Are you recently hopping onto the Browns bandwagon? Are you a long time dedicated Browns fan looking to get excited about the new kings of the AFC North (actual wins pending)?
Here I will break down my list for the top 10 most important Browns heading into next season. This breakdown will be the first in weekly installments of top 10 players lists so follow along to see who’s closest by next season!
10. Kareem Hunt
Here’s the thing, the Browns will be without Hunt for the first 8 games of the season. Now, while that may seem to hurt his chances on making enough of an impact to warrant this spot on the top 10 list, hear me out. Depth is one of the most important things to have at the running back position.
Hunt will be available after week 8 and will be able to give incumbent starter Nick Chubb needed rest in the second half of the season. Hunt is no stranger to being a highly productive NFL player, however. Hunt has averaged almost 5 yards per carry during his two-year career, and in 2017 rushed for 1327 yards to lead the entire league as a rookie. Off the field concerns aside, general manager John Dorsey drafted him in Kansas City and clearly feels comfortable with the support system Cleveland has set up.
9. Antonio Callaway
I have a very special place in my heart for Antonio Callaway. I live in Florida and I was on the UF campus the day his yearlong suspension was announced in 2017. Callaway seems to have grown up since that time and, other than one incident with the police in which charges were later dropped, he has largely kept his nose clean.
Dorsey has an eye for talent and a proclivity for choosing guys who are falling in the draft due to character concerns. The rust and lack of chemistry were apparent in the first half of 2018. Callaway had been suspended from the University of Florida’s program and had not played in a real game environment for over a year.
However, from week eight on Callaway only had 2 weeks in which he caught less than 70% of his passes. With the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., the prospect of Callaway consistently matching up with team’s 3rd cornerback has to have offensive coordinator Todd Monken drooling with anticipation.
8. Olivier Vernon
The former New York Giant acquired in what would later become a blockbuster trade for Odell Beckham Jr. will be imperative for the Browns success rushing the QB this year. Many of you may argue that on the surface there are more talented impact players who will be going after quarterbacks this year for the Browns, and you’d be correct in that thinking.
But allow me to pose a question to fans of The Ohio State football team.
In the 2015 season, both Sam Hubbard (6.5) and Tyquan Lewis (8.0) had more sacks than Joey Bosa (5.0). In your mind as a living, breathing fan of American football, was there ever a moment in which Joey Bosa wasn’t the most talented defender on the field? No? Well, let me extrapolate on that point a bit further.
When the scouting report says “Look out for player A coming off the edge” opposing coaches tend to pay attention. Myles Garrett is perhaps the most in shape person I’ve ever seen up close and he’ll regularly draw double teams coming off the edge. That will allow talented edge defenders, like Vernon, to come against single blockers more often.
7. Genard Avery
Selected with the 150th pick of the 2018 NFL it’s fair to say that Genard Avery exceeded conventional expectations for a rookie 5th rounder. With 40 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the season, Avery carved out a great spot in the oft-injured linebacker core.
A young, energetic linebacker to lead the defense into the future seems to be the story on Avery now but I’m even more excited to see what he’ll be able to do under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who has often been praised for his use of linebackers defensively.
6. Joel Bitonio
There’s a certain degree of uncertainty surrounding the offensive line coming into this season. Will LT Greg Robinson be able to replicate his performance from the second half of last season, in which he only gave up one sack? Will 2017 second round pick Austin Corbett be able to effectively replace the steady production of the traded Kevin Zeitler?
For all the questions surrounding it, one thing is for certain, the steady brick house that is Joel Bitonio.
Bitonio started all 16 games for the Browns last year and was an integral part of the emergence of Nick Chubb and local savior Baker Mayfield. The most common complaint I’ve heard from Browns fans during my 21 years is that the Browns often draft the QB and build from there.
Conventional wisdom often dictates that one would reinforce the line before throwing a quarterback into the fire. Baker Mayfield walked into a team with several established linemen and benefitted accordingly. At only 27-years-old, it’s fair to say Bitonio is in his prime and I’m sure Baker is just as pleased as the fanbase.
5. Denzel Ward
Dorsey’s second first-round selection from the 2017 NFL Draft, Ward was an instant boost to the Browns secondary last season. Ward errs on the shorter side of corners but he has elite speed and he’s not afraid to hit with the big boys.
A certain hit against Big Ten foe Maryland during his time at Ohio State comes to mind. A Pro Bowl selection as a rookie, Ward had 53 tackles and 3 interceptions to go along with a forced fumble. Injury concerns aside, Ward looks poised for an all-pro level sophomore season behind an improved Browns pass rush.
4. John Dorsey
Dorsey may not be making any tackles or catching very many passes but rest assured he’s paramount to any success the Browns will have this coming season. The captain of the ship in Cleveland has eight picks in the NFL draft this year (and maybe a trick or two up his sleeve). The selections he will make in the draft will fill the few remaining obvious gaps in the Browns roster. Second corner, offensive line depth, and another safety will be the first priority. Dorsey’s eye for talent is well known and hopefully he can make a splash for the good guys in the coming days.
3. Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell arrived in Cleveland to fanfare not seen or heard since the days of Jamir Miller. Since he burst on the scene with his iconic and often imitated one-handed touchdown catch he’s been consistently a top-5 receiver. Odell changes the offense in a number of ways least of which include his game-breaking speed and insane catch radius.
He’s constantly open and has 5,476 yards on under 400 catches in his career. These are Hall-of-Fame-level numbers and a lot of that was with the ghost of Eli Manning trying to get him the ball. With surgically accurate Mayfield slinging the rock, the sky seems to quite literally be the limit for OBJ.
2. Myles Garrett
Myles Garrett, a modern renaissance man, lover of both anime and anthropology. Garrett’s other interests seemed to be some sort of knock on him during the pre-draft process but there was never any question who was the most talented player in the 2016 NFL draft. Garrett’s career at Texas A&M was held under the microscope and his motor was often called suspect.
As a Brown, however, “Jurassic Myles” has been an absolute terror. When your pass rush is fast and precise it improves your entire defense by allowing less time for quarterbacks to progress even if they aren’t directly sacked. Garrett had 13.5 sacks in 2018 and will captain much-improved unit in the upcoming year that will no doubt leave a T-Rex level impact on AFC North quarterbacks.
1. Baker Mayfield
Doesn’t it feel great Cleveland fans? We get to wake up every day, look in the mirror, and know that we really have a quarterback. Sure it took endless online slander and years of living in what has been called a “factory of sadness” but we nailed it this time!
Mayfield lit the whole NFL on fire in 2018 by tossing a league rookie record 27 touchdowns. He’s supremely confident with all-pro level precision throwing the football in an era that requires both things in spades.
Mayfield feasted on defenses even as his head coach and support system faltered around him. In his second year, with a more competent coaching staff and star receivers surrounding him on all sides, look for the swaggering Mayfield to avoid a sophomore slump and propel Cleveland to a much-anticipated playoff berth.
Cleveland, Baker is here and your time is now. So soak it all in and strap in for the ride of a lifetime.