the summer at the home of fellow wideout Oliver Coleman and attended a speed camp with Ryan Swope.
Le'Veon Bell made it through the season but reports are that he was banged up nearly the entire campaign and pushed his way through it. He began an extensive routine with former injury prone halfback Fred Taylor during the offseason in an effort to mimic Taylor's transformation from an oft-injured talent in to one of the best backs in the late 90's/early 2000's.
Training Camp Battles: Fight For Your Right
Quarterback -- Jacoby Brissett vs. Cameron Green vs. Tony Bohannon
While Boston Mallett is still the defacto starting quarterback, the battle for the backup spot is up for grabs. Tony Bohannon was looked as a guy with some potential at the time of his drafting but has developed in to a wasted pick as he was released just prior to this posting. Jacoby Brissett is not game ready as of now, but could beat out Green based on his potential as the team sees him as a future starter if he gets opportunities. Knowing the Browns offensive line and Mallett's refusal to throw the god damn ball, it is likely whoever wins this battle will see plenty of time on the field in 2021.
Wide Receiver -- Ryan Swope vs. Oliver Coleman vs. Josh Doctson
Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore have the top two starting slots locked up. WR3, which is traditionally a deep threat in Willis offenses, is up for grabs between two veteran speedsters and the young talent Doctson. Coleman is younger than Swope, but Swope is taller. Coleman is faster, Swope is stronger. Swope has better football instincts, but Coleman has better hands. Throw all that out the window because Doctson is taller and is the one who needs the reps the most? It's a very close race right now and most likely won't be settled until after the preseason. Look for each to get opportunities with the starting squad during the preseason.
2019 Cleveland Browns: New Era Truly Begins
There have been some questions this offseason about how much dedication Paul Willis has left to his "dream job". There were even rumblings earlier this season that he might head back to Houston when that opportunity arose. It just seems that for whatever reason, the passion to build a winner has gone out of the organization. That said, the team has 2 winning seasons in Willis' first 2 full campaigns in orange and brown so there should be reason for optimism despite Boston Mallett backing in to the starting quarterback role again. The positive outlook is that without Christensen looming the Browns will tailor an offense to suit Mallet's skills. He only had 3 games to figure out a rhythm with Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore, and the offensive line should do a better job protecting him and opening holes for Le'Veon Bell.
Bell will be counted on again to be the focus for the offense whether or not Mallett gets his act together. If he can keep the momentum of a strong second half of the season rolling and produce a 5+ yard per carry total as the team envisions, it will be hard to fail. Even if he can come close, the team will feed him the ball enough to contend for a rushing title.
On the outside, one or both of Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore must produce more. While both were solid a season ago, they didn't provide the fireworks that were expected and too often dropped big passes in crucial moments. With Josh Doctson joining to add more size in the depth and Oliver Coleman and Ryan Swope returning to reprise their roles as speedy deep threats and special teams aces, this group should be in good shape.
The offensive line is the biggest question mark outside of Mallett. Can the undersized but athletically gifted group create enough holes to propel Lev Bell to an MVP candidate while also keeping Boston Mallett protected long enough to have a halfway decent season? It may be a lot to ask as they are still very raw but it is certainly a possibility.
The defensive line returns in tact and should bounce back after the disappointment that was 2020. Free agent Cornelius Washington picked up his game late and finished with 11 sacks but he needs to be a more consistent force if he can be the Mario Williams mark II that he was imagined to be coming out of college. Aging vet Cameron Jordan is still a perfect fit at right end in this defensive system but he needs to produce more pressure on the quarterback. He was solid last season with double digit tackles for loss but his 4 sacks left something to be desired. The biggest piece of the puzzle is in the middle, where Eddie Goldman and Malcom Brown must prove that 2020 was a sophomore slump and not a sign of things to come. With the immense talent that both possess it is hard to imagine they finish 2021 as poorly as they did 2020.
The linebacking corps must stay healthy as there is basically no depth. Last season Zaviar Gooden's injury was softened by the presence of Ross Homan on the team. This year there is no one at that level who is ready to step in and take meaningful snaps. Shea McClellin had a career year a season ago and must prove capable of repeating that performance. His confidence should be at an all time high. On the outsides, Zaviar Gooden and Byron Pharr simply must produce more pressure from a 46 look. They combined for zero sacks in 2020, which hindered the defense's ability to get off the field too often, specifically late in games.
The secondary progressed well over the 2020 campaign but still needs to step to the next level to become elite. Emerson Dupree was a disappointment on draft day but he has been a sensation on the field. Another step up for him, along with a return to form for Pete Nickerson would go a long way towards a return to glory for this unit. Anthony Harris mans the free safety spot and is a cagey young veteran at this point in his career. He will be joined by rookie Sam Barbartsky, who will make mistakes early on but has the athleticism and hands to surprise with big plays.
The Browns are out of the conversation of playoff teams (once again left off the "Who's Next" list on the front page at GZL-Football.com) but the team knows they won the AFC North just two seasons ago and were merely a game away from returning to the playoffs a season ago. As always, the Browns will need to take care of business in the division first. If they can do that, the rest of the goal becomes much easier to define and tackle. It will all hinge on Boston Mallett returning to form so the Browns could finish anywhere from 3-13 to 13-3 in my opinion. Odds are, 8-8 and another disappointment.
(by P_Willis on 07/21/2016)
Replies - 0 :: Views - 12
2020 Browns TC
2019 Cleveland Browns: Progress
The 2019 Cleveland Browns can easily be described as a pleasant surprise. After finishing the previous season at 4-12 while ushering in yet another new regime (this time led by lifelong fan and former Houston Texans boss Paul Willis), not much was expected from a Browns unit that lacked playmakers on offense or a dominant leader on defense. On top of that, Willis pulled a no show for the first four weeks of the season while working out a "personal situation". Despite being ruddlerless for the first quarter of the season, the Browns managed a 2-2 start that included a road victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. The team later dropped two in a row against division rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati after winning 5 of 6 and found themselves sitting at 6-5 with any potential tiebreaker against them. Despite all odds, the Browns ripped off five straight victories and got the self destructive assistance from the Bengals and Ravens that they needed in order to clinch the first AFC North title in franchise history.
Despite finishing 2-4 in the division the Browns managed to earn a home playoff game against the San Diego Chargers in the wild card round. The Browns secondary found themselves in unfamiliar territory when Blaine Gabbert started his day by shredding the defense through the air. Despite this, the defense managed to hold San Diego to field goals as opposed to touchdowns, and Gabbert was knocked out of the game for over 2 quarters by a violent sack from defensive rookie of the year candidate Eddie Goldman. In Gabbert's absense, 5th round rookie Kyle Washington proved less than up to the task. The Browns managed to amass a modest 13-6 lead by the time Gabbert returned late in the game. Picking up where he left off, Gabbert went on to lead a game tying drive late in regulation. Up to this point in the game, quarterback Boston Mallett was outperformed by even Kyle Washington. Fortunately for the home fans he chose the right time to get it straight and was able to lead the Browns down the field for a last minute game winning field goal that earned the team a trip to visit Tennessee in the divisional round.
Willis moved on in the playoffs to the matchup he both dreaded and embraced. Tim Nissen and the Titans were the arch rivals to Willis' Houston Texans for years and the two are not strangers to postseason battles. The first Nissen/Willis playoff encounter ended in a 3 point Titans victory and the rematch ended with the same result. Tennessee's defense completely smothered the Browns offense and although they kept the game close, the Cleveland defense just couldn't quite match the feat versus the Titan offense. Vince Rogers was held to just 24 yards on 14 carries but Christopher Henderson kept the offense on the field long enough to amass a 16-3 lead late in the 3rd quarter. Henderson's one big mistake was an ill advised throw over the middle that FS Anthony Harris snagged for a pick six and the only touchdown of the day for the visitors. The turnover made the score 16-13 but should have tied the game. On the prior drive the Browns managed to get as close as the Tennessee 1 yard line. On fourth and goal, rather than kicking a field goal to close to within 7 points, the team opted to run a toss that was easily stopped short of the end zone. The defense would give the offense one last chance at glory, but Boston Mallett finished out a horrendous day with a horrendous comeback attempt and the Browns went home deserving losers.
Despite the unceremonious exit from the playoffs the season can be considered nothing less than a rousing success on the whole, particularly for the defense. Cleveland finished 9th in yards allowed for the year but 1st in points allowed thanks to their league leading 54 sacks and 36 takeaways. Leading the charge up the middle was rookie 2nd round defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, who finished the season with 11 sacks in 11 starts. We can only wonder what kind of numbers Goldman would have finished with had the front office seen fit to put him in the starting lineup from the beginning of the year. As it is, Goldman is a legitimate defensive rookie of the year candidate, but will likely lose out to teammate Emerson Dupree. Rumors from Berea were that Cleveland was very disappointed they traded down from 1.5 and missed on the opportunity to take CB Buford McKay. Instead, Cleveland ended up with CB Emerson Dupree, the previously mentioned Goldman and OG Octavius Warren from the deal. In retrospect the Browns have to be delighted with the return they got for dropping five spots. Dupree broke the GZL rookie interception record with 7 and added 18 deflections to 34 catches allowed. While certainly not perfect, he showed the kind of promise that not even the most optimistic fan could have hoped for. Rounding out the defensive heroes was new MLB Shea McClellin, who was imported from Denver for former 3rd round pick FS Sully Santos. McClellin never managed more than 46 tackles as a Bronco and could be said to have been something of a bust. In his 7th season he energized his career by stepping in to a starting role and delivering with a 121 tackle, 18 deflection, 2 interception, 3 forced fumble season. The 6'3" 270 pounder has surprising speed for a man his size and appears to be a perfect fit for the defense. The best part of the deal is that he still has two years left on his contract.
Offensively, the Browns focused on playing it safe and chewing up the clock. Boston Mallett, who had the worst statistical season of his career the year before, bounced back with a respectable campaign. Despite the improvement, his 83.0 QB rating is as mediocre as it gets and Cleveland rarely put up big numbers through the air. The hero of the receiving corps was tight end Lance Kendricks, who had his best season since 2014, finishing 5th in the league among tight ends despite dropping 10 passes. Newcomers Ryan Swope and Oliver Coleman both had opportunities to start opposite veteran Carlton Mitchell but neither could provide the consistent deep threat the Browns were looking for.
Montee Ball was a priority free agent and was expected to contend for the rushing title by those within the building. Ball was underwhelming as the lead back over the first 6 weeks and was benched in favor of relative unknown T.J. Salaam in week 7. The 6' 242 pound Salaam is a former 3rd round pick of the Chargers and was signed as something of an afterthought after Ball was acquired but once given an opportunity he proved to be the better fit. Salaam finished the season with 1225 yards in 11 starts and was the only consistent offensive performer in the playoffs with 225 more yards.
Restricted Free Agency: Center of Attention
Restricted free agency is always a favorite of GM Paul Willis and this offseason was no different. The only target in 2020 was Buffalo center Demetrius Conway, who had the lowest tender applied and would cost nothing to sign but money. Conway lost his starting job 2 seasons ago and has struggled in limited opportunities since but is the kind of athlete that Willis covets and performed well enough as a rookie to give the Browns the confidence to allow Alex Mack to walk out of town.
Match-Eligible Free Agency: Lame
Paul Willis traditionally skips the match eligible free agency period but Cleveland had so much cap to burn this season that he went in on three players with what he thought were respectable offers. Unfortunately, the Rams matched on OT Ernie Bowman, the Packers matched on DE Bjoern Werner and the Bengals matched on CB Brent Parrish. The Browns did not exercise the match option on any of their own and this period ended with zero fanfare.
Pre-Draft Trades: Skip the Draft
The real story of Cleveland's offseason was a trade with the Miami Dolphins. Prior to that deal happening, the Browns were believed to be close to acquiring HB Gerard Campbell from Carolina but were eventually outbid by Denver and hesitated to make a better offer than 1.26 and Montee Ball. The team quietly shipped off OLB Sean Spence and a 6th round pick to New Orleans for their 3rd rounder and WR Norm Grace but the gamechanging deal happened just before draft day.
Willis was eager to acquire Miami WR Ulysses Moore after hearing Ben Harbinger was looking to move him but had committed their first round pick to Carolina as part of the Gerard Campbell deal that fell through. When it became apparent that Carolina was going with another offer Cleveland made its pitch but Miami was rethinking letting the athletic 6'4" wideout go. After scouting the draft class and coming away unimpressed, Willis countered with an offer that would send 1.26, 2.1, a future 1st and HB Montee Ball to Miami in return for Moore and HB Le'Veon Bell. After stewing on the offer for a few days, Harbinger and the Dolphins accepted. Bell, entering his sixth season, is an aging halfback on an expiring contract. This didn't stop the Browns, as he is still easily one of the most gifted backs in the league and the team had no players on the roster on the last year of their deal, so Bell will be back past this season. Cleveland is expecting very big things after the performance that T.J. Salaam, who some might call a poor man's Bell, was able to manage in 2019. Ulysses Moore is raw as they come but has the kind of athleticism that should allow him to flourish despite his lack of polish. After his offseason workouts with the team, scouts insist that there are only 6 players who match his combination of size, speed and acceleration. When you throw in his tremendous leaping ability, there's no one who compares to him.
Following the draft, the Browns were able to secure a bookend and mentor for the raw youngster in the form of Demaryius Thomas. The long time Bronco turned Seahawk was a cap casualty after just one season in Kansas City and is already showing signs of regression. That said, even at this stage in his career he is still an elite physical specimen and reminds the staff of Andre Johnson, who was around in the glory days when Willis' Texans were the top offense in the league. Cleveland is hoping the addition of 3 playmakers of the caliber of Thomas/Moore/Bell will help transform a bottom 12 offense in to a top 5 in an offseason's time.
The Draft: Skipped
2.26 -- CB Gabe Khristiansen -- The Browns debated between Khristiansen and QB Patrick Towles here. The corner was the pick largely because he can play a role early on in his career, whereas Towles might never start despite his great potential. Khristiansen compares favorably to 1.17 Kendall Fuller and will have the benefit of mentor Pete Nickerson. Likely a dimeback to start but could see nickel reps in the right matchups.
3.9 -- QB Tony Bohannon -- The Browns were disappointed but not completely surprised to find that Patrick Towles was taken at 2.30. The backup plan was Bohannon, who will serve as Boston Mallett's backup. Odds are Bohannon will not play any significant downs anytime soon barring injury or complete disaster and may never actually develop in to a viable starter in the league.
3.26 -- OLB Cody Dupont -- Dupont was drafted in large part due to his versatility, as he is large enough to switch to DE if the team so desires. After the signing of LE Cornelius Washington, it is much more likely that Dupont will be the primary backup across the linebacking corps.
(by P_Willis on 01/08/2016)
Replies - 1 :: Views - 20
2019 Browns Training Camp
2018 Cleveland Browns: The More Things Change..
It feels like a long time ago that Brad Mallett's Browns hosted the AFC Championship game. That's probably because it has been. Since falling just short of that most elusive goal in 2014, the Browns have had just one winning season in 4 tries and that year ended in an embarrassing wild card defeat in Kansas City. Mallett and his star quarterback Boston Mallett were supposed to provide the long suffering town with the consistency they've never had since returning to pro football's ranks. Sadly, Mallett the general manager stepped away from the sport following the 2015 season. Jim Rose stayed for the whole of 2016 but won just 7 games before leaving the city in his dust. Former San Francisco GM Russell Warner took the club back to the playoffs in 2017 but abandoned the Browns early on in the 2018 season.
Houston general manager Paul Willis had long coveted the Browns job while Mallett held it, but turned down an offer from Cleveland following Mallett's departure in 2015 because he wanted to see the Texans through to a championship. After back to back 9-7 seasons and no playoff appearances the next two seasons, Willis' seat in Houston was growing hot. Despite a 3-2 start, unrest within the front office in Houston and an unexpected opening in Browns town was the perfect storm for a homecoming. The Browns managed to win just 3 games during the 11 games of the Willis era and claimed a top 5 draft pick. Despite the disappointing results on the field, the acquisition of Willis gives the franchise a proven commodity and all but guarantees the continuity this team has so desperately needed for the past 20 years.
In Houston, Willis struggled to develop former first overall pick Kendall Irving in to a superstar after his first season ended with the Rookie of the Year award. In Boston Mallett, Willis gets Irving on steroids. The 6'8", 261 pound Mallett has one of the strongest arms in the league but has had just one Pro Bowl caliber season in his past 4 years. 2018 was no different, as the former Golden Domer experienced a career low 6.74 yards per attempt and a 52.25% completion percentage, his lowest since his rookie season. Mallett will have to improve if the Browns are to step back in to the role of contenders.
The Browns running game used to be one name, Peyton Hillis. The years have not been as kind since Hillis' departure, and while Johnathan Franklin and Ace Kirkland make a nice team, they combined for just a pedestrian season and rarely took over games. Former first round pick Brad Edwards was supposed to become the Donnie Avery of the North in Cleveland. Instead, he became more of a bit player after just 1 season topping a thousand yards. He came close in 2018 but stalled at 850 yards as the leading receiver for an anemic pass offense.
Defensively, the Browns had trouble figuring out who they want to be. The team bounced between 4-3 and 3-4 sets throughout the season, never really finding one combination of scheme or depth chart that truly dominated. The defensive line, lead by Cameron Jordan, was pushed around often. Once the team transitioned to a 3-4 defense the hope was that Jordan could maintain a solid pass rush but he managed only 6 sacks from the left end position and made less impact plays overall than at any other time in his career. The switch to the 3-4 was a more positive experience for newcomer Byron Pharr and veteran Sean Spence, who both managed 5 sacks in limited opportunities. Jon Bostic has become a D'Qwell Jackson redux, simply gobbling up tackles without seeming to be a particularly outstanding player.
In the secondary the Browns were once again led by Pete Nickerson, who also had the worst season of his pro career in 2018. Nickerson's devolution, inexperienced safeties being forced in to action and a general dearth of talent at the cornerback position were just too much for the Browns to overcome and the pass defense was porous all season long. The unit may have set a new record in futility as the entire secondary managed just 5 interceptions over the course of the season. Middle linebacker Jon Bostic managed 4 on his own. Revamping this unit would become a major offseason priority.
Restricted Free Agency: Get Some Depth
Paul Willis always loves to look for bargains during the restricted free agency period. His first offseason in Cleveland was no exception as the Browns pursued and obtained two quality depth players who could compete for starting time in 2019. Seattle WR Oliver Coleman has speed for days but is very raw. A fourth round pick of the Seahawks in 2016, Coleman didn't catch a pass until 2017 when he hauled in just 4 but earned a larger role last season while grabbing 29 passes for just over 400 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 6 drops are a concern, but the Browns felt like the upside was more than worth giving up 4.5 for.
CB Quentin Hamilton was tagged with the lowest tender and thus cost the Browns nothing to obtain other than a contract. A former third round pick in San Diego, Hamilton didn't see the field at all as a rookie and was traded to the Eagles prior to the 2017 season. The 6'2" Hamilton has great size, hands and football IQ but is only an average athlete. Despite this and quite a few struggles during the time he's seen on the field, he will have an opportunity to start when the right matchup presents itself in Cleveland.
Free Agency: Filling Gaps
Willis allowed some big name players to leave in free agency, including starting HB Johnathan Franklin, WR Brad Edwards, MLB Jon Bostic and future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. Cheaper alternatives to 3 of those players were obtained during this period of the offseason but that was all that was accomplished during pre-draft free agency.
To replace Franklin the Browns brought in former Colt Montee Ball and former Charger T.J. Salaam. Ball is a former first round pick with good, though not great, size and strong measurables. Despite all the things to like, he's managed just 1 season of 4 or more yards per carry. Willis showed confidence that Ball can succeed in the right system by offering a 3 year $14.31M deal. Ball's new mate in the backfield is former Charger T.J. Salaam. Salaam, a 3rd round pick in 2016, is a large man at 6', 242 pounds who has decent athleticism to go along with his massive size. He did will with limited opportunities as a rookie but was allowed to carry the ball only 9 times during his sophomore campaign before not earning a single carry in San Diego a year ago. The Browns hope the Chargers' trash can be their treasure.
WR Ryan Swope was a major target despite picking up Oliver Coleman in RFA. A busted 2nd round pick in Atlanta, Swope is another raw speedster and another player who just didn't earn an opportunity with his former employer. He will be expected to compete for a starting WR job and is an early favorite to handle kickoff returns.
Pre-Draft Trades: Pulled the Trigger
Willis started early, trading Russell Warner's first round pick DeVante Parker to the Chargers in return for a 2nd round pick and OLB Byron Pharr. Pharr showed flashes after finally getting a starting job and San Diego's 2 turned in to 2.14.
Another linebacker was acquired during the offseason, this time the Browns sent talented FS prospect Sully Santos to Denver to acquire veteran MLB Shea McClellin. McClellin is another talented athlete who has never gained the opportunity to start. 6'3", 270 pounds with speed intrigued Willis enough to deal Santos, who the team did like. McClellin will start in place of the athletically challenged but statistically golden Jon Bostic.
The biggest trade of the offseason turned out to be Willis' greatest regret (but we'll get to that later), as the Browns agreed to trade 1.5 to the Bears in return for 1.10, 2.10 and 2.29. The idea was that none of the Browns top targets would be around at 1.5, and there'd still be a solid option at 1.10 with a couple extra starters thrown in.
The Draft: Shouldn't Have Pulled the Trigger
1.10 -- CB Emerson DuPree -- Cleveland never dreamed that Buford McKay or Angel Rosario would be available at 1.5, this lack of faith led to the trade down with the Bears and the Browns grudgingly took DuPree here when they could've had the much superior McKay. Other than not being Buford McKay, DuPree actually is a solid prospect. With development, the 6 footer will be one of the most well rounded athletes at the position in the league and has very good football IQ and hands for a rookie. While he will always be compared to McKay in Cleveland, DuPree fills an important role as a legitimate starter opposite Pete Nickerson.
2.5 -- DT Malcom Brown -- Cleveland expected Brown to go in the mid to late first so were happy to take a flier here on the 6'2", 320 pounder. With speed to rush the passer and power to hold up against the run, there's nothing not to like about Brown. With the Browns expected to switch back to a 4-3, a player like this was exactly what the doctor ordered to go along with incumbent NT/DT Louis Nix...at least until...
2.10 -- DT Eddie Goldman -- Goldman is nearly a carbon copy of Brown, arguably better depending on what exactly you value the most. The Browns never thought both players would be around at this point and just couldn't resist the potentially elite middle that Goldman and Brown can provide together. With two versatile, dominant linemen lining up next to Cameron Jordan, Cleveland could now have one of the best defensive lines in the league.
2.14 -- OT Burl Ragsdale -- Ragsdale fits the Willis bill of extremely quick, though not necessarily the strongest, offensive linemen. Ragsdale has great football IQ but his technique needs a lot of work. Will be given every opportunity to beat out veteran plodder Jeff Otah at left tackle.
2.29 -- OG Octavius Warren -- Another very quick lineman with major technique issues. Cleveland will probably look to invest in a mentor or two in order to get the most out of Warren and Ragsdale, but don't be surprised to see both youngsters starting very early on in their careers.
3.5 -- OG John Filipovic -- Another lineman with athleticism, Filipovic has better technique than the two men drafted earlier but his football IQ is not considered very high. Will need development to see the field but could start at LG one day.
Post Draft UFA: TBD
Dating back to his Houston days, Paul Willis has long admired OLB Zaviar Gooden from his time in Philadelphia and San Diego. Gooden was a surprise cut, and Willis jumped on the opportunity to grab a studly linebacker to add to what is becoming the type of group that is required to run the 4-3 that can excel against the run and pass. The rest of the signings here were for depth purposes/mentorship purposes only.
Training Camp: Observations
Malcom Brown and Eddie Goldman became friends during the draft process and couldn't be happier to team up as professionals. Both men are extremely dedicated to their craft and have essentially lived in the training facility since rookie minicamp began.
Rookie CB Emerson DuPree is on a mission to become a better player than Buford McKay. While that is a tall order for the Oregon alum, he does seem a step quicker than he was in college, which was already very fast.
Rookie OG Octavius Warren has dedicated himself to improving his lower body strength at the behest of the training staff. Warren is very good at pulling but often has trouble on traditional power run blocking plays.
Pete Nickerson expects 2019 to be his breakout season and he's worked with team doctors and trainers all offseason to make sure he does everything in his power to avoid a potential injury that would derail his rise.
Training Camp Battles: WR Battle Heating Up
Outside Linebacker -- Zaviar Gooden vs. Sean Spence vs. Byron Pharr vs. Ross Homan
Essentially the Browns just have too much talent. With the switch back to the 4-3, there are 4 very talented players here and only 2 spots. Gooden and Pharr, both former Chargers, are the quickest of the bunch and Gooden particularly seems a lock for the starting ROLB spot. The left side is a little more up for grabs, but Pharr is the incumbent and proved his worth after coming over in the DeVante Parker trade last season. Spence and Homan could be put on the trade block, but will likely be kept around as very good depth.
Wide Receiver -- Ryan Swope vs. Oliver Coleman
Aging Carlton Mitchell still has gas left in the tank and is a lock to win the starting WR1 spot. WR2, which is traditionally a deep threat in Willis offenses, is up for grabs between two new acquisitions. Coleman is younger than Swope, but Swope is taller. Coleman is faster, Swope is stronger. Swope has better football instincts, but Coleman has better hands. It's a very close race right now and most likely won't be settled until after the preseason. Look for each to get 2 opportunities with the starting squad during the preseason and whichever looks better to get the gig, the loser will inherit the slot receiver role.
2019 Cleveland Browns: New Era Truly Begins
Paul Willis struggled after taking over the Houston Texans in the middle of the season in 2010. By 2011, he had a handle on his team and managed to win 9 games. The front office is hoping 2019 is similar for the Cleveland Browns. A lot of turnover has already happened as Willis has begun remodeling the franchise he grew up loving. The 2019 Browns will boast at least 13 new starters, but the most important one is still there.
Boston Mallett, much like Kendall Irving in Houston, must step up in order for this franchise to return to postseason play. The talent is proven, Mallett threw 38 touchdown passes during his sophomore season and bettered a 94 quarterback rating just 2 seasons ago. Mallett's best play came with Peyton Hillis on the roster, and while Montee Ball and T.J. Salaam may not equal a Hillis, the combo should be the best the Browns have had since his departure. The receiving corps is a major question mark with the exception of Carlton Mitchell and Lance Kendricks. If one or both of Oliver Coleman and Ryan Swope can break through and become a star, the Browns offense might really have a chance to do something in 2019.
The defense will have a totally new look with the upgrade in the middle of the line. Malcom Brown, Eddie Goldman and Cameron Jordan should thrive with the change back to the 4-3. All 3 men have the potential for double digit sacks, and while that will almost certainly not happen, if the pass rush improves drastically then the secondary that struggled so much in 2018 will benefit. A revamped linebacking corps with Shea McClellin at MLB and Zaviar Gooden at OLB will fly around the ball faster and stronger than the Browns have ever done in the front seven. Rookie Emerson DuPree will be challenged often and must avoid major rookie struggles as Pete Nickerson will be expected to step up and become the Pro Bowl caliber player Cleveland thought they drafted with the sixth overall pick in the draft 3 seasons ago.
If all goes well, the Browns are a playoff team. Willis' bad luck with rocket armed quarterbacks appears to be very difficult to break though and the offense is too new and too raw to be consistent this season. With a good defense and a good running game some of the time, the forecast for Cleveland is somewhere between 6-9 games, although 8-8 feels like right about where this Browns team stands right now. That kind of a confidence building year followed up with another positive offseason should have Cleveland back in to contention by 2020.
(by P_Willis on 07/09/2015)
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At A Glance