Another year down into the depths of 0-and-whatever has a lot of Browns fans, myself included, wanting to hit the eject button. On Thursday, Jimmy Haslam hit that button for Sashi Brown.
It’s gotten so bad that even my father, someone who if you were cut him might bleed orange, has admitted to me that the team has almost lost him. With Christmas around the corner, I am tempted to get him a Steelers shirt. However, as fellow WFNY writer and master of game-film on Twitter Jake Burns has said, there are bright spots on this roster, and so going forward into these last four weeks of the season.
Stop laughing. I am serious. I’m here to tell you about some things to watch for during these Browns games and be hopeful into the new year.
All Hail Flash Gordon
While his season debut left much to be desired (11 targets with only four catches but for 85 yards with no touchdowns), you can see the coaching staff was almost force feeding him the ball. Quarterback Deshone Kizer and Josh Gordon seemed out of sync, timing routes over or underthrown and fades were too high, but with a few more practice reps and in-game attempts, Flash seems prepped to show the world why the Browns waited around for so long to see what he can do.
The Duke, The Whole Duke, And Nothing But The Duke
There have been fewer bright spots on the roster week in and week out than Duke Johnson Jr. Whether it be out on a wheel route or actually getting real live carries from the hands of the quarterback, Duke has done so much with so little. Despite only having one game with more than 15 touches, Duke is second on the team in yards from scrimmage and tied with rookie David Njoku for second on the team in touchdowns at four. The best course of action for any fan holding out hope would, of course, be to chant “The Duke!!” anytime he gets the ball.
Though he has yet to be christened the starter, David Njoku has evolved into a force at tight end.
#Browns TE David Njoku last two games:
59%, 54% snaps (1st, 3rd highest of year)
10 targets: 8 receptions, 121 yards (15.1 YPR) & TD
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) December 4, 2017
For a player as raw as Njoku was coming into the season, this type of production was the ceiling. Tied for second on the team in touchdowns on the season (Deshone Kizer has rushed for five, though most of those have been dive plays), the explosiveness that led the Browns to draft him in the first round has been evident. Plus, how can you NOT love the touchdown celebration from Chief Njoku? The #ChiefSlam might be the best of the year. I look forward to seeing what Njuko turning into the next Gronk and doing what we wanted Kellen Winslow to do.
— Chief David Njoku (@David_Njoku80) September 18, 2017
The only reason Myles Garrett is this low on the list is I did offense first. Seen by many as the future of Cleveland Browns football, Garrett’s continued destruction of opposing left tackles is the stuff of legends, and he hasn’t even played eight full games yet. As the season progresses and Garrett sees more double teams and opponents multiple times, the numbers (five sacks, two tackles for a loss, 14 hits to the quarterback causing pressure and a forced fumble) could go down. However, that doesn’t mean his impact will go down. Expect more sacks from Carl Nassib, filling in for injured starter Emmanuel Ogbah, Danny Shelton, and Nate Orchard as teams will give more attention to Garrett.
Larry the Tackle Guy
Even though he was fired today, Sashi Brown found a golden nugget in Larry Ogunjobi in the third round of the 2017 draft, and the Browns will reap those benefits for years. Ogunjobi is another not-yet-starter who has played well enough to earn a spot. With 13 solo tackles, four of those for a loss, and two QB hit, Ogunjobi has been a force in the backfield. Paired with Danny Shelton, Ogunjobi has a chance to be a great defensive tackle for years. Get excited watching him blow through opposing guards and knowing he will be around for at least the next three years super cheap.
That Sweet Sweet First Win
Hue Jackson’s only wins as Browns Head Coach have come in the month of December. Last year it was a Christmas gift by the San Diego Chargers. This year’s schedule is an example of up and down: Sunday’s matchup is against the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers, then the last home matchup of the year against rival Baltimore, a team playing for their playoff lives. If the Packers game doesn’t secure the first victory, a Christmas Eve matchup with the Chicago Bears could be just the trick. Myles Garrett sacking Mitchell Trubisky and forcing a fumble would be a pretty sweet win. The last game on the schedule is visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while they may have locked up a playoff bye by then, don’t expect them to take it easy on the Browns.
Though they have been few and far between, there are positives to this season. Player progression against the odds has made it so that there is a future in Cleveland, and I only mentioned the players that are not injured. You can include Emmanuel Ogbah, Jamie Collins and the possible return of Joe Thomas as further building blocks to this team going forward. The multitude of picks outgoing general manager Sashi Brown amassed will give whoever the next GM is a chance to greatly shape the next couple of years for the Browns. See, there is something to look forward to, and for once it isn’t just a wall painting with a tunnel like in the Road Runner cartoons.