Thursday, September 1, 2016

Roster prediction time

Time to dust off the old crystal ball and predict the Browns’ final – using that term loosely here – 53-man roster as they set the table for the launch of the 2016 season.

These predictions are being made before the final exhibition later Thursday night against the Chicago Bears at home with the distinct possibility injuries might play a role in what the final 53 will look like.

Two exceptions will be made because of National Football League four-game suspensions handed out to wide receiver Josh Gordon and outside linebacker Armonty Bryant right out of the chute.

Their names will not appear in the predicted final 53, but their appearance in game five against New England during the regular season will trigger the release of two names that do appear here.

Bear in mind the roster, such as it is when all NFL teams must be at the 53-man limit by 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon, is extremely fluid. What you see at 4 p.m. Saturday most likely will look at least somewhat different by the time the Browns travel to Philadelphia for the regular season opener Sept. 11.

The transaction wire will hum furiously when all the roster trims are announced and finalized through the league’s clearinghouse Saturday. Most roster moves by the Browns after that will be made on the second-team and special-team levels.

That said, here is what I believe the Cleveland roster will look like at 4 p.m. Saturday. Listed by position, name, who stays, who leaves.

First, the offense.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler. With the distinct possibility The Third does not make it through an entire season, all are safe here. Unless the first two are injured, this is a learning season for Kessler.

Running back: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson Jr., Raheem Mostert, Terrell Watson, Malcolm Johnson, Rajion Neal. Neal is the only casualty with Mostert and Watson backing up Crowell and Duke Johnson. Malcolm Johnson is the only fullback on the roster and safe. (Update correction: Add Jahwan Edwards to this list, then subtract him. He'll join Neal looking for a job.)

Wide receiver: Corey Coleman, Taylor Gabriel, Josh Gordon (suspended), Andrew Hawkins, Rashard Higgins, Darius Jennings, Ricardo Louis, Marlon Moore, Jordan Payton, Terrelle Pryor.

Coleman, Gabriel, Higgins, Jennings, Moore, Payton and Pryor are safe. The veteran Hawkins, with a history of concussions will be trimmed, along with Louis.

Tight end: Gary Barnidge, Connor Hamlett, Seth DeValve, J. P. Holtz. Holtz will be the lone casualty. Barnidge, of course, is a Pro Bowl type receiver. The 6-7 Hamlett has been a pleasant surprise and the coaches want to see more of DeValve.

Offensive line: Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Cameron Erving, John Greco, Austin Pasztor, Alvin Bailey, Dan France, Spencer Drango, Shon Coleman, Garth Gerhart, Mike Matthews, Kaleb Johnson. Normally, teams keep eight men on the offensive line. The Browns will keep nine with Gerhart, Matthews and Johnson exiting. Look for either Coleman or Drango to move up to the first team by midseason, if not sooner.

Now the other side of the football.

Defensive line: This is where the roster needs the most work. Right now, there are only seven men listed on the roster and two, end Kenton Adeyemi and tackle Chigbo Anunoby, will be looking for work Saturday.

That leaves Xavier Cooper, rookie Carl Nassib, John Hughes III, Jamie Meder and Danny Shelton, a young and extremely inexperienced group. Look for some waiver movement here. The Browns need at least six men on the roster at this position.

Outside linebacker: Emmanuel Ogbah, Joe Schobert, Nate Orchard, Cam Johnson, Jason Neill, Armonty Bryant (suspended). All survive except Neill. Another very young and inexperienced crew that includes three rookies and a second-year man. Look for waiver movement here, too.

Inside linebacker: Demario Davis, Justin Tuggle, Scooby Wright III, Christian Kirksey, Tank Carder, Dominique Alexander. Davis and Kirksey, who played mostly outside last season, are solid along with Carder and Tuggle, reliable special teamers. Alexander has been a pleasant surprise. Only Wright will be missing when the Browns start preparing for the season opener against the Eagles. Too bad. I was hoping he would be more impactful, but the pro game seems to quick for him.

There are still 15 defensive backs on the roster. Nine will be kept. Here’s how they break down.

Cornerback: Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert, Trey Caldwell, Charles Gaines, Jamar Taylor, Tramon Williams, Tracy Howard, Eric Patterson, Mikell Everette. Big surprise here will be the departures of Gilbert and Williams. The former has continued to disappoint; the latter is well on the downside of his career. Also gone are Howard and Everette. Haden and Taylor will start with Caldwell, Gaines and Patterson worked into the various sub packages.

Strong safety: Ibraheim Campbell, Derrick Kindred, Don Jones. Campbell is your starter with the rookie Kindred closing fast. Jones is gone.

Free safety: Jordan Poyer, Rahim Moore, Pierre Desir. The disappointing Desir, who started as a corner, finally leaves after two disappointing seasons. Poyer starts, but Moore sees a lot of playing time in some of those sub packages.

Finally the special-teams specialists.

Long snapper Charley Hughlett is unopposed, as they say in politics. And after Travis Coons’ release, Patrick Murray is the placement specialist. The punting job is up in the air after the trade of Andy Lee. Kasey Redfern and Michael Palardy were added to the roster within the last week following the Lee deal. It’s possible both will be gone by the Eagles game, depending on what the waiver wire looks like late Saturday. If no moves are made, Redfern is the choice.

Looking forward to seeing how much different the Cleveland roster looks at 4 p.m. Saturday compared to what you see here. Either way, the bottom line suggests only one conclusion: It’s going to be a very long season.

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