The Cleveland Browns may have had the busiest and most newsworthy offseason of any team in the NFL. The Browns used almost every avenue possible to improve the roster. They made a big splash in the trade market by acquiring edge rusher Olivier Vernon and wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. In free agency, the Browns signed interior defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and mercurial running back Kareem Hunt. And through the draft, Cleveland made a mark by picking cornerback Greedy Williams. The team added to their weaknesses and overall improved their roster this season.
So, after all of this maneuvering by the Browns front office, where is the strength of this team and where are their weaknesses. Well, here is how I would rank each position group’s unit going into the Summer. Take a look.
1. Running Backs
This position group is far and away the best unit on the Browns roster. It has two elite talents in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. It also has a really unique receiving threat in Duke Johnson, who can create mismatches in many different spots on the field. And, Dontrell Hilliard is a young back who the Browns could look to develop for their future. This unit may be the best running back unit in the entire NFL. There is no other team who can match the duo of Chubb and Hunt.
2. Wide Receivers
The wide receiver unit was once a major weakness for this team, but this offseason’s addition of Odell Beckham Jr. has catapulted this unit into one of the better on the entire roster. With a star in Beckham on board, the rest of the unit settles into a more comfortable depth chart. Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins are probably the next two on the depth chart, with both players being a possession type receiver who will give Baker Mayfield a reliable target to throw, too. And, Antonio Callaway may be the biggest wildcard in this unit, because he may be the second most talented receiver on the roster. With less pressure and eyes on him, he could have a big year, using his speed and big play ability. The unit also has some young receivers behind these four, who will compete to make this unit. Beckham’s presence just alleviates the pressure on every other receiver, making them better for it.
This unit is up this high strictly because of Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has the talent and leadership to be the Browns franchise quarterback. He showed amazing strides last season and this season should see a big step forward for the young quarterback, given all of the talent around him and the fact that he has a year under his belt. Mayfield can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Behind him, Drew Stanton and Garrett Gilbert are OK backups. But as I said earlier, this high ranking is based solely on Mayfield and his immense talent.
4. Edge Defenders
The final unit in my top tier is the edge defender unit. This was another position that the team has struggled to find players over the years, but this coming season will not be the case. With the addition of Olivier Vernon, the Browns boast an impressive starting unit of Myles Garrett and Vernon. These two are both Pro Bowl edge defenders who will make each other better because the opposing offense cannot center their attention on just one of the two, given how good the other player is on the opposite edge. Behind those two, the Browns have a solid veteran edge defender in Chris Smith. And, the team also has an up and coming player in Genard Avery. So far through minicamp, Avery looks to be focused more on being an edge rusher, which is his best position. He showed glimpses of great play on the edge that could give the Browns another dangerous rusher off the edge. Chad Thomas is an unknown right now, but he could be a factor on the edge by the start of the season. Anthony Zettel also offers a veteran depth player, too. This position has elite talent at the starter spots with solid depth behind them.
The corner unit is in the best position to move up into the top tier level. It has a shutdown No. 1 corner in Denzel Ward. The biggest addition that has moved this unit up from the beginning of the offense is the selection of Greedy Williams. As I laid out in my film room of Greedy Williams, Williams has all of the talent to be the starting corner opposite of Ward. He has the skill set to form one of the best young corner duos in the league with Ward. Beyond these two, Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie are really good backup corners with Mitchell being the third outside corner and Carrier being the slot corner. Jermaine Whitehead and Eric Murray are safeties who offer versatility to play corner in certain situations. This unit has the depth a team wants at corner. It also has a No. 1 corner in Ward. The key will be Williams. If he can take over the starting spot and show off his talent, this unit should move to the top tier level on the roster.
6. Interior Offensive Line
The Browns have a great tandem in center J.C. Tretter and left guard Joel Bitonio. Those two are at or near the top in their respective position groups in the NFL. The biggest question is right guard and that moved this unit down to the middle tier. We just don’t know yet what we have in Austin Corbett, who is projected to be the starter at right guard. When I evaluated him out of college, I believed he had the talent to be a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. But, we are in a wait and see situation at this position. Beyond these three expected starters, the Browns have two veterans in Eric Kush and Bryan Witzmann, who both have starting experience in the NFL. Kyle Kalis and Drew Forbes are two young interior lineman who could factor into the unit if they develop. This unit has two top tier players in Tretter and Bitonio, but a bit of question at right guard. The unit also possesses good depth.
The Browns safety unit had a lot of movement this offseason. The Browns traded away starting strong safety Jabrill Peppers, but they replaced him with numerous players. Damarious Randall returns as the settling force in the safety unit, coming off a really productive season. The other spot opposite of Randall is up in the air right now. The Browns have veteran Morgan Burnett, who could be the starting strong safety next to Randall at free safety. But, the unit also has rookie Sheldrick Redwine who has great athleticism to develop at this position. Jermaine Whitehead and Eric Murray are two safeties who have seen some action over their young career’s in the NFL. They both offer versatility to play multiple positions in the secondary. This unit has great depth, but beyond Randall, there is not much certainty on what the unit will do next to Randall. But, the team has plenty of options to try and figure it out.
This is a unit similar to the safety unit. It saw a lot of movement this offseason, including the release of starter Jamie Collins. The unit brings back the reliable and cornerstone linebacker Joe Schobert, along with the veteran Christian Kirksey. These two will see the majority of time on the field. Past these two, Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson are the Browns two linebacker draft picks. These two have a lot of potential and talent, so the team will be looking to develop them so they can get on the field and contribute quickly. Adarius Taylor and Ray-Ray Armstrong offer veteran experience in the depth chart. Schobert will be the leader of this group on the field. He is a building block of the unit. Kirksey is a bit of an unknown, as he is coming out of a season-ending injury and some average production the past couple years. If he can return to his productive level of play, the Browns have a quality starting linebacker unit. It is expected that the Browns will be using two linebackers for a big part of the time, so the need of a third linebacker is not a huge detriment to the unit. But, when the unit does need one, this is where the big questions lie. Who will step up to be the third linebacker? Overall, this unit is solid with a really good starter, a veteran starter who has shown a high level of play and then a depth of players who have talent, but not a lot of experience of playing time.
9. Tight Ends
The tight end unit is a position of a lot of physical talent, but some issues of converting that talent to on-field production. It is led by David Njoku, who has the potential to be a breakout player this season. The other three players who are expected to make up this position are Seth DeValve, Demetrius Harris and Orson Charles. DeValve is a player who has shown small hints of his talent, but little to no consistency so far. His position on the team is shaky if he cannot show the consistency the team needs behind Njoku. The Browns acquired Demetrius Harris this offseason. He is a good blocker with good athleticism, but very questionable hands. He will likely be the main backup to Njoku, given his blocking pedigree he can give to the offense. And, Orson Charles will likely return to be the team’s fullback/tight end. He was OK in that role last year. This unit can rise if Njoku explodes into a top tight end in the NFL, which is a level his talent can allow him to reach. Beyond him, the Browns do not have a lot of reliable certainty in any of their backup tight ends.
10. Special Teams
The Browns special teams were in bad shape last season. The team was solid in terms of punter with Britton Colquitt. At kicker, the Browns added Austin Seibert to compete against Greg Joseph for kicker spot on the team. I was looking for the Browns to get a veteran kicker this offseason, so the lack of experience makes this position very shaky. The biggest improvement may be on the coverage teams. The Browns drafted and brought in some athletic players who have shown production on the coverage units. The units should see an improvement in these areas. And at the returner spot, the Browns have a lot of quality options to be the returner on both kick and punt returns, including Antonio Callaway. This unit will be determined by the improvement of the coverage units and how well the kicker performs. I am just a little uneasy about the Browns kicker situation.
11. Interior Defensive Line
The Browns definitely upgraded this position with the addition of Sheldon Richardson. Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi form a really talented starting interior defensive line duo. They both have Pro Bowl level talent. But, the Browns have little to no depth at this position. The Browns will be relying on Trevon Coley and Brian Price to be productive backups. Last season, they both were below average. Devaroe Lawrence and Carl Davis are both young players, who have shown little to no production in their careers so far. The Browns should still be in the market for an interior defensive lineman. The Browns definitely upgraded their unit and have a strong starting duo. The problem is depth. There simply is none. The team may try to fix this problem by utilizing some of their edge defenders inside. Nevertheless, the Browns need more help here.
12. Offensive Tackles
The worst position on the team is the team’s offensive tackle spot. The Browns did not address this position in any major way this offseason. The team will start Greg Robinson at left tackle and Chris Hubbard at right tackle. Both players were OK at best last season. I simply do not have a lot of confidence in either player. Kendall Lamm offers a veteran backup at tackle, but not a lot of success. Beyond these three, the Browns will likely look at some young options who could develop at the position like Drew Forbes. But, this position is not in a great spot. I think Robinson and Hubbard can pass as starters, but I would not be married to either of them. The depth is slim, also. The team should be in the market for a tackle. With the news of Trent Williams’ trade request, the Browns should be on the phone with Washington right away.