Cleveland Browns 2014 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

Last season, the Browns had more All-Pros than wins, going 4-12, but having 5 players make either the All-Pro 1st or 2nd team, tied with the 49ers for most in the NFL. That might sound absurd, but it’s not. Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Josh Gordon, Joe Haden, and TJ Ward were all among the best in the NFL at their respective positions. In 2012, the Chiefs had 6 Pro-Bowlers, despite going 2-14 and, after adding a new starting quarterback and head coach, they went on to win 11 games the following season.

The Browns come into 2014 with a new starting quarterback and a new head coach, but things won’t necessarily work out the same way for the Browns. The Browns replaced a talented coordinator with little experience at head coach in Rob Chudzinski with a talented coordinator with little experience at head coach in Mike Pettine, which isn’t exactly the same thing as replacing the tried and failed Romeo Crennel with the proven Andy Reid.

Meanwhile, adding Johnny Manziel to the mix isn’t as perfect of a fit as adding Alex Smith to the mix was in Kansas City. The Chiefs’ biggest problem in 2012 was a -24 turnover margin, an issue that probably would have corrected itself largely either way, but adding a careful, conservative quarterback like Alex Smith helped the Chiefs go from -24 to +18 in turnover margin, as did a cakewalk schedule. Manziel should improve the Browns’ quarterback play, but they had more issues than just that. The turnover margin wasn’t a huge issue in Cleveland, where they had a -8 turnover margin last season.

Their biggest issue was that, in addition to all the great starters they had last season, they also had numerous players in significant roles that were terrible. Greg Little and Davone Bess played significant roles at wide receiver. Willis McGahee lead the team in carries. Buster Skrine and Craig Robertson were among the league’s worst at cornerback and middle linebacker respectively. Tashaun Gipson struggled mightily at safety and the combination of Shawn Lauvao and Oniel Cousins was horrific at right guard. And, of course, they had issues at quarterback, as they completed 55.7% of his passes for an average of 6.42 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. Manziel could help that problem as a rookie, but he’s also just a rookie and whether or not they can become a significantly improved team this season will depend on how well they upgraded those other aforementioned spots as well.

I also do have to mention that Manziel is technically competing with Brian Hoyer for the starting job, but I think Manziel is easily the heavy favorite. Hoyer played decent in limited action, completing 59.4% of his passes for an average of 6.41 YPA, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, grading out slightly above average on Pro Football Focus. However, the 2010 undrafted free agent with 192 career attempts didn’t stay healthy long enough to establish himself as the starter and now he’s coming off a torn ACL. Better, more proven quarterbacks, Tom Brady, Robert Griffin, Carson Palmer, etc, have struggled in their first year back from a torn ACL.

Grade: C+

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Another thing that could be an issue for the Browns is that 2 of those 5 All-Pros from last season could easily not play a snap for the Browns this season. TJ Ward signed with the Broncos and Josh Gordon is likely facing a season long ban for marijuana. While the Browns made a solid attempt to replace TJ Ward, they made no such attempt to replace Gordon. Even though they knew of the potential ban long before the draft, they didn’t draft a single wide receiver.

Greg Little and Davone Bess are gone from the roster, which is good because they graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst and 4th worst wide receivers respectively last season. However, there’s still not a lot of talent here. The Browns top three wide receivers this season should be a trio of players they brought in as free agents this off-season, Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, and Nate Burleson. Hawkins has the most upside as he’s the youngest, only going into his age 28 season.

Hawkins has flashed in 3 seasons with the Bengals since coming to them as an undrafted free agent in 2011, grading out above average in all 3 seasons and averaging 1.66 yards per route run in his career. However, he’s only run 598 routes in his career and caught 86 passes for 995 yards and 4 touchdowns. In the only season he got significant playing time, 2012, he caught 51 passes for 533 yards and 4 touchdowns on 384 routes run, 1.39 yards per route run. The Browns are hoping he’s a budding talent that was just buried on the depth chart in Cincinnati, giving him a 4-year, 13.6 million deal this off-season, but that might be wishful thinking. He could lead Browns wide receivers in receptions, but the 5-7 175 pounder might be purely a slot option.

Sadly, he’s probably their best wide receiver option. Nate Burleson is going into his age 33 season and coming off of a season in which he missed 7 games with a broken arm. He also suffered another broken arm this off-season, though he’s expected to be back for training camp. Still, he’s an aging, injury prone player who has missed 17 games in the last 2 seasons combined. He’s averaged just 1.31 yards per route run over the past 2 seasons combined, despite playing in an explosive pass offense in Detroit with plenty of opportunities against single coverage and plenty of opportunities to receive targets. The 2003 3rd round pick and 11-year veteran could just be done.

Miles Austin is going into his age 30 season, so he’s not quite as old as Burleson, but he’s had a similar recent history of injury problems. Hamstring problems have caused him to miss 11 games over the past 3 seasons, limited him in countless others, and seemed to sap his abilities last year as he caught just 22 passes for 244 yards in 11 games and averaged 0.76 yards per route run in an explosive passing offense in Dallas. He was Pro Football Focus’ 101st ranked wide receiver out of 111 eligible in terms of pure pass catching grade last season.

When healthy, Austin can be a solid contributor. He played all 16 games in 2012, catching 66 passes for 943 yards and 6 touchdowns and recorded 1000 yard seasons in both 2009 and 2010. He’s still young enough that it’s conceivable he could have a few more good seasons if healthy, but that’s a big if. If he or any of the Browns’ projected top-3 wide receivers struggle, Travis Benjamin could have a significant role. The 2012 4th round pick has averaged 1.26 yards per route run on 320 routes run in 2 seasons in the league and is coming off of a torn ACL. He’ll be most valuable as a return man.

Given their issues at wide receiver, expect Jordan Cameron to lead the team in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Cameron didn’t make either All-Pro team last season, but he was a Pro-Bowler and rightfully so. Cameron broke out in his 3rd year in the league, after being drafted in the 4th round in 2011, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns on 622 routes run, an average of 1.47 yards per route run. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked tight end in pass catching grade, though he struggled mightily as a run blocker, grading out 9th worst at his position in that aspect.

Cameron was drafted as a high upside, boom or bust mid-rounder out of USC. After struggling on a combined 398 snaps in his first 2 seasons in the league, Cameron broke out last year, largely as a result of tight end genius Rob Chudzinski. Chudzinski is gone and Cameron did get a lot of his production from being a volume receiver, getting the 3rd most targets by a tight end with 109 last season. The Browns should pass significantly fewer than 681 times this season with a running quarterback and a new run first offense coming in, which will hurt Cameron’s production. However, he should still be their best receiver. The Browns are hoping that Manziel and Cameron will function like Michael Vick and Alge Crumpler did early in their careers, though Cameron isn’t the same caliber of blocker. Meanwhile, Gary Barnidge will once again be the blocking tight end. The veteran graded out below average on 543 snaps last season.

Grade: C

Running Backs

As I mentioned, Willis McGahee led the Browns in carries last season, rushing for 377 yards and 2 touchdowns on 138 carries, a pathetic 2.73 yards per carry average. He broke just 12 tackles on 146 touches and averaged just 1.76 yards per carry after contact. His longest run was for 16 yards. The Browns still rushed for 3.97 yards per carry as a team, but that’s not very good and even that was largely the result of trick plays and quarterback runs, things that are hard to rely on.

Fortunately, the Browns should be better in this aspect this season, which they needed to be. For one, Johnny Manziel comes in, which helps their running game in two ways. Manziel will probably be able to accumulate a solid amount of rushing yards as a rookie, even if the mobile quarterback struggles as a passer in his first year in the league. Also, his presence and his ability to take off at any time will force the defense to use a spy more often, which will help the rest of their running game.

On top of that, the Browns added Ben Tate this off-season. Ben Tate was drafted in the 2nd round in 2010 by the Texans to be the starting running back, but broke his ankle in the pre-season, which opened the door for Arian Foster to emerge as one of the best running backs in the NFL. Upon his return from that injury, Tate impressed as his backup, averaging 5.09 YPC on 240 carries in 2011 and 2012 and got his shot to be the starter in 2013 when Arian Foster went down with a season ending back injury.

Unfortunately, the injury bug reared its head for Tate again as he broke several ribs. He only missed 2 games, the final two of the season, but was definitely hampered by the injury as he averaged just 4.26 yards per carry on 181 carries. Tate clearly has the talent and toughness to be a lead back in the NFL, but he’s also missed 24 of 64 possible regular season games in his career thus far and is coming off of an injury plagued season. Staying healthy will be the key to him potentially having a breakout year. The Browns used a 3rd round pick on Terrance West as insurance and he could have a significant role as a rookie in a run heavy offense behind an injury prone starter.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

As I mentioned earlier, the Browns had a serious issue at right guard last season. Oniel Cousins started the first 5 games of the season, but struggled mightily on just 322 snaps played, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 71st ranked guard out of 81 eligible. No one played fewer snaps and graded out lower. Shawn Lauvao then took over for the other 11 starts and wasn’t much better, grading out 70th out of 81 eligible on 771 snaps. In an effort to solve the problem, the Browns used a 2nd round pick on Joel Bitonio, who will be a day 1 starter. He might not be great as a rookie, but he should be an upgrade over what they had last season, both of whom are no longer with the team.

Other than right guard, the Browns had one of the best offensive lines in the league last season, particularly in pass protection, as they graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked pass blocking team. They ranked 21st in run blocking, but that was largely because of the right guard position and their tight ends’ inability to run block. Joe Thomas and Alex Mack both were All-Pros last season and both are among the top players at their respective positions.

Mack was re-signed this off-season to a 5-year, 42 million dollar deal, which made him the league’s highest paid center in average salary before Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers got a bigger extension this off-season. It’s a lot of money for a center, but it’s hard to argue that Mack wasn’t worth it, as he’s arguably the top center in the NFL. He’s graded out as a top-10 center in each of his 5 seasons in the NFL since being drafted in the first round by the Browns in 2009, maxing out at 4th overall last season. Only Chris Myers has also been in the top-10 in centers in all 5 of those seasons. Mack is also at the peak of his career, going into his age 29 season, coming off of a career year.

While Mack might be the top center in the NFL, Joe Thomas definitely is the top left tackle in the NFL. Joe Thomas has been a top-8 offensive tackle on Pro Football Focus in every season since he was drafted 3rd overall in 2007, something no one else can come close to saying. He maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 offensive tackle in 2009. He’s also never missed a game over 112 career starts. He especially excels in pass protection, which is more important than run blocking. Last season, he graded out 2nd overall at his position, but 1st in pass protection by a sizeable margin.

The Browns are solid at the other two offensive line spots as well, with Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle and John Greco at the other guard spot. There was talk that Schwartz would be moved to right guard this season, if the Browns drafted a right tackle in the first round, but they opted to take Bitonio to play guard in the 2nd round and keep Schwartz at right tackle. That’s definitely an acceptable option. Schwartz graded out above average last season at right tackle and, while he wasn’t as good as he was as a rookie, when the 2012 2nd round pick was Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked offensive tackle, he was still 30th at his position and he could easily have a bounce back year this season. He could also easily have the best season of his career this season, his 3rd in the league and his age 25 season.

At the other guard spot, John Greco is coming off of his first full season as a starter. He’s graded out above average in every season in his career since he was drafted in the 3rd round in 2008, doing so on a combined 658 snaps from 2008-2011 and then making 10 starts and playing 714 snaps in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked guard. He wasn’t quite as good as a 14 game starter in 2013 (missing 2 with injury), but he still graded out above average. The Browns gave him a forward thinking 5-year, 13.2 million dollar deal before last season and have a starting caliber guard locked up at a very reasonable rate through 2017. His natural position is right guard, so the Browns could move him back there and flip Bitonio over to the left side. Overall, it’s a strong offensive line that got stronger this off-season, by drafting a player in the 2nd round to fill its only hole.

Grade: A

Defensive Line

The Browns didn’t have any All-Pros in the front 7 last season, but their front 7 is still one of the better ones in the NFL, particularly their 3-man defensive line and their edge rushers. Things could be even better now with Mike Pettine coming over from Buffalo. Pettine coordinated one of the better defense’s in the league, with their strength being in the front 7, in Buffalo last season as they ranked 6th in rate of moving the chains allowed, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 67.58% rate. They also ranked 2nd in the league in both sacks and interceptions as their pass rush tormented opposing quarterbacks. The Browns were 18th in the NFL, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 71.71% rate last season, but they should be better than that this season, thanks to the addition of Pettine and some other off-season moves.

The Browns have a lot of talented depth on the defensive line and use a rotation of 5 different guys on their 3-man defensive line. Phil Taylor is the only one who can play the true nose tackle position, but the 6-3 355 pounder moves well for his size and does sometimes stay on the field for sub packages. The 2011 1st round pick struggled as a rookie and then only played 273 snaps in 2012 because of injury, but he had easily the best season of his career in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked defensive tackle on 555 snaps, including 14th as a run stopper. The Browns picked up his 5th year option for 2015 and he should have another solid season, particularly as a run stopper, again in 2014.

Desmond Bryant should lead this defensive line in snaps played this season. He only played 588 snaps last season, but that’s because he missed 4 games with injury. He had a disappointing first season in Cleveland ended by an irregular heartbeat, but that problem seems behind him now. He graded out slightly below average when he was on the field last season, but he could easily bounce back in 2014. The 2009 undrafted free agent graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked defensive tackle in 2012 and graded out above average in 2010 and 2011 as a rotational player at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Last season was the first year he had ever played 3-4 defensive end, but considering his experience at both 4-3 defensive tackle and 4-3 defensive end and his size at 6-5 280, he should be a natural fit. He’s probably their best interior pass rusher when he’s healthy and right.

Ahtyba Rubin led their defensive line in snaps played last season, but I think he should have a reduced role this season. Rubin did grade above average as Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked 3-4 defensive end, but, while he graded out 12th at his position in run stopping grade, he graded out 2nd worst at his position in pass rush grade. This is nothing new, as he graded out above average as a run stopper and below average as a pass rusher in 2012 as well. He should only be a pure base defensive end this season and focus on his strength, stopping the run.

That would allow talented reserves John Hughes and Billy Winn to play bigger roles this season. John Hughes graded out best among all of their defensive linemen, even though he only played 402 snaps. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11st ranked 3-4 defensive end, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out higher. He excelled as a run stopper, grading out 7th at his position in that aspect. The 2012 3rd round pick is still a one year wonder as he struggled mightily on 530 snaps and there’s no guarantee he can be as efficient next season as he was in 2013 in a larger role, but they need to give him more snaps, going into his 3rd season in the league, even if it’s only in the 500 range. Billy Winn, meanwhile, was a 6th round pick in 2012. He graded out about average on 721 snaps as a rookie and then above average on 313 snaps last season. He’ll play a valuable rotational role again next season on this deep defensive line.

Grade: A-

Linebackers

The Browns also have a trio of 3-4 outside linebackers that rotate with Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo. Sheard has been with the team since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2011. Paul Kruger was signed to a big 5-year, 40 million dollar deal last off-season. Barkevious Mingo was the 6th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Sheard was the best of the bunch last season in his first season in a 3-4, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. He graded out slightly below average as an every down 4-3 defensive end in 2011 and slightly below average in that same role in 2012, before a breakout 3rd year in the league in 2013.

Paul Kruger was the opposite starter last season. He was overpaid on that 5-year, 40 million dollar deal last off-season. Kruger had a strong 2012 season, especially in the 2nd half of the season and the post-season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2012, excelling as a pass rusher, grading out 4th in that aspect. He then had a dominant post-season, particularly as a pass rusher, with 5 sacks, 5 hits, and 10 hurries on 148 pass rush snaps, a 13.5% rate.

However, he was just a one-year wonder, which is why he didn’t deserve that deal. He played just 724 snaps combined in 2009-2011, after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2009, and only graded out above average in one of those seasons. He wasn’t awful in his first season in Cleveland, grading out above average, but he wasn’t what they expected. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, slightly above average. Expect more of the same from him this season.

Meanwhile, the Browns drafted Barkevious Mingo 6th overall in 2013 even though they already had Kruger and Sheard. It was a luxury pick and one that didn’t really work out last season as Mingo graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 38th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker out of 42 eligible on 668 snaps. He could be better in 2013, in his 2nd year in the league, but don’t expect him to have much of a bigger role. He’ll be a heavy rotational player at best as long as Kruger and Sheard are in the fold.

I mentioned, as much talent as the Browns have in the front 7, they didn’t have an All-Pro last season, but they did sign one this off-season, bringing over Karlos Dansby from Arizona. I mentioned Craig Robertson at middle linebacker as one of the starters they had to upgrade and rightfully so, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked middle linebacker last off-season, especially struggling in coverage, grading out dead last in that aspect and allowing separate 100+ yard receiving games to two different running backs, Reggie Bush and Shane Vereen. The 2011 undrafted free agent also graded out below average in 2012, the only other season in which he played defensive snaps.

However, the Browns found themselves in need of two new starters at middle linebacker when they cut D’Qwell Jackson this off-season. That was a smart move because Jackson wasn’t worth his salary and the Browns saved 5.23 million on the cap by cutting him. Going into his age 31 season, D’Qwell Jackson was Pro Football Focus’ 42nd ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible last season and 41st out of 53 eligible in 2012. The Browns then used that freed up cap space and signed Dansby to a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal, which was a very good move.

This was a fairly strong free agent class overall, but the one position where it was weak was at middle linebacker. Middle linebacker in general was a weak position in the NFL last season, as only 16 of 55 eligible middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus graded out positively last season. Karlos Dansby was, by far, the best of the free agent middle linebackers and Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked middle linebacker last season. Dansby might never have another year as good as last season again, as he’s going into his age 33 season, and as he had never been a top-10 middle linebacker on Pro Football Focus prior to last season, but he graded out 12th in 2010, 11th in 2011, and 13th in 2012.

Dansby should still have a strong season and be an upgrade over Jackson. Meanwhile, the Browns drafted Christian Kirksey in the 3rd round to compete with Robertson for the other starting job. He might not be better than him as a rookie, but he also could easily be better than him, even if only by default. At the very least, the athletic Kirksey will play a situational role as a coverage linebacker, as coverage is his strength and Robertson’s weakness.

Grade: B+

Cornerback

Another spot the Browns desperately needed to upgrade was the other cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden, where Buster Skrine played last season. Skrine somehow managed to lead all cornerbacks in both tackles missed (20) and touchdowns allowed (9) last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 106th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible. The 2011 5th round pick has graded out below average in each of the 3 seasons he’s been in the league.

Having a cornerback as poor as him opposite Joe Haden makes having Haden less valuable because opposing quarterbacks can just throw away from the dominant Haden with ease. Skrine will be replaced in the starting lineup by Justin Gilbert, who the Browns drafted 8th overall. Gilbert is a talented cornerback and, while cornerbacks do take a year or so to get adjusted to the NFL, he should be an immediate upgrade over Skrine.

The Browns also drafted Pierre Desir in the 4th round. Buster Skrine may still see some action as the slot cornerback, but he could also be as far down on the depth chart as 5th, which would put him on the roster bubble. Skrine is in a 3-way battle for the slot cornerback job, a spot manned last season by Chris Owens, who did a solid job, grading out slightly above average. Leon McFadden, a 2013 3rd round pick, seems like the favorite for that job and Desir is in the mix as well. McFadden struggled mightily on 247 snaps as a rookie last season, but could be better this season. They could easily see inferior play to Owens’ at that spot though.

As for Joe Haden, he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and he was a deserving All-Pro last season. The Browns did overpay him on a 5-year, 68 million dollar extension this off-season though. Joe Haden is a terrific cornerback, but I don’t think he’s quite at the level of deserving what Richard Sherman got (4-year, 56 million). I think Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis are the top cornerbacks in the NFL and there’s a big gap between them and the rest of the league. In 3 years in the NFL, Richard Sherman has allowed 115 of 248 (46.4%) for 1621 yards (6.54 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, while deflecting 34 passes and committing 26 penalties. Meanwhile, Darrelle Revis has allowed 43.1% completion, 5.41 YPA, and 12 touchdowns, while picking off 20 passes, since 2008.

In 4 years in the league, Joe Haden has allowed 179 of 331 (54.1%) for 2250 yards (6.80 YPA), 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, while deflecting 50 passes and committing 21 penalties. That’s very impressive, but it’s not at the same level as Sherman or Revis. Revis has graded out among Pro Football Focus’ top-3 cornerbacks in 4 of his last 5 healthy seasons. Meanwhile, Richard Sherman has graded out 2nd and 6th in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Joe Haden has never graded out higher than 6th in 4 seasons, doing so in his rookie year in 2010, and he came in 13th, 20th, and 18th in the last 3 seasons respectively. That’s still very impressive, especially considering the volatility of the cornerback position. He’s been one of Pro Football Focus’ top-20 cornerbacks in each of the last 4 seasons, something only the supremely underrated Jason McCourty can also say (Revis missed 2012 with injury and Sherman was still in college in 2010). Haden might be the #3 cornerback in the NFL and he’s definitely top-5, but he was overpaid a little bit.

The Browns lost an All-Pro at safety this off-season, as TJ Ward signed with the Broncos. He might be the top box safety in the NFL. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd and 6th ranked safety in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the only safety in the NFL to finish top-6 both seasons. He was also 13th in 2011, despite missing 8 games with injury. That was really his only injury plagued season as he missed 2 games in his other 3 seasons combined, playing 54 games in 4 seasons, starting each of them and grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010.

The Browns replaced him with Donte Whitner this off-season, a downgrade, but still a solid player. He is an inconsistent player who graded out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus in each season from 2007-2010 in Buffalo and who allowed 12 touchdowns in regular season and post-season combined in 2012 on a 49ers team that allowed just 26 total passing touchdowns in the regular season and post-season combined. However, he graded out 8th among safeties in 2011 and 6th among safeties in 2013. He seemed to fix his coverage problems last season, grading out 5th in that aspect, and we’ll see if that continues. He’s an above average player and an asset, even if he is a downgrade.

The Browns also needed to upgrade the other safety spot, as Tashaun Gipson struggled last season, but they didn’t get around to that. He was Pro Football Focus’ 68th ranked safety out of 86 eligible last season in his first season as a starter. The 2012 undrafted free agent played 377 nondescript snaps in 2012 as a rookie. He could be better in his 3rd year in the league, but there are no guarantees. That other safety spot should continue to be a position of weakness.

Grade: B

Conclusion

The Browns desperately needed to upgrade two wide receiver spots, the running back spot, the quarterback spot, one guard spot, one middle linebacker spot, one safety spot, and one cornerback spot this off-season. They drafted a quarterback and a cornerback in the first round, a guard in the 2nd round, and a middle linebacker in the 3rd round so they have some young talent in the mix. They also drafted a running back in the 3rd round and brought in Ben Tate to be the starter. On top of that, they upgraded D’Qwell Jackson with Karlos Dansby.

However, they didn’t upgrade the wide receiver spots well or the safety spot at all and I don’t know how much they can rely on their rookies. They also downgraded TJ Ward to Donte Whitner and have likely lost Josh Gordon to a season long suspension. They also had very few injuries last season, the 5th fewest adjusted games lost, something they probably won’t be able to rely on this season. Their depth will be tested this year more than it was last season.

Still, I think in terms of non-quarterback talent, they are one of the top-15, maybe even top-10 teams in the NFL. Whether or not they can break into the playoffs will depend on how Johnny Manziel plays at quarterback as a rookie (or, technically how Brian Hoyer plays if he somehow wins the starting job). I’d feel more confident in him if I was confident in his weapons, but Josh Gordon getting suspended likely for the season really hurts. They’ll be an improved team this season, but I don’t have them in the playoffs, even if, overall, they have a playoff caliber supporting cast. I’ll have an official wins prediction for them after I do all the previews.

Prediction: 6-10 4th in AFC North

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