2019 NFL Season Preview- Cleveland Browns
Despite another losing season, the Browns made the biggest turnaround in franchise history.
After a 2-5-1 start to the season, head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator were both fired. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was promoted to interim head coach and running backs coach Freddie Kitchens was named the interim offensive coordinator. Williams went 5-3 in the final half of the season.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was meant to be the starter for the whole season, but suffered a concussion in Week 3. Running back Carlos Hyde was traded to Jacksonville midseason despite being among the league leaders in rushing touchdowns at that point. Duke John was underutilized as he had just 87 touches on the year. Tight end David Njoku took a big step in his second season with 56 receptions. Darren Fells was signed for his blocking skills and had just 11 receptions, but three were for touchdowns. Seth DeValve was basically invisible all season. After being cut by division rival Baltimore, wide receiver Breshad Perriman flashed his first round skills and averaged 21.3 yards per catch. Rashard Higgins showed he could be a deep threat with 39 catches and four touchdowns. The offensive line got better after Greg Robinson was name the starter at left tackle. Right guard Kevin Zeitler was key in the running game and kept tackles from collapsing the pocket. Center JC Tretter played most of the season on a sprained ankle. Right tackle Chris Hubbard was a mammoth as a run blocker.
The run defense regressed from last year and gave up 4.7 yards a carry. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi led the defensive line with 52 tackles. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah had another injury riddled season with just three sacks. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert is the manager of the defense but missed three games with a hamstring injury. Christian Kirksey missed the final seven games with a bad hamstring. Jamie Collins led the team in tackles with 104 to go along with an interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery but made few spectacular plays. The secondary intercepted 17 passes after just seven in 2017. Free Safety Damarious Randall was the leader of the secondary and led the team with four interceptions. Jabrill Peppers rebounded from a rough rookie year and made some impactful plays.
Kicker Zane González was released after missing four kicks in a Week 2 overtime loss to New Orleans. Greg Joseph took over kicking duties and missed just three field goals. Punter Britton Colquitt had two of his punts blocked and Jabrill Peppers was hesitant on kick returns.
The team had four Pro Bowlers in wide receiver Jarvis Landry, guard Joel Bitonio, defensive end Myles Garrett, and cornerback Denzel Ward while Bitonio and Garrett were both named second team All-Pro. Landry's production dropped in his first year in Cleveland, but proved to be a valuable team leader. Bitonio was a forceful run blocking force and played all 16 game. Garrett finished with 13.5 sacks, just half a sack short of the franchise record.
The rookie class was key to Cleveland's turnaround. Quarterback Baker Mayfield set the rookie passing touchdown record in just 13 games and stabilized the position that had been in most doubt since the Browns came back in 1999. Cornerback Denzel Ward forced five turnovers as a Pro Bowl rookie, but suffered two concussions. Guard Austin Corbett couldn't crack the starting lineup, but the team still has hope for him. Running back Nick Chubb became the starter midseason and would have had a 1,000 yard rushing season if it weren't for a negative run on his final carry of the year. Wide receiver Antonio Callaway led the team with five touchdown catches. Linebacker Genard Avery had 4.5 sacks as a reserve and could push for a starting role in 2019. Undrafted offensive tackle Desmond Harrison was the opening day starter at left tackle, but was benched in favor of Greg Robinson after eight games.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
Despite the improved 7-8-1 season, the team decided not to promote Gregg Williams to the permanent head coach. Instead, interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens got the job. Kitchens will be tasked with managing a young Browns squad that now has the leagues longest playoff drought of 16 seasons.
Under Kitchens, the team brought in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken to run the offense while former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks was hired to be the new defensive coordinator.
On March 15, the NFL announced that newly acquired running Kareem Hunt had been suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
On August 9, wide receiver Antonio Callaway was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Notable Additions- RB Kareem Hunt, RB Duke Johnson, WR Odell Beckham Jr, TE Demetrius Harris, TE Rico Gathers, DE Olivier Vernon, DT Sheldon Richardson, S Morgan Burnett
Notable Departures- QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Breshad Perriman, WR Ricardo Lewis, TE Darren Fells, T Desmond Harrison, G Kevin Zeitler, G Earl Watford, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, LB Jamie Collins, CB EJ Gaines, S Jabrill Peppers
Browns 2018 Highlights
2019 NFL Draft
Since the Browns traded the 17th overall pick to the Giants to acquire Odell Beckham Jr, they didn't have a pick until the second round. Without a first round pick, the team has to find value to make upgrades at left tackle, defensive tackle, and outside linebacker.
Greg Robinson was an upgrade over Desmond Harrison in the second half of the season, but the team needs a better long term solution.
The defense gave up 20 rushing touchdowns and allowed nearly five yards per carry on the year. Sheldon Richardson is an upgrade, but he's on his fourth team in as many years.
With Jamie Collins gone, the linebacker corps needs a game changer and Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey aren't really that.
When it finally came time to pick, Cleveland ended up selecting LSU cornerback Andraez "Greedy" Williams in the second round. Williams was viewed as the top playmaking cornerback in the draft, but needs to show a better commitment to technique.
Other Notable Draft Picks:
Sione Takitaki, LB, BYU- Above average length and strength, character red flags
Sheldrick Redwine, S, Miami- Well built with long arms, frustratingly inconsistent
Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama- Looks the part, questionable instincts
Austin Seibert, K, Oklahoma- Multidimensional, struggles from beyond 50 yards
Drew Forbes, OT, Southeast Missouri State- Good climber, overly top heavy
Donnie Lewis Jr, CB, Tulane- Ball hawk mentality, lacks long speed
Greedy Williams Highlights
What To Expect
Based on how the Browns finished last season, a lot will be expected of them.
Baker Mayfield has to build on his great rookie year and has to play well against the elite teams in the league. Nick Chubb should be the feature back with Kareem Hunt having a key role once he returns from suspension. David Njoku should continue to grow as one of the top young tight ends in the league. On paper, the Browns should have one of the top receiving corps in the league. The key for Mayfield and Kitchens will be to keep all of those guys happy. The main concern is still with the offensive line. Austin Corbett is a likely replacement for Kevin Zeitler but the group lacks depth.
The defensive line looks to have nice tandems with Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon on the outside while Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson man the middle. Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson will likely have a position battle to see who will be the third starter alongside Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert. Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward should be a solid cornerback duo while Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett will be playing beside each other like they did in Green Bay.
Given the tough starting schedule, Cleveland will have a tough start to the year but their easy back half will likely put them in contention with Pittsburgh for the AFC North title.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 9-7