Man, this year’s edition of “who to keep” is much more enjoyable than year’s past! As I write this article the Browns playoff hopes are alive, however slim, they are alive. Typically December games mean nothing for the future of the Browns other than showing us where the biggest issues have been all season and catching a glimpse at some practice squad call-ups while truly only caring about the draft. This type of football is much more enjoyable.
John Dorsey has a massive decision looming in the hiring of the next Browns head coach, but this year’s version is much easier to predict the talent he prefers to keep or allow to walk. The talent that is on the field each week has taken that next step and it was unlocked by the removal of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. The major decision looms over the offense’s future with or without Freddie Kitchens. This off-season will now be about balance the present and 2019’s immediate needs to attack the holes while rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is on his rookie contract.
This is WFNY’s now fourth edition of this concept, with editions looking ahead to 2016 and 2017 and 2018. There have been some hits in year’s past (Haden) and some misses (Barnidge, Shelton), but the future for these guys is hard to predict. This off-season won’t be quite as important as last year’s edition that was packed with draft capital, but the Browns do have a plethora of free agent dollars and a bevy of late round picks again. The ability to surround a defense with a key player at each position and a young impressive quarterback with surrounding talent will be vital. Maximizing the free agent dollars and draft picks will be quite interesting to track now that the Browns offer a bright future and will attract interest from those players wanting to win now. Before that time comes, let’s take a look at who on the current roster has the likelihood of being a part of this franchise for the long-term.
This original idea belongs to WFNY’s own Michael Bode and all respect for the idea should be pushed his way.
High Quality = Minimum of a likely starter on at least half of NFL teams
Roster Worthy = Minimum of a likely 53-man roster player on at least half of NFL teams
Replaceable = Can be fringe on future rosters, but can also be let go
High Quality: Baker Mayfield
Roster Worthy: Tyrod Taylor
Replaceable: Drew Stanton
The Browns found their future in No. 1 pick, Baker Mayfield. He is having a historic rookie season. Tyrod Taylor struggled through the first few games of the season, but just how much of that is due to Todd Haley and Hue Jackson? I think he could find a roster spot on more than half the NFL’s roster. Drew Stanton is interchangeable but his value to Mayfield as a mentor can’t be over-looked and Mayfield rightfully points it out almost weekly.
Position: Wide Receiver
High Quality: Jarvis Landry
Roster Worthy: Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins
Replaceable: Breshad Perriman, Damion Ratley, Ricardo Louis, Derrick Willies, Rod Streater
There’s plenty of debate to be had about Jarvis Landry and his value but he is a starting wide receiver in this league and he’s been valuable to the Browns this season and will be next year as well. Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins have seen their roles begin to thrive with Mayfield and both possess a nice skill set. Breshad Perriman has been coming on and over the course of the next few weeks he could be up to roster-worthy and he seems to have found consistent health and play since arriving in Cleveland.
Position: Running back
High Quality: Nick Chubb
Roster Worthy: Duke Johnson
Replaceable: Dontrell Hilliard, Orson Charles
Upon the trade of Carlos Hyde in October it became abundantly clear that Nick Chubb is already one of the NFL’s best. The rookie needs just 140 yards to eclipse 1,000 for his rookie season and he has eight touchdowns. He has also shown worth in the passing game as well to form a complete threat. Duke Johnson continues to be a Swiss army knife of sorts and upon Freddie Kitchens’ arrival calling plays, he has seen more use and varied positions. He provides a nice change of pace and relief for Chubb. There could be a nice future in the return game for Dontrell Hilliard.
Position: Offensive Line
High Quality: J.C. Tretter, Joel Bitonio, Kevin Zeitler
Roster Worthy: Chris Hubbard, Greg Robinson
Replaceable: Austin Corbett, Desmond Harrison, Earl Watford, Kyle Kalis
Bitonio and Zeitler form one of the NFL’s best pass blocking duos, and they are both Pro-Bowl quality players. J.C. Tretter has spent half the season fighting through an ankle injury but shows up each week and protects his quarterback and proves solid in the run game. Chris Hubbard and Greg Robinson have each proven to be playable tackles this year. Not great by any stretch but good enough to win games and hold down roster spots into next year. There is much to be seen out of rookie Austin Corbett, and injuries to his foot have plagued his last half of 2018. Desmond Harrison will have to prove his worth in the off-season to stick around as Greg Robinson took his spot and isn’t looking back.
Position: Tight End
High Quality: David Njoku
Roster Worthy: Seth DeValve
Replaceable: Darren Fells, Pharaoh Brown
David Njoku has had an up and down sophomore campaign but his numbers have improved and over the last half of the season he is making some of those difficult catches. His future remains bright at just 22 years old. Despite injuries for a good portion of the beginning of 2018, Seth DeValve has value in lining up all over the field and is just what you need in a TE2. Darren Fells has been solid, but his role can be upgraded.
High Quality: Damarious Randall, Jabrill Peppers
Roster Worthy: Derrick Kindred
Replaceable: Jermaine Whitehead
The Browns have found their two safeties of the foreseeable future in Damarious Randall and Jabrill Peppers. Randall has proven to be the ideal ball-hawking center field type whose sure tackling has helped this defense avoid the big play. Acquiring him via trade for DeShone Kizer remains robbery. In his natural role closer to the ball Jabrill Peppers has launched a big upgrade in his second season. As evidenced by Sunday’s win in Denver this is just the beginning for Peppers as he feels more comfortable. Derrick Kindred provides nice rotational depth and is a tough box safety holding down an edge.
High Quality: Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell
Roster Worthy: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines
Replaceable: Phillip Gaines, Tavierre Thomas, Juston Burris
Denzel Ward has proven to be a play-maker and tough coverage corner when he is on the field this year. One of the off-season’s best signings, Terrance Mitchell has made serious strides in coverage and before his broken forearm, he was dynamic in forcing turnovers. Briean Boddy-Calhoun is still between roles as a slot corner and free safety but his positional flex is valuable in a secondary. T.J. Carrie found comfort inside and he can be a valuable nickel corner. E.J. Gaines season was cut short but when he received the chance to start, he showed he can play at a good enough level.
High Quality: Joe Schobert
Roster Worthy: Genard Avery, Jamie Collins, Christian Kirksey
Replaceable: Tanner Vallejo, D’Juan Hines, Ray-Ray Armstrong
The Browns linebacker group is an enigma. Joe Schobert is clearly more valuable than any of us thought, as evidenced by the defense’s total struggle while he missed time. He is playing at a Pro-Bowl level once again. Jamie Collins can be really good and really bad week to week, but his stability has been welcome this year. Christian Kirksey’s play was some of the worst at his position in the NFL before his injury. His long-term value here is up in the air. A bounce-back season would be welcome. Genard Avery has been forced into full-time linebacker duties which he is learning well on the fly. As a rush end, though, he is dynamic. His future there is bright.
Position: Defensive Line
High Quality: Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Larry Ogunjobi
Roster Worthy: Trevon Coley, Anthony Zettel, Chris Smith
Replaceable: Brian Price, Chad Thomas, Carl Davis, Devaroe Lawrence
What was a position of strength in 2017, the Browns 2018 defensive line has been a disappointment. They suffered roster loses they never replaced and it has come back to truly hurt the overall run defense. Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi remain the current and future of the position group and each belong in the Pro-Bowl. Emmanuel Ogbah has once again flashed and been solid. He is a nice piece. Anthony Zettel and Chris Smith deserve more snaps because both anchor well when they do get reps. They should remain on the second unit. Trevon Coley has been a big disappointment compared to 2017, but giving up on him and his team friendly contract doesn’t make much sense. Chad Thomas’s NFL future is tough to picture.
Position: Kicker, Punter, Long-Snapper
High Quality: None
Roster Worthy: Charley Hughlett, Britton Colquitt
Replaceable: Greg Joseph
Greg Joseph has done a nice enough job this year replacing the injured and struggling Zane Gonzalez. He’s made 14 of 16 field goals. He impresses in the kick off game too. Britton Colquitt remains consistent and excels in pinning opponents deep in their own territory. Both have proven to be good enough to win games with.
There have to be players who you do not agree with their categorization. Let me know where I have it wrong and why in the comments while keeping in mind the Before You Comment guidelines. Enjoy.