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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC North: Cleveland Browns - 4th

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 6, 2013

 

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC North: Cleveland Browns - 4th

 

OFFENSE

 

QB:

29-year old second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden had some low points in 2012, at times struggling to find open guys, forcing passes and throwing interceptions. As a result, Weeden’s exceptional arm talent and improvement down the stretch are going largely overlooked. He threw only 14 touchdowns but completed 57% of his passes, a figure that historically is consistent with rookie franchise quarterbacks. Further, after his bye week, Weeden completed about 62% of his throws, protected the ball much better, and put his team in a position to go .500 over that six game span. Though Weeden turns 30 in October, he has the size and skill set to be a good starter and, if the offense hiccups, he should not be the primary reason. What also should not be overlooked is the hiring of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Weeden throws a beautiful deep ball and has a deeper cast of weapons. Expect the passing game to successfully stretch defenses vertically. Behind him, the conservative Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer provide reasonable depth.

 

RB:

The Browns boast a nice collection of talent in the backfield led by star second-year back Trent Richardson. The 5’9” Richardson has a chance and the ability to be best running back in the AFC, combining great speed, rare cutting ability for his size, ball skills, and excellent pad level, power and tackle-breaking. He lost eight to ten pounds this offseason, getting down to 225. Montario Hardesty has proven himself capable, when healthy, to be smooth with power. Dion Lewis, though, is the guy behind Richardson to watch. His dynamic, cut-on-a-dime quickness works well as a compliment to Richardson.

 

WR:

2012 saw supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon break out as a premier deep threat. At 6’3” 225 with great speed and explosiveness, Gordon is a match up nightmare. His personality, unfortunately, has shown the possibility of being a nightmare as well. Reports are that Gordon has not shown great maturity in terms of work ethic. He also has been suspended for two games in 2013 for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. On the field, Gordon has been raw as a route runner and has shown a propensity for drops. Beyond Gordon, Greg Little provides another big target as a physical, short and intermediate level worker with natural, smooth ball carrying skills. The Browns added a couple nice pieces in reliable slot receiver Davone Bess and athletic 6’5” David Nelson. Even more depth comes from polished short area slot guy Josh Cooper and speedy return-man and vertical threat Travis Benjamin.

 

TE:

While the Browns certainly show lots of promise at the running back and wide receiver positions, the tight end situation is a little more precarious. The team replaced Ben Watson with Gary Barnidge and Kellen Davis, two athletic players who have failed to carve out consistent roles in the NFL. The man to watch here is third-year player Jordan Cameron, a Jimmy Graham-like freakish athlete with great size. He was raw entering the league but has made some strides and could be a very effective starter moving forward.

 

OL:

The Browns’ core offensive unit, the offensive line, was up and down last year. The starting line is likely to be, from left to right, Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao and Mitchell Schwartz. Joe Thomas might be the best left tackle in the game, Mack is a strong, sound center, and the Browns found out real quickly that Schwartz is the real deal at right tackle, having surprisingly good success in pass protection. Greco stepped in due to a starter’s injury and had some success, earning the slight edge this year. Expect good protection for Weeden, but overall, this group must be more consistent opening up running lanes for Richardson. They have enough talent to do it.

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Best Offensive Rookie: G Garrett Gilkey

Best Offensive Second-Year Player: RB Trent Richardson

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need: Tight End

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion: TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia

 

 

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive Line:

The strength of the defense, Cleveland’s defensive line is deep, versatile and very talented. Moving to a 3-4 defense under star coordinator Ray Horton, they will feature a big, athletic rotation of interior disruptors, including Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, second-year studs Billy Winn and John Hughes, and newly added free agent Desmond Bryant. Even the scrappy, intense Brian Sanford can carve out a role. It is unclear how the playing time and specific roles will be divvied up, but the Browns should be strong, energetic and very difficult to handle.

 

OLB:

Though the Browns already had a promising young rusher in Jabaal Sheard, they knew they needed to add more talent and speed opposite him. They first signed former Raven Paul Kruger, a long, physical, unyielding rusher who broke out in 2012 as more than a quality run defender. Further, the team drafted Barkevious Mingo, an elite athlete for the position, to come in and develop into a more productive rusher than he was at LSU. They also added veteran athlete Quentin Groves, a guy familiar with Ray Horton’s scheme from his Arizona days.

 

ILB:

Inside linebacker is another position of strength, as the Browns boast strong starting options. D’Qwell Jackson has long, and quietly, been one of the best linebackers in the NFL combining great size and speed with sound instincts and tackling ability. Second-year James-Michael Johnson possesses many of the same qualities and has a strong chance to eventually be a premier player. The team loves Craig Robertson, and second-year Tank Carder, who has bounced around and is trying to secure a role in the league, has the speed and playmaking ability to start in the NFL.

 

Cornerback:

Finally, the Browns’ secondary deserves a lot of credit for the production and effectiveness of Cleveland’s pass defense the past couple of years. CB Joe Haden is a bona fide star with all the requisite speed, polish, fluidity and ball skills. Gone is Sheldon Brown and in comes 5’9” Chris Owens and rookie Leon McFadden. Owens has been the star of camp and he is currently the favorite to win the starting job opposite Haden. McFadden has struggled some but he promises to be a sticky man-cover guy with nice breaks on balls. Not to be forgotten is Buster Skrine, who should play heavily either inside or outside as a second or third corner. He is primed to make a jump in play in 2013 as a speedy, scrappy playmaker.


Safety:

The safety position is led by strong safety T.J. Ward. When healthy, Ward is a star-caliber player capable of impacting the game both near the line of scrimmage and in deep coverage. Former college cornerback Tashaun Gipson took over the starting free safety job last year with great range and cover skills. If the group stays healthy, the secondary will continue its strong play. Unfortunately, there is not much depth behind them.

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Best Defensive Rookie: OLB Barkevious Mingo

Best Defensive Second-Year Player: DL Billy Winn

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need: Cornerback

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State