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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
K: ______________ P: ______________; Lost: Phil Dawson, Reggie Hodges
Cleveland doesn't currently have a kicker or punter on the roster with any regular-season experience.