The Cleveland Browns had the worst record in the NFL last season. While improving should not be difficult task, the team is littered with areas in dire need of improvement and only a finite amount of ways to fill those gaps if they choose to do so before the 2017 season.
Cleveland will likely not address all of these areas of need because of the multitudinous positions the front office has to fill. Alas, the team will need to prioritize their needs and look at what the most important spots are that need to be addressed. Consider this the Power Rankings of the areas in most need of attention if the Browns front office is going to right this ship before this fall.
The quarterback spot has been the No. 1 priority for the Browns since 1999. It is still a gapping hole with no real answer currently on the roster. The most important position in all of sports, without a good signal caller, a team cannot be a threat in the AFC North let alone a true championship contender.
The Browns will have ample avenues to look for this need. In free agency, they could target Kirk Cousins or a potentially released Tyrod Taylor. Through trade, the Browns could look to nab Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots. Or the team could look in the 2017 NFL Draft for their quarterback, including looking at guys like DeShaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky or Patrick Mahomes.
The Browns must address this need and not let another year go by where the team struggles at the quarterback position.
- Pass Rush
The Browns pass rush has been putrid for many years. Regardless of scheme, coordinator, or second-round picks used on would-be threats, Cleveland’s ability to get to the quarterback has long left a lot to be desired. This past season, the Browns had the second fewest sacks in the league with just 26, this despite having a defense that was on the field for an average of 33 minutes per game.
Pass rush is one of the most important aspects for a NFL defense, especially in the current pass-happy era. It allows the defense’s secondary to not have to cover as long and the pass rush can create big plays in the way of turnovers. Currently, the Browns do not have a consistent pass rushing threat on the roster. This offseason the Browns have a clear shot at finding one. With the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Browns can grab Myles Garrett and get a real pass rushing threat who teams must gameplan for. In free agency, the Browns could also look at Jason Pierre-Paul to fill this pass rushing need, albeit with an older, less cost-effective option. The Browns must get more pressure on the quarterback in order to improve as a defense overall.
To go along with an improved pass rush, the Browns must upgrade the defensive secondary. The Browns do not have a real consistent reliable player in the secondary, either at safety or cornerback. At cornerback, the Browns have an often-injured Joe Haden, a starting slot cornerback in Jamar Taylor and a young, and an improving corner in Briean Boddy-Calhoun. So as you can see, there is a lack of real starting quality corner who the Browns can rely on opposite No. 23 (who may not be long for this roster due to his contract).
In free agency the Browns could target Logan Ryan and Trumaine Johnson. In the draft, Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore could be a quality option. Matt Miller has the team ideally addressing this need with the No. 12 pick.
At safety, the Browns shuffled through a long list of bodies. The Browns strong safety group is adequate with the tandem of Derrick Kindred and Ibraheim Campbell. The free safety spot is a different story. Cleveland does not have a quality option at this spot. The team needs a balhawk who can control the backend of the defense. In free agency, the Browns could look at Eric Berry and in the draft, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker could be an excellent option to fill the free safety spot. Combining the weaknesses in the secondary with a pass rush that is among the league’s worst, it doesn’t take a highly analytical fan to see why the Browns defense was historically bad at times throughout the 2016 season.
But wait, there’s more…
- Interior Defensive Line
The last hole on the defense the team needs to address is the interior of the defensive line. The Browns have a centerpiece in the middle of the line with Danny Shelton, but he needs someone next to him at the three technique. Potentially switching to a 4-3 base would make this an even bigger need, but the expectation is for Williams to play to his unit’s strength.
The Browns need a player who can penetrate the line to pair with Shelton’s ability to plug up the middle of the line. The Browns have some one-trick guys, but lack a starting quality player next to Shelton. In free agency, Kawann Short would be a perfect fit. In the draft, Solomon Thomas would be a rally good option as well. If the Browns can find this starting three technique, the rest of the defensive line settles into place.
Cameron Erving did not make the jump in his second season that many hoped he would. He struggles with technique and consistency. He showed a little improvement, but not enough to truly rely on him going forward. Behind Erving, the Browns have no real good options behind him. The Browns must look to address this position and find an answer this offseason. With a new quarterback likely coming in, the team must fix this position to keep said quarterback healthy. In free agency, the Browns could look at A.Q. Shipley. In the upcoming draft the Browns could target Ohio State’s Pat Elflein.