Positional breakdown and grades for Browns
Breaking down and grading the 2017 Cleveland Browns position by position . . .
Starter: DeShone Kizer. Backups: Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, Josh Woodrum.
Analysis: No one knows what to expect from the youngest group of quarterbacks in the National Football League. Kizer gets the starting job by default because no one else stepped up to take it from him. He didn’t win it as much as everyone else lost it. He is the unknown factor on not just a game-to-game basis, but a snap-to-snap basis. He’s got the arm, by far his biggest asset. How rapidly he matures will depend largely on how quickly he can absorb intricately nuanced schemes. He will be working at a disadvantage at the beginning of the season because half of his wide receivers just joined the team. Good timing in the passing game does not happen overnight. The Browns better hope he does not go down because the offense suffers with anyone else in charge of the huddle.
Starter: Isaiah Crowell. Backups: Duke Johnson Jr., Matthew Dayes.
Analysis: Crowell is a solid starter; very strong at the point of attack. Does his best running slashing off tackle. Deceptive speed when he hits the flanks. He will be more effective if coach Hue Jackson calls his number more than a dozen times a game. Showed last season he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Johnson also needs to touch the ball more than eight or nine times a game. Lining up in the slot more this season helps. A strong exhibition season cemented Dayes’ backup role in the offense.
Starter: Danny Vitale. Backup: None.
Analysis: He is technically a starter, but seldom banks more than eight or nine snaps a game. He totaled only 94 in nine games last season. His main job whenever called on is to block for Crowell. He also is used on rare occasion as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught four passes last season, two of them for negative yardage. Unless Jackson ramps up his snap count, Vitale might be the most irrelevant starter in the NFL.
Starters: Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt. Backups: Ricardo Louis, Sammie Coates, Kasen Williams, Reggie Davis.
Analysis: Difficult to get excited about this position. If Coleman avoids injuries, which he didn’t last season, the former No. 1 draft pick could wind up as Kizer’s chief target. He flashed at times in the exhibition season. Britt could turn out to be the Dwayne Bowe of 2017. He got his money from the Browns and appears to be too satisfied. In his limited time with Kizer, he has shown little inertest in helping him. The worst part is there is even less help on the bench. Newcomers Coates, Williams and Davis are fast, but lack a vital component of competent wide receivers – good hands. Louis threatens to bust out, but doesn’t.
Grade: D (and that’s being charitable)
Starter: David Njoku. Backups: Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer.
Analysis: All are youngsters and all will bank a lot of playing time. It would not be surprising if Jackson on occasion calls on all three with Telfer, the best blocker of the group helping on pass protection with DeValve and Njoku lining up as receivers, which is their strength. Njoku showed some rookie jitters during exhibitions, but look for Jackson to keep throwing him out there on a regular basis as a sign of faith.
Starter: JC Tretter. Backup: Austin Reiter.
Analysis: It took them a year, but the Browns finally found a worthy successor to Alex Mack at the position. Grades high in all phases of the game. He’s smart and excels at calling all blocking assignments along the line. The only downside to Tretter – and the reason for the minus behind his grade – is he brings along a history of injuries from Green Bay, visiting the injured reserve list a few times. Went down after starting the Packers’ first seven games last season. He stays healthy, the Browns thrive at the position, Reiter is a capable backup, but he, too, is an injury risk.
Starters: Joel Bitonio, Kevin Zeitler. Backups: Spencer Drango, Marcus Martin.
Analysis: Solid as you can get at the position. Both men are athletic, strong in pass protection and capable of pulling in the ground game. Like Tretter, the minus behind the grade is due to Bitonio’s inability to stay healthy for an entire season. He avoids injuries – he slightly tweaked his surgically repaired knee in the first exhibition game – and the Browns benefit. If either man goes down, so does the quality of play at the position. Drango and Martin are average at best.
Starters: Joe Thomas, Shon Coleman. Backups: Zach Sterup, Zach Banner.
Analysis: The reason for the lower grade is Coleman, the weak link along the line. Thomas is slowly approaching the twilight of a career that will end up with a visit to Canton for his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement. He and Bitonio solidify the left side of the line. Coleman needs to improve in a hurry, particularly in the running game, if Jackson sticks with his commitment to feature the ground game more than last season. The two Zachs who back up Thomas and Coleman are big. That’s all, although the 6-9 Sterup looked good at left tackle in the final exhibition. The 6-8, 355-pound Banner is a plodder.
Overall grade for the line: B+
Overall grade for the offense: C-
Starters: Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah. Backups: Nate Orchard, Carl Nassib.
Analysis: Potentially, this is the strongest position on this side of the football. Garrett, if allowed, can be a dynamic force in harassing opposing quarterbacks. Turn the top draft pick loose on every passing down and he can make a difference on a team that registered only 26 sacks last season. Ogbah provides a nice complement on the other side. And there is quality depth in Orchard and Nassib, especially the latter, who had a nice exhibition season.
Starters: Danny Shelton, Trevon Coley. Backups: Jamie Meder, Larry Ogunjobi, Caleb Brantley, T. Y. McGill.
Analysis: We won’t know just how good this position can be until Shelton returns from his knee injury around week four. But it held together well in the fake games because of quality depth. Coley was one of the major surprises of training camp. Now let’s see if he can sustain it when the speed and quickness of the game ramp up. Meder is solid in the run game in Shelton’s absence. The jury is out on the two rookies, Ogunjobi and Brantley, both of whom will get plenty of work until Shelton returns.
Overall grade for the line: B-
Starters: Jamie Collins, Christian Kirksey. Backups: Dominique Alexander, James Burgess Jr.
Analysis: The strength of the team filters on back to this small unit with two very active players with a nose for the football, both of whom probably will lead the team in tackles. Their versatility allows them to blitz on occasion, as well as drop back in coverage on running backs and tight ends. Both are solid tacklers, who can get to and behind the line of scrimmage in a hurry. There is a small, insignificant dropoff when Alexander and Burgess are called on.
Starter: Joe Schobert. Backup: None.
Analysis: The second-year man from Wisconsin is the other major surprise. Drafted in 2016 as a rush linebacker who excelled as a defensive end for the Badgers, Schobert put up a blah rookie season. He looked like a bust. The new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams got a hold of him, ordered him to lose weight, moved him to the middle in the new 4-3 look and voila! Schobert became a football player. He seemed like a natural playing middle linebacker. If he plays anywhere near as well as he played in exhibitions, the Browns have their Mike backer for a long time.
Grade: B (a little too early to be absolutely certain)
Overall grade for the linebackers: B+
Starters: Jamar Taylor, Jason McCourty. Backups: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Mike Jordan.
Analysis: After three disappointing seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Taylor arrived in Cleveland last year almost as an afterthought in a trade. Either he loved the change of scenery or the light on how to play in the NFL went on. He became the cornerback the Dolphins never saw. He led the club in interceptions last season and proved a strong tackler at the point of attack in the ground game. He has a large pair of shoes to fill after the release of Joe Haden. McCourty, approaching the downside of his career, is steady, if nothing else. Boddy-Calhoun was another surprise last season and just might supplant McCourty before midseason. He will log plenty of time as the slot corner in the meantime. Jordan played for Williams in Los Angeles and should fit right in.
Starters: Jabrill Peppers, Derrick Kindred. Backups: Ibraheim Campbell, Calvin Pryor.
Analysis: Peppers jumped right in at free safety in training camp and secured the job almost immediately with the seemingly reckless style of play that won him All-America status on several online and wire services. His aggressive nature and uncanny instincts might prompt Williams to use him as a box safety on occasion. This might be a stretch, but he in some ways he reminds me of Troy Polamalu, the great former safety for the Steelers. Kindred is the weak link in the deep secondary and might share the position with Campbell. Pryor provides nice depth at free safety.
Overall grade for defense: B-
Starter: Zane Gonzalez
Analysis: The rookie with the big leg should have no trouble kicking the football at home. The only question that hasn’t been answered yet is how he will perform when the weather turns nasty. After watching him for several years out here in Arizona, I think it’s safe to say he’ll be fine once he adjusts. And don’t be surprised if the kid’s booming kickoffs pin the opposition at the 25-yard line most of the season. Long-range field goals are one of the strongest weapons in his arsenal.
Grade: B (can’t give the rookie anything higher yet)
Starter: Britton Colquitt
Analysis: Set a franchise record last season with a 40.3-yard bet average. Rarely will you see one of his punts end up in the end zone for a touchback. He had only two on 83 punts last season, his first with the Browns. Has had only one punt blocked in his seven-year career and rarely kicks the ball out of bounds. He is a weapon in the field-position aspect of the game.
Starter: Charley Hughlett
Analysis: The man no one knows anything about. Makes no difference. All you need to know is he bounced around the NFL before landing full-time work with the Browns in 2015. And when was the last time you heard about an errant Charley Hughlett snap on punts and field goals? Case closed.
OVERALL TEAM GRADE: C- (again, that’s being charitable)