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Today: The Cleveland Browns
Last Year: 4-12
The Browns were somewhat of a trendy pick heading into the 2013 season, not to necessarily qualify for the postseason, but to start being a somewhat competitive team. Despite their four-win campaign, I think the Browns accomplished that. With a defense that finished the season ranked ninth in total defense, the Browns jumped out a 3-2 record. But, because of a seven-game losing streak to end the season, their season can hardly be called a success. The Browns lost five one-score games, their first quarterback plan — Brandon Weeden — didn’t exactly pan out, and they traded their former first-round running back (which ended up being a fantastic decision).
Following the season, the organization fired head coach Rob Chudzinski, which didn’t make much sense because of all the injury issues at the quarterback position, because the team dealt Trent Richardson in the middle of the season, and because he was entering just his second year of a four-year contract, coaching a team that is still a few seasons away from contending.
Some Browns players weren’t very happy and told NFL reporter Mike Silver all about it:
Seriously, WTF. Anyways, the Browns hired Mike Pettine, who most recently coached the Bills’ defense. But, after stockpiling draft picks, the Browns do appear to be inching closer to relevance.
Last Year’s Stud: Josh Gordon
Okay, so he might miss all of 2014 due to another failed drug test, which would pretty much screw over the Browns — but that just speaks to how good Gordon was last season. He led the league in receiving yards with 1,646, he caught 87 passes, and scored nine touchdowns, all with the following quarterbacks throwing him the ball: Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer.
Standing at 6-foot-3, Gordon has the ability to go up and snatch the ball out of the air and away from his body (as seen below), and he also possesses enough speed for the home run ball (as seen above).
Runner-up: Jordan Cameron
Last Year’s Surprise: Josh Gordon
Josh Gordon in 2012: 50 receptions, 805 yards, 5 touchdowns
Josh Gordon in 2013: 87 receptions, 1,646 yards, 9 touchdowns
Yup. He pretty much doubled his production from a year ago.
Runner-up: Brian Hoyer
Last Year’s Disappointment: Willis McGahee
McGahee followed up two rejuvenating years in Denver (4.6 yards per carry) with the worst season of his entire career. While the offensive line shares much of the fault too, McGahee only managed to put up 2.7 yards per carry on 138 rushing attempts. Prior to 2013, the lowest yards per carry McGahee had suffered was 3.8. Now, McGahee is 32-years-old, a free agent, and seemingly at the end of his career.
Runner-up: Davone Bess
The Browns cashed in at the draft. Of the six picks they possessed in the first four rounds, the Browns — a team with many needs — addressed both the offense and the defense. Let’s take a look at their two first-round selections.
If the Browns have a strength, it’s their defense. More specifically, the Browns were a top-10 defense against the pass in 2013. But, the Browns lost players like D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward in free agency, so upper-management decided to re-arm themselves in the secondary to provide some help to returning corner Joe Haden. With their first selection, the Browns took Justin Gilbert, a cornerback from Oklahoma State. As a Cowboy, Gilbert started every game for the past three seasons and racked up 12 interceptions in his college career. There are some questions regarding his tackling, but Gilbert possesses playmaking ability.
The Browns weren’t done in the first-round though, eventually taking Johnny Manziel to hopefully solidify the quarterback position. Anything and everything has already been said about Manziel, but I think he has a chance at stardom.
This Year’s Stud: Jordan Cameron
Boy, did Cameron have a heck of a season. After catching only 26 passes in his first two seasons in Cleveland, the third-year tight end broke out in 2013. Trailing only Gordon for the team lead in receptions, Cameron hauled in 80 passes for 917 yards — good for 11.5 yards per catch — and brought down nine touchdowns.
Runner-up: Johnny Manziel
I’m going to use this an excuse to put in some Johnny Football GIFS.
This Year’s Surprise: Terrance West
Ben Tate was signed in free agency, but Tate has never played an entire season as a feature back. Terrance West should figure to get some carries throughout the season. The former Towson star is a tough runner to bring down and, while at Towson, ran for the most yards in school history and set FCS single-season records for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
Runner-up: Earl Bennett
This Year’s Disappointment: Ben Tate
Look, I get it. The Browns running back situation was abysmal last year. The team ranked 26th rushing the ball, and their leading rusher was Willis McGahee who averaged 2.7 yards per carry. The Browns desperately needed a more reliable option, so they went out and signed Ben Tate — formerly Arian Foster’s backup in Houston. But I don’t think Tate will be enough to solve the Browns’ running woes. He’s had injury issues, and will be playing behind an offensive line that really struggled to open up holes last season.
Will he be an improvement from the backs the Browns trotted out last season? Probably. But I don’t think he’ll be much else.
Runner-up: Josh Gordon (if he is suspended)
Draft early: Josh Gordon (if he isn’t suspended)
Good value in the middle rounds: Jordan Cameron, Ben Tate
Don’t Draft: Miles Austin, Earl Bennett
What Vegas is saying (LVH sports book): 6.5 wins
What We’re Saying: 6-10 (4th Place in AFC North)
The Browns lost some playmakers on the defense via free agency, but improved their roster considerably through the draft. Still, the Browns have holes — the offensive line is a concern — and plenty of question marks, including Josh Gordon’s status and the quarterback position. The Browns drafted Manziel, but Hoyer might be the one starting week 1. And the organization still has no inkling of Gordon’s possible suspension. Looking at the schedule, I see six wins — the Titans, Jaguars, Raiders, Bills are among the potential wins. Cleveland should improve from a year ago, but shouldn’t be expecting the postseason quite yet.