What are old Cleveland gangs

Author: Patrick from Trade Accepted! - The Fantasy Football Podcast
Twitter: @PatrickTradeFF & @TradeAcceptedFF

Believeland was a bit cocky last year and has already declared himself Super Bowl champion after making significant commitments in the offseason. The fans and especially the players of the Browns were quickly brought back to the bitter ground of the facts. This year we focused on the basic structure of the team and established a new culture. Is everything finally coming together this year?

- RECAP -

Another turbulent off-season in Cleveland with another change in the coaching staff. Freddie Kitchens, first savior and now scapegoat, was thrown from the board after just a year at the wheel of the Browns. Another rushed layoff in desperate Cleveland? Not at all. Not only did the fans have to watch the star-filled team lose week after week and end up with a record of 6-10 - the franchise also sank into chaos and one scandal chased the next. Since the Browns were sometimes even traded as Super Bowl contenders before the season - just looking at the roster - this result is not only disappointing, but rather embarrassing. But first things first: What caused the Browns not to work in 2019 - and more importantly: What must change in 2020 so that they can finally make the leap to the playoffs?

What went right?

Let's start with the positive points. The Browns' running game was the bright spot at the end of the tunnel. Nick Chubb finished the season with 1,494 rushing yards - only Derrick Henry had more (1,540) - and eight touchdowns. After Kareem Hunt missed the first eight weeks of the season due to a suspension, he and Chubb formed a dominant RB duo that should take another step forward this year behind the strengthened offensive line.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line gave hope. An injury to Oliver Vernon and the scandal surrounding Myles Garrett slowed down the actually dominant front. With Garrett, Vernon, Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi, all four starters are on the team again this season and can hopefully reach their full potential.

What went wrong

Pretty much everything else. Where do we start? In the front office. Ex-General Manager John Dorsey is responsible for the obligations of Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb (both Draft), Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. (both Trade), but at the same time underestimates the value of a strong O-Line and is thus largely responsible for the negative development of Mayfield, which we will come to in a moment. In addition, he made a complete mistake in appointing Freddie Kitchens as head coach - which brings us to our next point.


Seldom has it been so clear that someone is overwhelmed with their own role. Kitchens was never ready for the HC job. The players had no discipline (most of the league's penalties, OBJ wore a $ 250,000 watch during the game, Myles Garrett tried to kill Mason Rudolph on the pitch, Jermaine Whitehead threatened a reporter with violence after a loss, and so on) and it appeared as if the Browns would have no team culture. After the turbulent offseason and the promising rookie year of Mayfield, everyone involved assumed that the victories would come by themselves. In week 1, the Tennessee Titans - a team with a clear culture that later marched into the AFC Championship Game and only lost there to the eventual Super Bowl champion - quickly brought the Browns back down to earth. From there on it went downhill in every nook and cranny. Play-calling should be highlighted here as an example.

Kitchens was appointed to HC especially because of his chemistry with Mayfield and the creative play-calling associated with it. However, Kitchens made the mistake of not aligning his playbook to the strengths of his own players, but apparently wanted to establish a game system that lived up to the hype surrounding the Browns team. The result was a halting offense and sometimes more than strange calls - you only need to remember a draw-play on 4th & 9.

The just mentioned Baker Mayfield was not characterized by a playful step forward, but spent the offseason filming well over 15 commercials with lucrative companies. The lack of concentration over the summer was quickly noticeable on the pitch and Baker ended the season with only 22 touchdowns, but with 21 interceptions and only 3,827 yards. Baker was also unable to develop a reasonable chemistry with Beckham, which caused frustration on the part of the receiver and ultimately resulted in desperate attempts to integrate the star wideout into the game at all costs.

- OFFSEASON -

To say the Browns' season didn't go quite as expected would be an understatement of the year contestant. As a result, there was a bang in the offseason. Freddie Kitchens and John Dorsay are history. With Kevin Stefanski, there is now a coach at the helm, who was already part of a winning culture at the Minnesota Vikings. Stefanski coached the playoffs in 2017 and 2019, while the Browns have been waiting for an appearance in the post-season since 2002 and have had eleven different head coaches since then.

Andrew Berry is also a new General Manager in power. Berry and Stefanski focused the offseason efforts on the Browns' brittle O-Line and therefore signed Jack Conklin, one of - if not the - best right tackle in the league from the Tennessee Titans and invested their first round draft pick in Jedrick Wills, who is supposed to protect the blind side of quarterback Baker Mayfield in the position of the left tackle. Both additions should give the offense more stability and thus give Mayfield more time to get the ball into the hands of his playmaker.

Keyword playmaker: The Browns have also secured the services of tight end Austin Hooper, who, together with David Njoku, will form one of the best TE duos in the league. Njoku had called for a trade as a result of the signing of Hooper - the Browns will certainly not renew with Njoku after this season after they have given Hooper a large contract - but has now committed to his team and is therefore completely on the offense to disposal.

In addition, Stefanski brought an old friend to Cleveland. QB Case Keenum will take on the role of the backup quarterback and act as a mentor for Baker. At the same time, it is an insurance policy that could come into play if Mayfield's performance deteriorated even more drastically than last year.

Another move that may have gone under the radar for many is the acquisition of fullback Andy Janovich. Stefanski had great success with the Vikings with a run game based on the support of a fullback as a lead blocker. Andy Janovich will take on this role, acting as the steam rammer for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

The other additions in the draft and in the free agency are a mixture of players for depth and talents with high upside. At this point, Safety Grant Delpit (LSU) deserves special mention, who had visibly lost his senior year at college, but had shown in the previous seasons that he could take on a flexible role at the highest level. If the Browns manage to get the best out of Delpit, they may have drafted a superstar playmaker on the defense side.

Selection of re-signings:

- Kareem Hunt, RB (1 year, $ 3,259,000)

Overview of important signings:

- Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans (3 year, $ 42M, $ 30M guaranteed)

- Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons (4 year, $ 44M, $ 23M guaranteed)

- Case Keenum, QB, Washington Redskins (3 year, $ 18M, $ 10M guaranteed)

- Andy Janovich, FB, Denver Broncos (Trade)

- Andrew Billings, DL, Cincinnati Bengals (1 year $ 3.5M guaranteed)

- Kevin Johnson, CB, Buffalo Bills (1 year, $ 3.5M, $ 1M guaranteed)

- Karl Joseph, S, Las Vegas Raiders (1 year, $ 2.5M, $ 500K guaranteed)

- Andrew Sendejo, S, Philadelphia Eagles (1 year, $ 2.25M, $ 2M guaranteed)

Well-known departures:

- Damarious Randall, S, Las Vegas Raiders

- Joe Schobert, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

- Christian Kirksey, LB, Green Bay Packers (Cut)

- T.J. Carrie, CB, Indianapolis Colts (Cut)

- Greg Robinson, OT, free agent

- DRAFT -

Round 1 pick 10 (10) - T Jedrick Wills Jr

Round 2 pick 12 (44) - S Grant Delpit

Round 3 pick 24 (88) - DT Jordan Elliott

Round 3 pick 33 (97) - LB Jacob Phillips

Round 4 pick 9 (115) - TE Harrison Bryant

Round 5 Pick 15 (160) - C Nick Harris

Round 6 Pick 8 (187) - WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

- OPEN -

As already mentioned: The Browns are loaded up with playmakers. OBJ, Landry, Chubb, Hunt, Hooper, Njoku. All three position groups are occupied by a top duo. But can the Browns use these playmakers this season? Mayfield is in his third year and has shown as a rookie that he can liven up an offense. The poor performance in 2019 can be argued away with the underground tour of Head Coach Freddie Kitchens and the holey O-Line - but it has to click now. Stefanski was hired as the new coach to build a system around the strengths of his players. Under Stefanski, Kirk Cousins ​​had one of his best years of his career last year (3,606 yards, 26 touchdowns, six interceptions, QB rating of 107.4). The whole of Ohio is hoping for a similar development with the earlier number 1 pick Mayfield.

The new offense coordinator Alex Van Pelt will install a system that enables Baker to read the field before the snap, then to make a decision quickly after the snap and to get the ball into the hands of his playmaker with high precision. With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Mayfield has two backs behind him that will take the pressure off him and need opposing defenses to focus on. In particular, the combination with the other receiving options could open up large rooms and provide offensive fireworks - if the O-Line holds and Baker gives the necessary time for it.

Quarterback

We have already touched on the development of Baker Mayfield. He took a step back after his rookie season. This year, however, all prerequisites are in place to find your way back to old strength and beyond. After falling on the nose with his sometimes arrogant manner last year, the former Oklahoma star will do everything in 2020 to silence his doubters. Last year he was traded as a potential MVP, now everyone is questioning him again - Mayfield may need this pressure to perform at the highest level. If so, we can expect great things from Baker. Either way, one thing is clear: it is far too early to label him as a bust. He continues to be a hugely precise quarterback with a quick release and most importantly, a quick brain that can identify defenses within seconds.

Offensive line

The O-Line was the number 1 priority for the Browns this offseason. With Jack Conklin they have signed perhaps the best right tackle in the league and brought in Jedrick Wills a solid and above all safe rookie for the blindside. Both tackles shine especially in run blocking and can set the edge for the two backs Chubb and Hunt. When it comes to pass protection, Conklin and Wills are definitely an upgrade from last year's solutions, although of course it remains to be seen how rookie Wills fares against Top Pass Rusher in the NFL.

Center JC Tretter and left guard Joel Bitonio are among the best in their position and will continue to ensure safety and calm in the line in 2020.

The only question mark is Right Guard Wyatt Teller, who is entering his third season. If he takes the necessary step forward, the Browns line could belong to one of the top units in the league. Mayfield, Chubb, and Hunt would definitely love that.

Running back

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt form one of the most dangerous running-back duos in the entire league. Chubb has developed into one of the best pure runners in the past two years and has also made great strides in the passing game. He reads the blocks of his O-Line well and also manages to generate big plays with broken tackles. With Hunt there is another back who, like Chubb, is difficult to tackle - Hunt led the league in 2017 as a rookie with 61 forced missed tackles - and at the same time is incredibly dangerous as a pass recipient from the backfield and from the slot.

Wide receiver

The Browns' offense didn't click last year and of course that was also noticeable with the wideouts. Although OBJ and Landry both achieved over 1,000 receiving yards, the former in particular fell far short of the hoped-for expectations. In addition to the lack of chemistry between Beckham and Mayfield, a lack of attention to detail was also evident in many places. In addition, Odell said he was injured throughout the season. The receiver has already announced that he has focused on his recovery for the entire offseason and is now stronger than ever.

Should OBJ find its way back to its all-pro form this year and continue to convince Landry as a safety option from the slot, the Browns should have a top 10 passing offense - even excluding the two star tight ends. It will be interesting to see who takes on the role as number 3. The favorite on the spot is likely to be Rashard Higgins, who had his breakout year in 2018 but only had 172 snaps in 2019. In addition, Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, JMon Moore and six-round pick Donovan People-Jones are waiting for opportunities to present themselves.

Tight end

You don't need to be an expert to realize that the Browns offense should be supported by strong tight ends. Otherwise, it would not have raised $ 42 million to sign Austin Hooper while taking the 5-year option with David Njoku. In the fourth round, the Browns also drafted Harrison Bryant of Florida Atlantic College. Bryant shone in college in particular as an excellent route runner and should cause headaches for opposing linebackers with his athleticism. The rookie is likely to be an investment in the post-Njoku era, who is likely to leave Cleveland after this season. In what may be his last year as Brown, Njoku has the opportunity to present strong numbers again.

Conclusion

The prerequisites for a successful year for the Browns on the offense side are in place. The only question that remains is whether the many individual strong parts also work as a whole. If so, Cleveland could become one of the top 10 offenses in the league.

- DEFENSE -

On the part of the offense, the Browns only questioned whether all the gears can click together. On the dark side of the ball, the question marks are a bit bigger. A lot of talent can be seen in all position groups, but there are also some question marks. There is a chance to see a top 10 defense in Cleveland in the coming year, but it is also possible that the defense will be pushed around by opposing offenses.

Defensive line

With Myles Garrett and Oliver Vernon, the Browns undoubtedly have firepower in Pass Rush. If both of them stay healthy - and refrain from violent actions on the field that lead to suspensions - the two have the potential to produce over 20 sacks, if not significantly more.

Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi are meanwhile large presences in the middle, but fell short of expectations last year. With young linebackers behind them, the two defensive tackles have to take a step forward.

With Andrew Billings and rookie Jordan Elliott, two other players are available who can support the line in situations and ensure good depth.

Linebacker

How the Browns linebackers develop will be decisive for the Browns Defense. Joe Schobert left the team in the Free Agency for Jacksonville and the field with the youngsters Mack Wilson (middle linebacker) and Sione Takitaki (strongside linebacker) as well as B.J. Left to Goodson (Weakside Linebacker). If the young linebackers do not develop as hoped, this position group is likely to be the Browns' greatest weak point.

Secondary

There are also a few question marks in the backfield. Denzel Ward is just one step away from becoming an absolute lockdown cornerback in the NFL. On the other hand, if Greedy Williams makes a bigger leap forward, the Browns cornerbacks could be among the better duos in the league. As a rookie, Greedy still had its problems and has to improve in all aspects of the game (man-to-man, zone, run support).

There is a lot of rotation in the safetys. With Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, the Browns have signed two potential starters. At the same time, they drafted a player with a high upside in Grant Delpit and Sheldrick Redwine also showed what potential he has in his rookie season.

With possibly four first or second round picks as a starter, the Browns backfield is definitely not lacking in talent.The question will be how does Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods' scheme affect defense as a whole.

Conclusion

Apart from the defensive front, the Browns defense is still a building site. The components are all already there, the only question is whether they will hold up. With the unusual circumstances of this unusual year, the development of the defense could be more difficult than usual - we will have to be surprised.

- PLAYERS / POSITION TO WATCH -

QB Baker Mayfield

The critical voices surrounding the earlier number 1 pick have grown louder. With a new head coach in power, it is always questionable how much patience he has with an unfamiliar quarterback. Despite all the criticism, Mayfield is the clear candidate for the bounce-back player of the year. In his rookie season he has shown why he was the first overall pick and if he can find his way back to that form and the system around him targets his strengths, nothing stands in the way of Baker's success. But if it doesn't succeed, it is not impossible that the Browns may look in a different direction in the coming year.

WR Odell Beckham Jr

A boring and obvious pick - but I just have to mention it. After a disappointing first season in Cleveland, we hope that OBJ will finally develop the necessary chemistry with Baker and that we can look forward to non-stop highlight plays. However, if the receiver still does not move, it can be assumed that the new management level will pull the rip cord.

LB Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki

We have just taken a closer look at the two linebackers. Both are in their second season and have to perform as starters from day 1. The puppy protection is over and the third- and five-round picks from the previous draft are in the spotlight.

EN Myles Garrett

After ten sacks in ten games, Myles Garrett has blown the fuses and has been banned for the remainder of the season for his actions not worth mentioning here. Even so, the Browns gave him a really big new contract (5 years, $ 125,000,000, $ 100,000,000 guaranteed). Garrett must deliver now and reach his full potential. This potential lies beyond the 20 sacks mark.

- SCHEDULE -

division

The Browns play in one of the toughest divisions in the league. Twice a year they have to face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, Big Ben and the Steelers and the first overall pick of this year's draft, Joe Burrow and the Bengals. The Browns have the roster to fight for a playoff spot, but it's going to be tough against established teams like the Ravens and Steelers. Right at the beginning of the season there are two matchups against competitors from the AFC North. In week 1 the Browns have to go to Baltimore and in week 2 former number 1 pick Baker Mayfield receives the current First Overall and the Bengals.

Strength of Schedule

According to cbssports.com, the Browns have the fourth-lightest schedule in the league. Personally, I think very little of this statistic and will therefore leave it at this statement. It is worth mentioning, however, that compared to 2019, the Browns only have two prime time games instead of four. With the Bengals (2x), Redskins, Raiders, Jaguars, Giants and Jets, the Browns also have a variety of very beatable opponents.

- OUTLOOK / PREDICTION -

The Browns will take a big step forward under the new head coach Kevin Stefanski and the offense will hopefully start to click. But is that enough for the playoffs? That could be difficult in the exciting AFC North - especially with the question marks in defense. If everything comes together at the Browns, they can fight for a wildcard spot with the Steelers - but it will by no means be enough to oust the Ravens from the top.

Week-to-week forecast

Week 1 @Ravens: LOSS

Week 2 vs. Bengals: WIN

Week 3 vs. Redskins: WIN

Week 4 @Cowboys: LOSS

Week 5 vs. Colts: LOSS

Week 6 @Steelers: LOSS

Week 7 @Bengals: WIN

Week 8 vs. Raiders: WIN

Week 9: BYE

Week 10 vs. Texans: WIN

Week 11 vs. Eagles: LOSS

Week 12 @Jaguars: WIN

Week 13 @Titans: LOSS

Week 14 vs. Ravens: LOSS

Week 15 @Giants: WIN

Week 16 @Jets: WIN

Week 17 vs. Steelers: WIN

My tip: 9-7