Despite having to continue to talk about question marks in the receiving corps, it is important to note that the Browns haven’t really stood pat with their offense as a whole. The Browns traded out of the Julio Jones slot in the draft and ended up drafting one of the biggest defensive linemen available in the entire draft. This followed a year where they made Joe Haden a first round Cleveland Brown. Despite eschewing offense for defense at the top of the draft for the last two years, the Browns have made some calculated bids to improve the team’s offense.
The biggest signing for the Browns this off-season was clearly Brandon Jackson. Jackson gives Peyton Hillis a true, capable partner to help carry the load for this team. It is no secret that Peyton Hillis got banged up last season. His violent running style contributes to that, but there is little doubt that he was also overused. Hillis had 331 touches last season between carries (270) and catches (61.) In Green Bay, Brandon Jackson had 233 between carries (190) and catches (43.)
If both of those guys stay healthy, they are going to make each other better, not to mention a second-year QB learning a new offense. The running game is a young quarterback’s best friend. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger, who got over 1700 yards of production out of Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley in his rookie season. It also should give opposing defensive coordinators one more player to think about each week rather than dialing in on Hillis. If the Browns get production from Montario Hardesty or my sleeper pick Armond Smith this season those are just bonuses. Those runners should really help the Browns set up the pass this season and make things easier for the wide receivers and tight ends.
Speaking of tight ends, and again assuming health, the Browns could have one of the most talented groups of receiving tight ends in the league. Ben Watson led the Browns last season with 68 receptions for 763 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Browns brought back restricted free agent Evan Moore who shows flashes of brilliance when healthy. Unfortunately, he found himself concussed a lot last year while finding space between linebackers and safeties. His average was just north of 20 yards per catch, though. Add in super athlete Jordan Cameron who the Browns drafted this year and it is fair to say the Browns are potentially stacked at tight end. It is certainly a far cry from having Robert Royal around, that’s for sure.
Finally, the offensive line should be deeper than any point since 1999. The Browns have Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Alex Mack returning, but they had holes in the other two spots. Shawn Lauvao and Tony Pashos appear to have the inside track on those jobs. What is different this year is that there appears to be some potential depth behind them. The Browns traded for 4-year veteran John Greco to go along with Branndon Braxton, Steve Vallos, Billy Yates and 5th round draft pick Jason Pinkston. There are other names too, but most importantly is a name that isn’t on the list. John St. Clair is gone and as of right now, still a free agent. Only three of the linemen are in their 30s with Pashos, Steinbach and Yates each being 31.
As always, these moves are all moot if the team sustains massive injuries. That is a risk for every NFL team every single year. At the same time, I was thinking about it yesterday. Imagine for a second that the Browns are inside the opponent’s five yard line. They line up with some three-man combination of Ben Watson, Evan Moore, Jordan Cameron and Josh Cribbs. Then imagine both Brandon Jackson and Peyton Hillis in the backfield. Already that is more weapons for a Browns quarterback since I can remember. The defense would have to respect the run and five sets of hands, not to mention a Colt McCoy bootleg.
I am not predicting that this team is going to be an offensive juggernaut scoring 50 points per game. It also could take a bit of time for the team to adjust to Pat Shurmur’s new system. Still, this team should be able to finish ahead of where they did last year in total yards (29th) and points (31st.)