With my second pre-season preview I turn my attention to the Cleveland Browns who finished last year with a 3-13 record. Since then they’ve made a couple of key moves in free agency and traded their way all over the draft. They now find themselves facing a number of questions after their first press-season game and the rest of camp.
Can RGIII remain the Browns starter?
In what was the most one sided quarterback battles this season, free agent Robert Griffin III ‘won’ the competition to be the 29th Browns starting quarterback. The competition was nonsense in all but name as Griffin took all of the first team snaps. Make no mistake about it, Griffin was always destined to win the starting role.
How long can he remain a starter? That’s the real question. Hue Jackson is known as something of a quarterback whisperer. Last year Jackson got the most out of Andy Dalton in Cincinnati (his passer rating improved from 83.5 in 2014 to an impressive 106.2).
Jackson would be a fool not to take advantage of RGIII’s speed and elusiveness. I expect to see a lot of dump off passes, play-action and some zone-read concepts that can take advantage of the fear a mobile QB like Griffin can create. RGIII has the arm to become much more of a traditional passer too, but the above will help ease this transition and rebuild his confidence.
RGIII will be more likely to keep his job if the Browns can trade Josh McCown. McCown has been mentioned as trade bait in recent weeks and I expect him to be moved to the Cowboys who are desperate for an experience back up after missing out on several players at various points in the off season’ most recently Nick Foles. Trading him for a mid round pick would definitely give the Browns more options in the 2017 draft.
Will the receiving corp step up?
With RGIII named as starter the Browns also have questions at wide receiver. In 2015 the Browns top receiver was Travis Benjamin (966 yards, 5 TDs). Despite hopes they could resign him Benjamin will be in San Diego this season. In his place is first round pick Corey Coleman, who at 5’11, 190-pounds grabbed 74 catches for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns for Baylor in 2015. He’s a player that has reportedly picked up the Brown’s offence well and looks dangerous whenever he has the ball in his hands.
The Browns do have some returning players but they’re hardly cause for optimism; Terrelle Pryor (more on him below), Josh Gordon is an extremely talented but also troubled player who missed all of last year with a suspension for substance abuse, and Andrew Hawkins who is returning from an injury ruined season in which he grabbed 276 yards.
Having amassed quite the collection of picks the Browns added several receivers later in the draft. Ricardo Louis in round 4, Jordan Peyton and Rashard Higgins in round 5. Jordan Payton is a particularly intriguing player who has impressive size at 6’1, 212-pounds. In 2015 the UCLA Bruin grabbed 78 receptions for 1,106 yards five touchdowns.
Add these guys to returning players like running back Duke Johnson and tight end Gary Barnidge and the Browns could have an exciting offence this year.
Can Terrelle Pryor stick as a wide receiver?
Pryor was one of the Ohio State Buckeyes most electric players from 2008-2010…as a quarterback. He was drafted by the Raiders as a quarterback and, despite some flashes of brilliance, never put it all together.
Pryor has since made the move to receiver and has put in the time needed to learn the position. It helps that Pryor is blessed with a 6-foot-4 frame and 4.3-second speed. The 27 year old has shown considerable progress since his one catch for 42 yards last year. “I think we see the fruit of his hard work,” Jackson said. “That’s what it is. He’s worked extremely hard and that’s what you see.”
Reports from Browns camp, now over two weeks through, indicate not only is Pryor likely to stick with the team, but he’s working as a starting receiver in Hue Jackson’s offence.
How much impact will the slew of rookies have on defence?
As part of their new ‘Moneyball’ approach the Browns added several rookies who could see significant time as the defence looks to improve.
Defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib figure to feature early and often as the Browns try to get to the quarterback more.
Ogbah was one of the best pass rushers in the college game in 2015 and managed 78 QB pressures. Nassib has a massive frame at 6’7 and finally lived up to his potential in 2015 with 12 sacks and is a high motor player similar to Grant Wistrom.
In the latter rounds the Browns added outside linebacker Joe Schobert, who produced at a good level for Wisconsin. Free safety Derrick Kindred and defensive back Trey Caldwell will provide depth in the defensive backfield, with Kindred also helping out on special teams. My favourite late round pick, and one I’ve written about previously was inside linebacker Scooby Wright III.
Can another UK player stick with the Dawg Pound?
Last Monday the Cleveland Browns signed Chigbo Anunoby, a 6’3, 316 pound defensive lineman. Anunoby was originally signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He has spent time on the practice squad of the Colts, Redskins and Titans. Chigbo was born in London England and joins a defence that needs to improve in 2016.
The problem with predicting the success of the Browns in 2016 lies in the fact there are so many question marks surrounding the team. They may well improve on their woeful 2015 performance and 3-13 record, but not by much. Unfortunately it will take time for the pieces to gel together and they may only stand a chance against the Dolphins, Titans and Chargers.