The Cleveland Browns answered some big questions about their final roster this week. While the roster is known, the team remains a mystery to most pundits. Some agree that the new-look Browns will be a contender for the Super Bowl Championship while others feel that the Browns still haven’t done enough to overtake the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. This will be answered on the field over the next 17 weeks. All we can do in the meantime is speculate on what the strengths and weaknesses of the Browns will be this season. So let’s take a look at my preseason positional grades for the 2019 Browns.
Quarterback / A : For the first time in a long time the Browns have gone through the preseason without a ton of question marks. Baker Mayfield will be the opening day starter and that has been known since the second half of the Jets game last season. It is hard to bet against Mayfield going into his second season. People forget that not only did he break the rookie passing touchdown record, he also did it in a season in which he wasn’t the opening day starter and half the season was with an interim coach. With a lot less distraction and a lot more talent around him, Mayfield should be in a great position to make a huge jump in his second season.
While the Browns would only like to hear his name in a mop-up role, Drew Stanton as expected will be the Backup QB. Stanton gives the team some experience at the position if called on in an emergency. The team did have the luxury of trying out a couple of players for a third-string role. Garrett Gilbert will fill that spot as the emergency number three.
Running Back / A+ : No team in the NFL is set up at the running back position quite like the Cleveland Browns. Nick Chubb may have been the value pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. In a short amount of time, Chubb has established himself as a top tier NFL RB. He can play every down and is poised to have a breakout season. To begin the season, he will be spelled by Dontrell Hilliard and D’Ernest Johnson. Both players had nice training camps and seem to be able to contribute on special teams.
At the halfway point of the season, a wrench gets thrown into the plans at running back. When Kareem Hunt returns in the ninth game the Browns will instantly add another top tier NFL RB to the mix. While there may not be enough carries to go around for everyone’s liking, I do not envy any defensive coordinator having to plan against a fresh Hunt at that point in the season.
Wide Receiver / A : Putting the names Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry together is pretty flashy. I think that if given an opportunity there wouldn’t be too many NFL General Managers who wouldn’t dive at the opportunity to trade their top two receivers for the Browns tandem immediately. Browns fans are chomping at the bit to see this tandem line up with Mayfield but unfortunately, we haven’t gotten to see it yet.
One receiver that we did get to see was Rashard Higgins. He backed up reports of having a very solid camp by having some very nice showings early in the preseason games. The man they call, “Hollywood,” always seemed to be in the right spot at the right time. He should be an excellent complement to two receivers that will assuredly be paying a lot of attention to OBJ and Landry. It is worth noting that Higgins has developed good chemistry with Mayfield over the past two camps and could be a very valuable option to have throughout the season.
When Antonio Callaway was suspended for the first four games and D.J. Montgomery was injured, there was a rekindled battle for the final WR positions. Many hopes were dashed in-house when the team traded for Taywan Taylor from the Tennessee Titans to fill the fourth position. Damion Ratley is the likely placeholder for Callaway’s spot when he returns.
Tight End / C+ : If we have learned anything from John Dorsey it is that he likes some big old boys to play tight end. The smallest of the batch, David Njoku is the starter. At 6’4″ and 246 pounds the tiny Njoku is an incredible athlete. His NFL highlight reel is pretty impressive. However, no catch is routine with Njoku who seems to have hot and cold streaks with his hands. Backing up Njoku will be 6’7″ Demetrius Harris. Another huge man who will see playing time in the red zone in duel TE sets, Harris is another player who’s hands have plagued him. Dubbed “Incompletrius” Harris by many Chiefs fans he will have to prove those days are long behind him. The 6’6″ Pharoah Brown and the 6’5″ Ricky Seals-Jones round out the behemoths in the room.
Offensive Line / C- : If the Browns aren’t up to snuff in one area offensively it may be the line. Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and Greg Robinson were all expected starters, but the right guard and tackle position seemed up for grabs. Free-agent pickups Chris Hubbard and Eric Kush looked to pickup these spots, but few could argue convincingly. While the team retained depth at both the tackle and guard positions don’t be surprised if the team isn’t completely done looking for more line help.
Defensive Line / A+ : As much as I think the Browns RB situation is the best in football I feel the same way about the Browns defensive line. Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon on the ends is the pass rush version of OBJ and Landry. Adding Sheldon Richardson to play next to Larry Ogunjobi between them isn’t very fair. In the only look that we were given of the full unit, they were an absolute wrecking crew. Things are looking good for the starters and the defensive front was electric for the entire preseason. Both Chris Smith and Chad Thomas looked very solid through camp as rotational DEs. The true standout may have been Devaroe Lawrence who looked almost unstoppable at times from the DT position. Overall this has a chance to be a historically good unit.
Linebacker / B- : The Browns have retained last year’s starting tandem of Christian Kirksey, Joe Schobert and Genard Avery intact for now. When John Dorsey brought in Adarius Taylor and selected Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki in last year’s draft there was little doubt that roster spots would be at a premium. It already looks like Taylor has displaced Avery for a starting job. With both Kirksey and Schobert likely leaving town next season I would expect a changing of the guards to gradually occur for the Browns as this season progresses.
Defensive Backs / B- : Headlined by cornerback Denzel Ward and safety Damarious Randall the Browns secondary could be a true benefactor of what could be a tremendous pass rush. With Terrance Mitchell and Morgan Burnett rounding out the starters, for now, I would expect rookie Greedy Williams to begin the year as the third CB option. T.J. Carrie, Jermaine Whitehead, Eric Murray, and Sheldrick Redwine round out this very young unit.
Specialists / N/A: It would not be fair to grade the Browns specialists at this time because both rookies won the kicking jobs. Austin Seibert was not a surprise to win the kicking duties. Teams usually do not prefer to cut kickers that they spent a draft pick on and Seibert was no exception. After a rocky start to his first professional Training Camp, he slowly straightened things out and firmly took a job that was likely his since April.
Jamie Gillan didn’t have the benefit of being drafted. Gillan handled both kicking and punting duties at Arkansas Pine-Bluff. The converted rugby player was brought in as camp competition. Gillan turned heads with several booming punts and even a couple nice tackles on punt returns. Gillan winning the job may be a bit of a surprise on the final roster, but keeping him also will free up a bit of salary cap space.