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08 Apr 2013

State of the Team: Cleveland Browns

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

Rob Chudzinski, an offensive innovator, hired Norv Turner to take the reins of Cleveland’s offense. Chudzinski will certainly sprinkle in some of his own spices, but one of the reasons he became a head coach is that he knows who is worth listening to. When it comes to offense, that would be Turner. He has a great system and is one of the NFL’s sharpest in-game strategists. It may take a year or two for the Chudzinski and Turner partnership to pay off, though. With dire improvement needed at quarterback and receiver, the Browns have major questions in their passing game. In the run game, two Pro Bowl linemen and a running back who was drafted third overall means there aren’t supposed to be major questions. And yet, it’s a run game that ranked 25th in DVOA last season.

BACKFIELD

QB: Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell; Lost: Colt McCoy
RB: Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Owen Marecic (FB), Chris Ogbonnaya

Weeden is capable of making big-time NFL throws, but they came too few and far between in 2012. Besides being 29 and having mostly defined reads in last year’s system, the leading concern with Weeden is that he’s very methodical in everything he does. He must get quicker in his drop, then speed up his mechanics and, most importantly, his reads. A quarterback can’t have success staring down his primary receiver.

It’s amazing that no pundits were vociferously disappointed in Richardson’s extremely mediocre rookie campaign. His burst was evident at times, when he was healthy, but too often the highest-touted back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson was less than 100 percent and ineffective. In fact, there were even occasions where Cleveland’s offense was noticeably livelier with Hardesty in the backfield.

RECEIVERS

WR: Greg Little, Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper; Lost: Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs

TE: Jordan Cameron, Kellen Davis, Gary Barnridge

All of these wideouts are talented; none of them are close to being sure things. Little always plays faster than expected, but the major blemish, of course, is that he’s spectacular at dropping passes. Gordon is an equally-intriguing athlete with legitimate home-run capabilities, but he must become more consistent and assertive in the possession game. He could stand to polish his route running and show more tenacity in pursuing difficult catches. Benjamin is a speedster who can assume the miscellaneous gadget-play duties once reserved for Josh Cribbs. (Unlike Cribbs, Benjamin can actually be productive with those duties.) At tight end, Cameron, entering his third season, is likely better suited for No. 2 duties. Problem is, so are newcomers Davis and Barnidge.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Joe Thomas LG: Jason Pinkston C: Alex Mack RG: Shawn Lauvao RT: Mitchell Schwartz

Backups: John Greco, Oniel Cousins, Ryan Miller

Thomas is steady in his dominance. He struggled early last season, but rebounded well. Mack is a tremendous multidimensional run blocker who would really benefit from having more powerful guards around him. Greco was impressive filling in after Pinkston landed on IR last year: he’s exactly what you want in a backup. Schwartz, a 2012 second-round pick, steadily improved after being overwhelmed out of the chutes. He has a chance to become a very reliable right tackle. This line may have to learn a few different techniques under the new regime, though when it comes to blocking in Turner’s system, a lot of the mental burden is placed on the running back.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

Cleveland’s new defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, did an outstanding in Arizona generating pressure by mixing up his aggressive sub-package attacks. He made his scheme work despite not having a notable edge-rusher. What he did have was a tremendous man-cover artist in Patrick Peterson, along with safeties who could play in the box. Horton has similar secondary resources to work with here, though more depth is needed. He also has a better front seven than he had in Arizona. It’s just a matter of how long it takes the players to learn the new playbook. Horton’s M.O. is to throw the whole thing at them and hope that early growing pains will pay off later.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Ahtya Rubin, Desmond Bryant, John Hughes, Billy Winn; Lost: Frostee Rucker, Juqua Parker

DT: Phil Taylor, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen

The hope is that Taylor, who is a great athlete for his size, stays healthy and transitions well to more of a two-gap role. If he does, he’ll become a star. Rubin is a good athlete for his size, but he gets overpowered in the run game. At least he wasn't last among starting tackles in "average yards on run tackles" for the third straight year. Instead, he was almost last. Hughes, a former third-round pick, is coming off a solid rookie campaign, though the more intriguing player is actually his fellow 2012 classmate, the sixth-rounder Winn. Winn uses his quick hands extremely well. It’s surprising that with these two sophomores on board, the Browns locked down Bryant to a five-year contract worth $15 million guaranteed. The ex-Raider is solid, but must become less reckless in order to be consistent enough to justify that salary.

LINEBACKER

OLB: Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves, James-Michael Johnson

ILB: D'Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, L.J. Fort, Tank Carder;; Lost: Scott Fujita, Kaluka Maiava

Sheard has been an unsung hero as a 4-3 end. He’s certainly dynamic enough athletically to shine as a stand-up edge player. He does, however, need to develop a more creative repertoire of moves. Kruger is a nerve-wracking free-agent acquisition. As a Raven, he underachieved and was admittedly a bit immature ... until his contract year, when he suddenly flourished. We’ll see how he does now that he’s rich. In the second string, Groves was stellar but never spectacular playing for Horton in Arizona, while Johnson as a rookie often took poor angles in run defense. Inside, Jackson is a prolific tackler, but only if he’s kept clean from blockers. The hope is he can play the role of Darryl Washington in Horton’s scheme. (Jackson can move okay, but he doesn’t quite have Washington’s speed.) Robertson was very good in nickel packages last season, but struggled as a starter.

SECONDARY

CB: Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Chris Owens, Trevin Wade; Lost: Sheldon Brown

S: T.J. Ward, Eric Hagg

Haden, like Patrick Peterson, is a fluid man-to-man artist who thrives in trail technique. He’ll become truly elite if he broadens his horizons as a slot defender. Skrine held up well on the outside in nickel packages early last season, but became a major liability down the stretch. Owens is an adequate nickelback, though he never quite fully lived up to his potential in Atlanta. Ward is a firm hitter who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the best all-around cover safeties in football last season. He’s better in confined areas than in space, which is just fine in Horton’s scheme.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: ______________ P: ______________; Lost: Phil Dawson, Reggie Hodges

Cleveland doesn't currently have a kicker or punter on the roster with any regular-season experience.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 08 Apr 2013

25 comments, Last at 12 Apr 2013, 10:30am by MrBIG

Comments

1
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 5:30pm

"In fact, there were even occasions where Cleveland’s offense was noticeably livelier with Hardesty in the backfield. "

That's because those were more likely to be passing downs, and the defense was less likely to anticipate a run.

Generally good points but I would say:

LJ Fort = Yellow

Cooper = Purple (really only on the roster because Weeden wanted him)

Marecic = Red

Richardson = Yellow; look for OC Turner to make big improvements in the running game.

18
by paulbip (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 3:07pm

Richardson will flourish if Warmack is taken at 6. You can get a starting CB in the 3rd.

19
by Dean :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 4:31pm

While it’s not impossible to get a starting CB in the 3rd, it’s a lot easier to get a starting Guard in the 3rd than it is a starting Corner. Not to mention that Corner is a more important position. As good as Warmack projects to be, the Browns would still do better by passing him by and drafting a comparably rated CB, i.e. Milliner.

2
by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 5:38pm

Apparently Tank Carder has disrupted the whole secondary.

3
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 7:30pm

"Groves was stellar but never spectacular" - This doesn't make much sense, aren't stars spectacular?

5
by Insancipitory :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 8:35pm

I read it as "bright but not brilliant" or something to that effect.

7
by Theo :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 4:25am

Can't one play well, but not make a highlight reel?
If he occupied double teams with his pass rush, contained the play on running plays so well that the runningbacks cut back into the linebackers and if he played coverage so well that the ball wasn't thrown towards him, then he did a stellar job, but was never spectacular.

16
by RickD :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 1:25pm

Stars kind of sit there in the sky. Meteors are spectacular.

4
by Guest789 :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 7:31pm

"Groves was stellar but never spectacular"

I always thought that stellar and spectacular were kind of the same thing.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

6
by dbostedo :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 9:30pm

Stellar can just mean primary... like the lead role in a play or movie could always be called the stellar role, even if the performer is mediocre. I'm guessing that's the usage here? But really, I have no idea.

10
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 9:05am

Stellar means exceptionally good. Spectacular means impressive or exciting to watch.

Someone like Vince Wilfork can be stellar but not spectacular. Someone like Jerome Simpson can be spectacular but not stellar.

11
by AB (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 10:19am

Bit odd to use "stellar" and then grade the guy as an "adequte" #3 at his position.

23
by cetaylo (not verified) :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 11:36am

that's not true.

8
by CBPodge :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 8:30am

I agree with you on Richardson. Watching his highlights from college I was dearly hoping he'd get to the Rams in the draft. He looked a shadow of that last season. Hopefully that was due to injury, because there are few things better than watching a great runner run.

9
by AB (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 8:55am

Kind of fits with my overall assessment of the Browns. If they could pick up a TE, a CB and one more decent O-lineman they could be okay.

21
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 5:27pm

The common wisdom has generally been Milliner at #6 if possible, but rumors are floating that they trade down with Miami.

12
by bubqr :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 11:17am

My name is written in yellow:

Your name:
bubqr
Subject:

Does it mean the jury is still out on my potential as a FO commenter?

13
by Dean :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 12:00pm

Tough crowd.

14
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 12:24pm

Looks like folks have gotten used to the color scheme thing.

17
by RickD :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 1:28pm

Well, kind of. People are talking about yellow where I see no yellow. I see orange, pink, and red. And some say purple instead of pink.

15
by Alby (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 12:42pm

IMO T. Rich will be what we thought he'd be n worth the pick. I also believe whole heartedly Little will clean up n be a beast as a possesion guy. I'm also excited to see how Sheard fairs standing up. He has the potential to be very good and maybe great for years to come.

20
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 5:23pm

I don't know, last year was supposed to be the one Little was supposed to be in much better shape. It looked like MoMass was going to finally turn the corner, too, and we saw how that turned out. I have exceptionally high hopes for Gordon, though, and think Benjamin can surprise people if he gains 10-15 pounds.

22
by spencer096 (not verified) :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 10:16pm

RE: richardson...browns fan that watched entirely way too much of them, it's hard to oversell just how bad pat shurmur's playcalling was. predictable, poorly drawn up, full of useless routes and misdirection...did i mention predictable?

i watched every offensive snap of their's and i can count on one hand the number of screens that were a) not run on 2nd and long and b) properly executed. the only successful pass plays, aside from bombs to gordon, were drag routes over the middle and shurmur called them CONSTANTLY. id be a rich man if i had a dollar for every drive that went richardson dive, botched screen, 3rd and whatever, punt. just brutal.

norv is definitely an upgrade. i think weeden showed enough potential to be given another shot, but probably only one year. i like richardson in this offense a lot more than in shurmur's too...more of a vertical stretch to give him a little more room and someone who actually knows what they're doing in terms of offensive playcalling.

24
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 11:33pm

Pretty amazing that Shurmur found a new job within 3 weeks and Heckert still doesn't have one (although the Jets wanted him and he said no, and I bet Reid still will find a role for him.)

25
by MrBIG (not verified) :: Fri, 04/12/2013 - 10:30am

The Browns are constant under performers and so I always end up being overly optimistic in the off-season.

That said, if the 4 things listed below happen, Cleveland will have a good season. Think about it. Cleveland could have just as easily been 8-8 or 9-7 last year in spite of the terrible coaching, QB play, CB Play, and RB injuries. If they improve at QB, CB, and G, they would be much much better than last year and they were not as bad as their record would indicate.

They split with the Steelers and Bengals, and lost to BAL by an average of 8.5 points. The pick 6 at Baltimore cost them that split. The game they lost to the Bengals they out-gained them and had 2 times as many penalty yards. They lost because of a punt return for a TD. They beat Philly (which was better than their record indicated) in week one (that was a fumble by Vick on the final drive [bad call] and a dropped pick saved the day for Philly). They beat Dallas but again bad calls gave Dallas way to many extra chances on the final drive.

All in all, if the following 4 things happen, they are easily 10 points better than last year and that's the difference from 5-11 and 9-7 or even 10-6.

1.) Turner and Chud call plays that I cannot predict pre-snap 50% of the time as a fan.
2.) Weeden quits staring down receivers (and I cannot stress staring enough) and improves his accuracy (it was terrible last season).
3.) Get a guard that can run block and chip and get out on the LBs quickly.
4,) Get a corner to pair with Haden.