After a wild 2019 offseason, The Cleveland Browns failed to play to the expectations set upon the team by the media last year and finished a mere 6-10. Coming into this season the Browns once again look to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and with first-year coach Kevin Stefanski, Baker Mayfield and another haul of talented players, the city of Cleveland has hope.
Newly hired head coach Kevin Stefanski looks to apply the same schemes into the Cleveland offense that he ran in Minnesota that led to the team having a top 10 offense in 2019. Stefanski’s success running out of the 12 personnel (two tight ends, one running back) will fit perfectly with the Browns’ offense. Newly acquired Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper is an ideal blocking and possession tight end for Stefanski’s scheme, and rookie Harrison Bryant is expected to take a more elevated role with David Njoku requesting a trade. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should also benefit from the zone running attack that Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison thrived in the year before. Chubb is a rising young star, and expectations are for him to duplicate or improve upon his 2019 numbers where he was the second-leading rusher in the NFL.
The Baker Mayfield Situation
However, the most important part of Stefanski’s job next season is to contribute to the development of Baker Mayfield. After breaking the rookie touchdown pass record, the quarterback seemingly took a step back in 2019, throwing seven more interceptions and five less touchdowns. Mayfield will benefit from having a revamped offensive line, who often led the young quarterback out to dry allowing 40 sacks in 2019. The signing of former all-pro tackle Jack Conklin and drafting Alabama tackle Jedrick Wills will provide Baker Mayfield with much-needed protection off the edge to give him more time on his reads. A healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and the Austin Hooper addition gives Mayfield more than enough talent at skill positions to get the ball to. Because of this, there is even more pressure on him to deliver and live up to the expectations that comes with being drafted number one overall.
While Mayfield has not had any stability with head coaches or offensive coordinators, he still needs to show he can be a high-quality starter in the NFL. Another season throwing over twenty interceptions may lead to the Browns having to look in another direction at quarterback in 2021.
Defensively, youth and talent fill Cleveland’s roster and expectations are for these players to continue to develop nicely under new defensive coordinator Joe Woods. After parting ways with former head coach Steve Wilks, Woods looks to improve upon its 20th ranked defense in 2019 with a 4-3 scheme similar to the one ran in San Francisco a year ago. Being the former defensive backs coach of the Broncos during their 2015 championship run, expectations are for Woods to create another elite pass defense with early draft picks Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams and newly drafted Grant Delpit of LSU.
The player most critical to the Browns’ defensive success also is their most polarizing player, defensive end Myles Garrett. Before his infamous week 10 fight with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, Garrett was having a career season, having double-digit sacks in only ten games played, and was discussed as a candidate for the defensive player of the year award. His elite play in 2019 was enough to make the Browns one of the most productive defensive lines for the first half of the season despite lackluster production from other pass rushers. Garrett has taken massive strides each season since entering the league in 2017, and can turn the Browns’ defense from average to elite with another dominant season.
Once again the Cleveland Browns have the talent on paper to make a legitimate playoff run in 2020, but it is yet to be seen if this collection of big names and new coaches can mesh together and succeed on the field. Expectations are for them to not win their incredibly tough division, which includes the reigning one seed in the AFC Baltimore Ravens. However, with the expanded seven-team playoff and a third-place schedule, ending the 18-year playoff drought is not only possible but likely.
Record Projection: 10-6
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