Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey took to Twitter earlier this week to proclaim that Cleveland would make the playoffs in 2018, despite going winless last year. Every player on every team should think this way in June. If they don’t, they are in the wrong business, but can they really do it?
It is no secret that this is the side of the ball that led to the Browns joining the most dubious club in NFL history. Some of the numbers are staggering. They finished last in points per game at just over 14. They also posted an almost comical -28 turnover margin. Also, the Browns used multiple starting quarterbacks for the 16th straight year. Cleveland was capable in terms of running the ball last year, averaging over 100 yards per game. Still, with the numbers above, it hardly mattered.
At the very least, the Browns’ decision makers deserve credit for the massive overhaul they have attempted on offense this offseason. Taking Baker Mayfield with the top draft pick is a huge gamble. Mayfield is a little rough around the edges both on and off the field. Throw in the Browns dismal track record of developing quarterbacks, and there is more than a little reason to be nervous. However, the Browns have done a nice job hedging their bet, at least for 2018.
Tyrod Taylor takes care of the football and guided a less-than-stellar Bills roster to the playoffs last year. The NFL is rarely a perfect world, but in one, the Browns would probably like to see Taylor start all 16 games and keep the team competitive. The less reason to rush Mayfield along, the better. The former Oklahoma Sooner could also learn a lot from veteran journeyman Drew Stanton. Anyone who has been in the league for over a decade is a valuable addition to any quarterback room.
Duke Johnson Jr. has shown some nice flashes in his brief career. He gets backfield help in the form of Carlos Hyde, incoming rookie Nick Chubb and others. The receiving group also looks much better with the addition of former Dolphin Jarvis Landry, especially if Josh Gordon can keep his head on straight.
The offensive line is a huge question mark for Cleveland. They gave up over three sacks per game last year. Future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas went down with injury last year and is now retired. They only took one offensive lineman in the draft. The Browns are banking on the vast majority of last year’s line to improve in a hurry, for better or worse.
All things considered, this unit was not all that bad last year. They ranked seventh against the run and a respectable 19th against the pass. However, the defense was constantly put in bad situations thanks to the offense. Thus, they were second to last in points allowed per game. When the Browns did find themselves in a close game last year, special teams often hurt them too.
Cleveland did not change a whole lot with this unit over the offseason, and it is understandable. The linebackers feature two players with over 100 tackles in Kirksey and 2017 Pro Bowler Joe Schobert. Two new additions at the back end will determine if the unit as a whole improves: former Packer Damarious Randall and incoming rookie Denzel Ward. Both will play a key role in trying to sure up a Browns secondary that has been hurt by big plays in recent years.
The Browns have made great strides since hitting rock bottom at the end of last year. They will be a tough out, but they will not make the playoffs in 2018. All four AFC West teams should be in the mix.
Also, if Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson stay healthy, the AFC South is suddenly loaded. The Steelers own the AFC North, which leaves the Browns scrapping with teams like Houston and Denver for a Wild Card spot. It is tough to see them winning battles like that against organizations who are far more used to playing meaningful games in cold weather.
The more realistic question to ask is whether or not 6-8 wins is going to be enough to impress John Dorsey, who is entering is first full season as Browns general manager. Dorsey will ultimately deicide the employment status of head coach Hue Jackson among others, as well as whether or not the organization enters yet another total rebuild.
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