The Browns are beyond confusing as a franchise. Which word describes them best? Lucky? Cursed? Smart? Foolish? If you’re answer is all of the above, that is absolutely acceptable. How else can you describe a franchise that had the 8th overall pick in the draft and with the world expecting them to draft the flashy QB out of Texas A&M Johnny Manziel – they chose cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. Then with Johnny Manziel still on the draft board at number 22, the Browns traded up to finally select Manziel. Funny thing is, if history proves anything, in previous drafts the Browns have used the 22nd overall pick to select quarterbacks who failed miserably (Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden). Not trying to jinx Johnny Manziel or anything – just a weird coincidence.
The Browns are an unsteady organization to say the least. Mike Pettine becomes the fifth head coach since 2008 to lead this franchise. It’s not fair but you just got to say Pettine starts the season on the hot seat because this job apparently holds no room for error no matter what your roster looks like.
Can we talk about the elephant in the room now?
Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football is an enigma the NFL has yet to see. His flashy play on the football field matches his flashy high-profile lifestyle. Manziel has been called “a rich kid with no conscience.” He parties hard, and plays hard. Although owner Jimmy Haslam for some reason wants to put a muzzle on the hysteria that surrounds Manziel, the truth is the city of Cleveland wants Manziel to start because he has brought attention to Browns football. Manziel was able to produce in the toughest conference in college football, the SEC. The SEC brings speed off the ends and pressure up the middle like no other college football conference and Manziel was able to make them all look foolish. At times his play style is more “sandlot” than anything else, but his instincts and competitiveness are miles ahead of most. His arm strength was a question, but in every team practice and workout he was able to make all the throws and if there was any question about his leadership, check out his second half come back performance against Duke in the 2013 Chik Fil A Bowl. Brian Hoyer will eventually or immediately be the odd man out in Cleveland and it seems to be a turn of misfortune for him. He played well last year until his injury – who knows what Cleveland would’ve done if Hoyer proved to be a good enough starting quarterback. Truth is, at this point we’ll probably never know – and deep down we ALL want to see what Johnny Football can do.
Johnny Football would’ve been able to do a lot more if he had wide receiver Josh Gordon to throw the ball to. In 14 games last season Gordon was ridiculous, tallying up 1646 receiving yards and arguably becoming the owner of the title “best receiver in the NFL.” Unfortunately Gordon has gotten himself caught up in another marijuana incident and the NFL will most likely not budge from it’s year long suspension of Gordon. So who’s left at receiver? Basically a “who’s who” of guys that were available to sign : Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins, Earl Bennett and Miles Austin. Austin and Burleson’s best days are probably behind them while Bennett and Hawkins are third or fourth options at best. If Miles Austin remains on the team all season long it would be considered a success within itself – which leaves Burleson to be the team’s only real option as number one wideout. Undrafted rookie Willie Snead out of Ball State is fighting for a spot on the team and he could be a gem if he impresses on the right days of training camp and pre-season. Snead is a clutch performer, a good route runner and has great hands – for a team that’s apparently into gambling, taking a chance out of this kid from Ball State can prove to be a low risk-high reward worth taking. The best “receiver” on this team is no doubt, tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron caught for over 900 yards last season and proved to be a red zone target with 7 touchdowns. Cameron excelled with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator who likes to get his tight ends involved in his passing attacks, so it will be interesting to see Cameron’s development moving forward.
Ben Tate was signed to be the starting running back but don’t be surprised to see him lose carries to the rookie out of Townson, Terrance West. West did everything for that little know, Townson team and can quite possibly be a player to make a big impact on the NFL coming out of a smaller school.
Defensively the Browns somehow convinced Karlos Dansby to join their squad. Hopefully adding the sure tackling veteran will help out second year man Barkevious Mingo who has 4.5 speed with a 6’4″ 241 pound frame. Mingo was dominant while at LSU and the Browns are hoping that their first round pick from last season can be an anchor to the newly installed Mike Pettine defense. Paul Kruger was a big signing last season, that was predicted by writer Joe Wedra (@joewedra) to be a financial mistake on the part of the Browns. Kruger had a disappointing season and is looking to turn things around before he gets cut out of what’s owed to him on his contract.
The Browns did not hold onto safety T.J. Ward but they replaced him with veteran Donte Whitner. Whitner is more of a physical safety, but that fits fine with the aggressive style of defense Pettine will offer. Whitner will probably be playing close to the line of scrimmage anyway. The Browns will be able to gamble like that with Whitner because they have one of the best man-to-man cover specialist in the league with Joe Haden who is out to prove that he is the best cornerback in the NFL this season. The Browns expect the same kind of confidence from the rookie they took 8th overall this year, Justin Gilbert. Gilbert is an exceptional cover man who had to do a lot of chasing and running in a Big 12 conference where it seems every offense throws the ball about 40-50 times a game.
With all that said, they are still rebuilding. Hopefully they get it right and the Browns can eventually stop being the doormat for the AFC North.
2014 prediction: 6-10
Pro Bowl Selections: Joe Haden, Joe Thomas