Schedule: @BAL, CIN, WAS, @DAL, IND, @PIT, @CIN, LVR, BYE, HOU, PHI, @JAX, @TEN, BAL, @NYG, @NYJ, PIT
Additions: OL Jack Conklin (FA), TE Austin Hooper (FA), EDGE/DL Adrian Clayborn (FA),
DL Andrew Billings (FA), CB Kevin Johnson (FA), S Karl Joseph (FA), LB B.J. Goodson (FA), S Andrew Sendejo (FA), FB Andy Janovich (Trade), OL Jedrick Wills Jr. (Draft), S Grant Delpit (Draft), DL Jordan Elliott (Draft), LB Jacob Phillips (Draft)
Losses: LB Joe Schobert (FA), S Eric Murray (FA), LB Christian Kirksey (FA), S Juston Burris (FA), S Damarious Randall (FA), DL Andrew Billings (Opt-out), OL Drew Forbes (Opt-out), LB Mack Wilson (Injury), S Grant Delpit (Injury), CB Kevin Johnson (Injury)
Last year, I was fooled by the Browns hype. I’m not going to make the same mistake again. It is tempting, though. Just like in 2019, Cleveland has a ton of talent. The issue, once again, will be the readiness of their first-year head coach.
Kevin Stefanski hasn’t experienced the meteoric rise of Freddie Kitchens and couldn’t possibly be as bad, but I’m still not sold on him. The Vikings’ offensive success last season was because of Gary Kubiak as much as it was Stefanski in my opinion. Eric Bieniemy was the better candidate in my opinion. I also prefer when new coaches hire accomplished coordinators à la Sean McVay with Wade Phillips. Stefanski instead went with first-time OC Alex Van Pelt and Joe Woods, who angered multiple players during his two years as Broncos DC.
With that being said, Cleveland’s roster fits well with what Stefanski likes to do offensively. In Minnesota, he pounded the rock consistently and effectively, with well-timed play-action shots mixed in. The Browns’ personnel might even be a little better, too. Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook are comparable talents, but Kareem Hunt off the bench gives Stefanski’s new team the edge. Even with Hunt, Chubb could take home the rushing crown. Newly-acquired fullback Andy Janovich should punish defenders just as C.J. Ham did for the Vikings. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are very similar to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Where Cleveland has the advantage is tight end and the offensive line. My only slight worries about the line are rookie Jedrick Wills Jr. at left tackle and Wyatt Teller at right guard. However, I think Wills is one of the guys talented enough to succeed in what should be a tough year for rookies. And Teller is more of a weak link by default than anything. After a down year that was slightly overstated, this group should be one of the ten best in the league or better. Austin Hooper is a dangerous in the passing game and better than anyone the Vikings or Browns had last year.
That Baker Mayfield in the spotlight—a scenario he loves to be in. He got a little too much hate last year in my opinion, but was a huge disappointment nonetheless. Luckily for the man with the greatest photo in NFL history, Stefanski has experience changing the perception of belittled quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins balled out last year under his watch and is starting to shake his primetime reputation. Even if this isn’t a make or break season for Baker, it’s definitely important. Barring disaster, he’ll be the starter in 2021, but another dud could lead Cleveland to look at their options. He’s the big question mark on an otherwise excellent offense.
Defensively, things are a lot less certain. Myles Garrett is the best player on the team and leads a stout defensive line. He would’ve challenged for the sack title if not for Mason Rudolph’s extremely punchable face. Short of another suspension, he should be a top contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Alongside him are three talented players who underperformed last year. Larry Ogunjobi, Sheldon Richardson, and Olivier Vernon will have to be much more consistent in 2020, especially after Andrew Billings opted-out. He was brought in largely to fix an abysmal run defense, so other players are going to have to step up. A lot of that responsibility will fall on the linebackers.
After Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey departed in free agency, the remnants weren’t pretty. Now, with Mack Wilson slated to miss extended time, the group is just plain ugly. B.J. Goodson, on his third team in three years, should start at middle linebacker. Next to him will likely be 2019 third-rounder Sione Takitaki (epic name) and either 2018 undrafted free agent Tae Davis (5 career starts) or rookie Jacob Phillips. These might be the worst linebackers in the league.
Cleveland was expected to run a lot of nickel and dime looks already, and that’s all but certain now. That doesn’t bode well for the run defense, though. Plus, the secondary is having their own injury woes, with versatile rookie Grant Delpit and nickel corner Kevin Johnson already going down. Without them, the Browns’ young corner duo of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams will have to grow up fast. Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, both of whom were signed this offseason, will have additional responsibility, too. While I like both cornerbacks, I don’t love the new safety tandem and these injuries are killing one of the few strengths on this defense—secondary depth.
Cleveland’s defense will likely be a bottom-10 unit in the league and the offense should sit comfortably in the opposite grouping. While the out-of-division schedule is pretty easy, playing Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice will be tough, and even Cincinnati beat them last year. An 8-8 season full of extreme highs and lows feels right.
What’s your record prediction for the Browns? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.