The Cleveland Browns have been a perennial bottom feeder in the NFL for the better part of the past two decades. Losing seasons, completely wasted draft picks, and consistent coaching changes have marked the team as one of the stable laughing stocks of the league. Despite the long resume of failures, the team has a new look and new feel going into 2017-18. Youth and athleticism abound, as well as several new additions highlight a roster that still has plenty of holes, but is certainly heading in the right direction.
The youth movement in Cleveland certainly should get off to a rocky start with an opening game against rival Pittsburgh, followed by back to back road games. The road games do happen to be against two teams battling significant injury issues in Baltimore and Indianapolis, so it is possible to see the team steal one or both of those games.
Beyond that, the schedule is not particularly daunting as divisional opponents Baltimore and Cincinnati are not as strong as in 2016-17. Other opponents include fellow rebuilding projects in Jacksonville, Chicago, and the New York Jets. Given the average nature of the schedule, which is rated tied for 11th easiest in the league according to CBS’s John Breech, it would not be unrealistic to see this team win as many as seven or eight games this season. Comfortably, I would predict the team to finish the season around 5-11.
The Browns should have a brutal running attack with one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and skilled backs in Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell . Crowell had a strong year in 2016, increasing his rushing production by 246 yards despite only receiving 13 more carries than in the previous season. That was before the front office upgraded the line to pave the way for the powerful back. All things considered, the Crow could easily top the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career and have a real breakout season as a top back in the league.
The rest of the offense is admittedly a bit shaky, and that might still be an understatement. The wide receiver position is a major concern and will hinder the offensive production. 2016 first round pick Corey Coleman looked the part of a true number one receiver at times during the four preseason games, but is really the only viable option on the team. Veteran Kenny Britt, signed in the off-season, should provide steady production across from Coleman, but has struggled in the preseason. Couple the serious questions at wide receiver with the serious questions at quarterback and you have the main reason why the Browns will likely have ten or more losses yet again.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer out of Notre Dame has been given the reigns of the offense. He will add his name to the long list of starting quarterbacks the team has had since returning to Cleveland in 1999. Kizer has great size and a strong arm, but as is the case with most young quarterbacks, he will likely experience the growing pains that come with learning the NFL game. If Kizer shows growth throughout the season, all should even out to some overall improvement from an offense that ranked 30th in the NFL in yards per game in 2016. However, more playmakers are needed for the unit to continue to grow.
More playmakers was exactly what the Browns’ defense needed going into the off-season and that is exactly what the team got. First round picks Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers have looked like potential perennial Pro Bowlers so far. They should help bolster a defense that ranked 31st in yards allowed per game last season.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has also already made a tremendous impact. His new scheme seems like it will be very effective once a few more pieces are added to this defense. Linebackers Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins are back as the veteran leaders of the unit and second year defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah should have more success being disruptive in the backfield in the new system. It will also help having Garrett drawing plenty of attention on the other side.
If there is going to be a bright spot for the Cleveland Browns in 2017-18, it most likely is going to be the defense. Seeing the group climb to the late to mid teens in league rankings is not outside the realm of possibility. The weak unit is the secondary, but the additions of Peppers and former Tennessee Titan Jason McCourty should at least stabilize the back end of the defense.
Simply put, the Browns are certainly heading in the right direction, but they just started figuring out the direction that the team should go in. The youth and inexperience of the team will certainly cost them plenty of games, and no one should expect something such as a playoff berth this season. Both sides of the ball will have a fair share of struggles, but they have potential across the board. Although it is sure to be another long season for Browns fans, there is finally some hope for the franchise. Head coach Hue Jackson and the front office have made all of the right moves this off-season and will have one of the most intriguing teams to watch this upcoming season.