The 2018 Cleveland Browns season is almost upon us, and there are a bunch of young players looking to contribute. In fact, 11 rookies are currently on the 53-man roster (eight-of-nine draft picks and three undrafted free agents– UDFA). The surprising facet though is that the Browns had four picks in the Top 35 selections and five in the Top 67, yet only cornerback Denzel Ward is guaranteed to start immediately for a team rebounding off the first zero-win season in franchise history though either Austin Corbett or UDFA Desmond Harrison should secures one of the positions along the offensive line. Head coach Hue Jackson will announce the offensive line starters on the Wednesday ahead of Week 1 to the group.
Here are some quick thoughts on each of the Browns’ 2018 rookies.
Round 1, Pick 1: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
When he might start: In a perfect world, Tyrod Taylor plays well enough to fend off any thoughts of being supplanted, and Baker Mayfield does not start until Week 1 of 2019. However, the more likely scenario has Taylor struggling a bit within a low-scoring offense, and Mayfield starting at least a few games in the second half of the season.
Expectations on performance: Mayfield was the No. 1 overall pick of the draft. The expectation is he will be the franchise quarterback for the Browns over the next 10 plus years… after he sits and learns.
Round 1, Pick 4: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
When he might start: There has been no hesitation or hint that Ward would not start immediately and play as much as he is able.
Expectations on performance: The slight frame was his biggest weakness in profile, so already suffering from an injury is a tad worrisome. As a Top 5 pick, the expectation is that Ward will lock down the position for years to come, though rookie cornerbacks tend to learn through some gaffes.
Round 2, Pick 1: Austin Corbett, OL, Nevada
When he might start: Or at what position might he play? Both are unknown. If the offensive line struggles (and it likely will), then Corbett will get his opportunity to start earlier rather than later in the season. It will be up to him to hold onto that spot.
Expectations on performance: The Browns front office decided to play the Cameron Erving game and have Corbett learn all the positions along the offensive line. It is a gambit that risks overloading a player who is already learning an NFL playbook for the first time. Thus far, he has looked OK at times, but he has not been overly impressive. Expecting average play by the end of the season– if he gets a chance to play– is a proper level-set.
Round 2, Pick 3: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
When he might start: Chubb was put into a similar spot as Mayfield. He has the talent to start, yet there is a veteran placeholder to teach him the ropes (and conceptually help Jackson save his job in the short-term). It is doubtful Duke Johnson will play much of a factor in his playing time because they serve such different roles, so Chubb is a Hyde injury from assuming the feature role.
Expectations on performance: He can have tantalizing talent and should be able to get onto the field for some carries, but fans should not get too excited about seeing a lot of Chubb unless Carlos Hyde proves ineffective or becomes injured.
Round 3, Pick 3: Chad Thomas, DE, Miami (FL)
When he might start: He might not ever start especially if the Browns don’t decide where he will play. Like Corbett, Thomas has been moved along the line– though defensive in his case. Thomas is a more natural defensive end, but Myles Garrett and Emmanual Ogbah have those spots wrapped up for the foreseeable future. A move inside could open up an eventual place in the starting rotation if he proves effective, but it should not be expected.
Expectations on performance: Being the third wheel on the defensive end train isn’t a bad spot. He will get a ton of snaps and also have some opportunities to prove his worth at defensive tackle. Anyone expecting an undercover Pro Bowl find will be disappointed, but he should provide decent depth.
Round 4, Pick 5: Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
When he might start: Whether or not he will be considered an official starter, Callaway should be the third receiver in three-receiver sets– assuming the NFL isn’t planning on suspending him still for being pulled over with marijuana in his car this summer. He also might technically start in Week 1 with Josh Gordon technically coming off the bench.
Expectations on performance: Callaway is talented enough to show up on the stat sheet and most defenses will be focused on Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Duke Johnson in the passing game, which means Callaway should receive his fair share of single coverage against the third cornerback or even a safety. His targets might not be all that high, but he should be expected to make some contributions in each game.
Round 5, Pick 13: Genard Avery, LB/ST, Memphis
When he might start: Even with the insider trading debacle involving Mychal Kendricks, there do not seem to be any plans for Genard Avery to have a way to break into the starting lineup. Special teams and specific game scenarios are where the late-round pick can make a difference in 2018.
Expectations on performance: Avery is a flash player. He should be expected to make some phenomenal plays both in special teams and when he gets his limited snaps on the field. He might continue to get some speed rush alignment plays at defensive end on passing downs to truly utilize his blend of athleticism and aggression. He won’t be the most consistent player yet, nor get consistent snaps, but he should be fun to watch.
Round 6, Pick 1: Damion Ratley, WR, Texas A&M
When he might start: Ratley appears to be out of the initial receiver rotation with Rashard Higgins being ahead of him, so don’t expect starts anytime soon unless a rash of injuries (or suspensions given the position and team) takes hold of the Browns receiver room.
Expectations on performance: As with any sixth-round pick, the hope should be that the player is able to show enough to prove worth keeping for the next season. A breakout star would be fantastic, but a depth option worthy of remaining in a future receiver group is needed.
Round 6, Pick 14: Simeon Thomas, CB, Louisiana
When he might start: The cornerback group for the Browns is not particularly strong, but it remained doubtful Thomas could break into the starting group without injuries befalling some ahead of him.
Expectations on performance: The first thing Thomas needed to do was make the 53-man roster. He did not as Thomas was amongst the first wave of roster cuts.
UDFA: Desmond Harrison, OT, West Georgia
When he might start: Hue Jackson intimated he was being considered for the left tackle starting position for Week 1. It would be quite the move for him to jump over Corbett in priority for the team– really, even being considered shows what a great Training Camp he has had.
Expectations on performance: Harrison weighed in at the Senior Bowl at 279 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame. He was able to add 18 pounds for the NFL Combine, but it shows that weight is not ‘normal’ for him. He needs to put and keep on good bulk to add to his strength without sacrificing the athleticism that has the Browns intrigued. He would be best served by sitting 2018 to work on his body and technique, but the Browns issues on the offensive line might not allow it.
UDFA: Tavierre Thomas, CB, Ferris State
When he might start: The UDFA was picked up off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals, so the young man is just happy to be on a NFL roster at the moment.
Expectations on performance: The 2017 Cliff Harris National Small College Player of the Year finalist from the mighty GLIAC is a Division II corner, who might need some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL game but hopes to prove worthy of staying on the roster.
UDFA: Derrick Willies, WR, Texas Tech
When he might start: The UDFA stuck with the Browns throughout the summer and now into the fall though he is the last man on the receiver depth chart. He needs to concentrate on keeping his spot on the 53-man roster.
Expectations on performance: Willies certainly looks like a NFL receiver. The issue is he never had the production with the Red Raiders to match his athleticism and build. Fans will need to be patient expecting much from him as it might be some time if he is able to develop.
Poll on number of rookie Week 1 starters expected (from beginning of Training Camp)
Survey to compare to actual results later.
How many of the Browns 9-player draft class do you expect to be Week 1 starters?
— michael bode (@mgbode_WFNY) July 30, 2018
Poll on number of rookie Week 1 starters expected (now)
Survey just ahead of Week 1.
How many of the Browns 9-player draft class do you expect to be Week 1 starters?
— michael bode (@mgbode_WFNY) September 4, 2018