The Cleveland Browns roster is undeniably better in 2014

I hate trying to predict what the Browns will do in a given season. Long gone are the days where I go through the schedule and assign W’s and L’s to each week’s contest. It’s much simpler for me to look at the Browns in a couple of different ways. First, unless they are tearing the team down completely, my standards for an NFL team in a given NFL season is that they ought to be able to win eight games. Luck and injuries and coaching will tell the rest of the tale. Also, simply looking at the roster is instructive. Is it better or worse than last season? I have come to the conclusion that the Browns’ roster coming into this season is undeniably better than it was a year ago.

Granted, just having a roster improvement doesn’t mean much. Across 16 games in one of the world’s most violent sports, guys get hurt. I know the NFL is a no-excuses type of league and “next man up” is the mantra in every locker room, but I’m not a part of the locker room. Some years for some teams, injuries are just too much to overcome. Also, and especially with these Browns this year, the new coaching staff for the second time in two years is totally unknown. It’s still quite possible that the Browns coaching staff of Mike Pettine, Jim O’Neill and Kyle Shanahan is worse than Rob Chudzinski, Ray Horton and Norv Turner. Be that as it may, I’m confident the roster is improved.

Let’s start with the most obvious improvement with running backs. This week the Browns cut Chris Ogbonnaya. I didn’t get any enjoyment out of that, as Ogbonnaya was a good guy who worked hard and was reasonably talented enough to be a journeyman in the NFL. Problem was, the Browns had to use him like a fullback, a featured running back and a third down back over the course of the last few years. Don’t blame Ogbonnaya. Blame those who put the Browns in a position to rely on him so heavily. Which means, don’t blame Ray Farmer who just cut him loose.

Biyeb_bCEAAx6HD.jpg-large

This year the Browns signed a legit runner in Ben Tate in free agency. (Ben Tate’s contract details) The Browns then selected Terrance West in the third round of the NFL draft. (94 overall) Add in the fact that the Browns have a real, live fullback — Ray Agnew — not named Ogbonnaya, and it’s easy to see that the Browns are legitimately and almost with out question improved as a running unit.

That brings us to the offensive line. Yes, there are still question marks about Mitchell Schwartz, but there aren’t a lot about John Greco. He moves over to the right to help Schwartz. The Browns had the fifth best offensive line a season ago according to Pro Football Focus, and they drafted Joel Bitonio after bringing back Alex Mack. If they can gain chemistry and if Mitchell Schwartz can improve or even just stay the same, this is another place the Browns likely got better.

Wide receiver is still a major pain point for the Browns, and I don’t expect this to make you feel that much better, but remember what we found out over the course of last year. First of all, Josh Gordon missed the first two games. Secondly, despite all his hard work, Greg Little couldn’t become reliable. He was also cut by the Raiders this weekend, by the way. Davone Bess was a great move by the Browns that blew up in their face. Nobody saw that coming, but man, was that just a mess. Travis Benjamin even tore his ACL last year.

While the Browns have question marks with Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel, it’s hard to think they’re worse off. Granted, last year’s receiving corps is hindsight and I might have just doomed this year’s crew to jinx-ville, but last year was about as bad as I can remember for receiving other than Josh Gordon.

Quarterback? Oh man, I have no idea, except to say that Brandon Weeden is untrustable. Brian Hoyer had an awful pre-season and Johnny Manziel doesn’t appear ready yet. The Browns don’t have a “Jason Campbell” this year, which is good and bad, I guess. Unless you want to go back in time and again bemoan the lack of aggressive pursuit of a guy like Alex Smith (sometimes I like to) we should just go ahead and call the QB position “flat” year over year, if not slightly better because the Browns are betting on a guy who actually won two games at the helm in 2013.

The last piece that I will focus on is defensive back. The Browns used their top pick in the draft on Justin Gilbert. They return Joe Haden and Buster Skrine. They lose T.J. Ward and gain Donte Whitner. At safety they return Tashaun Gipson and others like Bademosi, Jordan Poyer as well as adding Jim Leonhard, Aaron Berry, and Pierre Desir. The key here is returning Haden, Skrine, and drafting Justin Gilbert.

Again, I don’t know what the Browns will do with this decidedly better roster. I didn’t even mention the D’Qwell Jackson departure for Karlos Dansby because I’ve talked about it so much already. My point is just that all you can ask for is to have the roster improve every year. Past that, you start to expect those improvements to translate into the record. If I had to guess, the Browns will be as good as their running game this year. Between the offensive line and the personnel changes in that unit, it’s the most glaring difference from the beginning of 2013. Obviously we’ll see if it does, very soon, but overall this year’s Browns team is better equipped.

Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY

  • mgbode

    start watching 30-40 minutes after the game starts and utilize that remote control. ignore things that don’t happen on the field.

    and, horrific referreeing? pretty sure that is said about all sports.

    injuries are bad, but FIFA refuses to allow their patented magic spray to be used in other sports ;)

  • mgbode

    if Harvin is healthy, then he’s a pro-bowler as he demonstrated in the Superbowl. he just cannot stay healthy.

  • saggy

    haha. flaws. oh well.

  • mgbode

    it was mid-November and we were still right there in the playoff hunt controlling our own destiny! and, we sure controlled it.

  • saggy

    i actually like to start the game late and hit the +30-seconds button just as the play ends, so the next play is queued right up. Of course, you can’t do that with an up-tempo offense, but you wouldn’t need to anyways.

    Haha. Magic Spray. love that stuff.

  • Harv 21

    Obviously, I meant Butchie never returning as a NFL head coach. He was a fine college coach before he came to Cleveland, that was one of the reasons he was hired and given so much authority, and was not suggesting he could no longer do that after Cleveland.

  • Harv 21

    “WR – no Gordon means we regressed. hopefully, enough guys step up to help make up for his loss somewhat.”

    Um … this is quite a “hopefully.” This has to be the worst receiver group in the league, the Village of the Damned. As I said elsewhere, a group which COMBINED for the same number of catches last year that Greg Little had – 41. Seriously, I might take the Browns ’99 hot mess over this: Kevin Johnson, Chiaverini, Leslie Shepherd, 2 guys named Dunn can’t be much worse. If they don’t add something quick they might as well be called “Defensive Coordinator’s Extra Bye-Week.” Crowd the line boys, and pop everything that moves, all eyes on the RB, anyone that backpedals sits next week. When that happened to Mangini and Daboll they desperately started dialing up gadget plays and believing Cribbs’s receiver delusions.

  • Pat Leonard

    The Carolina Panthers are at least fighting for that honor. They have a 1st round rookie in Kelvin Benjamin who could end up being pretty good, but until he shows it they have Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant along with two undrafted guys. Give me Miles Austin over Cotchery and Andrew Hawkins over Avant any day.

  • mgbode

    Agreed on Carolina. Also:

    Raiders – James Jones, Streater, Criner. If Jones was a product of Rodgers, then they could be worse.

    Jags – mostly injury related, but Shorts, Robinson and Lee have all been on the injury list this preseason and 2 of those guys are rookies (so they aren’t likely just giving those guys rest).

    Pats – Edelman and Amendola have injury issues are are nothing special. Dobson/Thompson. I mean, if we switched WR corps, would we really feel much/any better? Brady does a ton there.

    Chiefs – Bowe hasn’t topped 60catches in the last 2 seasons. Avery, Jenkins, Hammond Jr. are nothing special.

  • mgbode

    yeah, it’s all on hope, but Miles Austin was hurt last year (and I don’t trust him to be healthy this year), Hawkins was blocked in Cinci from targets, and Burleson ate pizza while driving. there is some talent in there, but a ton has to go right for us to see much of it.

  • Pat Leonard

    Oh man, I might have to give the trophy to the Raiders. That’s awful.

  • RGB

    QB – Hoyer + Shaw is better than what we have this year…
    Just sayin’.

  • RGB

    Remove NE from the equation.
    Brady can win the AFC with us as WRs.

  • mgbode

    well, he does get to play in the AFC-E, which helps.

  • mgbode

    yeah, but he’s on the PS for now, so I cannot even count him. yet.

  • nj0

    The Panthers have a “remember that guy!?!?” roster.

    LOL, yeah I do remember him.

  • mgbode

    Benjamin deep. Sure, he’ll drop as many as he catches, but the deep seam is one of the few routes he runs well.

  • markn95

    Count me with Harv–this team’s collection of wide receivers belongs on an expansion team. In some ways, I think it’s worse than our running back situation last year, which was historically bad and dragged the rest of the team down with it. At least with RB’s you can make up for it with a decent OL and some waiver wire pickups. It’s one of the few positions where a guy off the street can come in and make a difference. WR is a different animal. And it’s not like we have a QB who can make up for it. In a passing league, we’re basically spotting the other team 10-14 points a game. With no one threatening to stretch the filed, this will be one of the easiest offenses in the league to prepare for.

    And I’m tired of saying how good the defense looks on paper at the beginning of every season. We’ve been saying that for awhile now, with nothing to show for it. Until we get a guy who can consistently rush the passer, this defense will systematically underachieve. And Phil Taylor, Jabbal Sheard, and Paul Kruger have got to be some of the most overrated front 7 guys in the league. I even wonder about Rubin sometimes.

    Sorry for the negativity, I’m just not feeling it this year.

  • whosevelt

    That was the joke.

  • Natedawg86

    I am sold that the preseason is for the refs and league (including team which charge full price to season ticket holders). The refs called 287 penalties through 2 weeks of preseason. The last two years was 282 combined. That number better not be that bad during the season or it will be unwatchable.

  • Natedawg86

    BEN, STOP TALKING ABOUT THE DRAFT IT IS SEPTEMBER

  • Dawgfan64

    The defense was top 10 last year. With the added coverage of Dansby/Whitner/Kirksey/Gabriel and the improvement of another year for several other key players (Bryant/Winn/Robertson to name a few), this defense is likely a top 5 unit. Add in the new RB’s and improved OL along with a run-friendly zone blocking scheme and the Browns will no longer be dependant on throwing the ball 42.6 (NFL highest) times a game. Cut that in half, and increase the runs from 21.8 (3rd lowest in NFL) times per game and the loss of Gordon is likely decreased in severity. By the way, Gordon was ‘targeted’ 159 times in 14 games. Only two other top WR’s had a LOWER catch/target ratio. That means a lot of wasted plays. If the Browns average 4 y/c (like last year) in the rushing attack, the offense will keep the ball longer, shorten the game, rest the defense, and scoring 17-20 a game would mean a lot of wins.

  • jadavis0311

    As the new GM for the Browns I go into this offseason thinking, okay, these guys fielded a top defense last year, and although I’d love to bolster the second CB, the second ILB, and the FS positions, we need to make this offense better first and foremost. So this is how my offseason goes:

    Key Free Agents Signings:

    SS Donte Whitner
    RB Ben Tate
    WR Kenny Britt

    Key Draft Picks:
    9. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
    26. Marqise Lee, WR, UCLA
    35. Joel Bitonio, OG, Nevada

    *Perhaps next year I bring in a stud CB and ILB with my two first round draft picks.

    *Maybe I’m crazy, but I believe Teddy will make for an excellent game manager while still having the ability to hit tight spots and throw the ball down the field – he’s a taller, broader Russell Wilson. And if the off season QB battle was fair, I don’t think Hoyer beats him out. Before Teddy’s pro day, I was hoping somehow, someway he would fall to us at four. After his pro day, I would have felt safe taking the trade from the Bills feeling fairly confident he would fall to the nine spot.

    Week One Starting Lineup

    QB *Teddy Bridgewater
    RB Ben Tate
    FB *JC Copeland
    WR Kenny Britt
    WR *Marqise Lee
    TE Jordan Cameron
    LT Joe Thomas
    LG *Joel Bitonio
    C Alex Mack
    RG John Greco
    RT Mitchell Schwartz

    NT Ahtyba Rubin
    DE Phil Taylor
    DE Desmond Bryant
    OLB Paul Kruger
    OLB Barkevious Mingo
    ILB D’Qwell Jackson
    ILB Craig Robertson
    CB Joe Haden
    CB Buster Skrine
    SS Donte Whitner
    FS Tashaun Gipson