Early Projections for the Cleveland Browns' Final 53-Man Roster
Projecting the 2012 Cleveland Browns 53-man roster is no easy task this year.
The Browns will bring 90 players to camp and of those 90, 24 are drafted and undrafted rookies. Of those rookies, there are no guarantees for a roster spot—initially.
What does that mean?
It means the roster is going to fluctuate a lot between this moment and the end of the 2012 season.
Be that as it may, there’s still the matter of who is going to begin the season on the Browns’ 53-man roster. What makes it difficult is that injuries, trades and future signings are impossible to predict.
The best you can do is guesstimate.
By looking at last year’s numbers and identifying the preferred positions of depth on the roster, I’ve put together a very early projection for who will make the Cleveland Browns 53-man roster on opening day.
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1. Brandon Weeden (Starter)
2. Seneca Wallace
Brandon Weeden wasn't drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns to sit on the bench behind Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace.
Weeden will be 29 years old during his rookie campaign and will likely play from the get-go as the Browns starting quarterback.
Seneca Wallace has proven to be a capable back-up QB and recently expressed his desire to help mentor Weeden.
If I were Seneca Wallace, I'd probably be expressing ANYTHING in order to keep a roster spot at this point.
Where is Colt McCoy, you ask?
The drafting of Weeden likely signaled the end of Colt McCoy's career as a Cleveland Brown. Trading him or cutting him loose is the best option for the team moving forward.
Josh Cribbs will act as the third/emergency QB.
Running Backs/Full Backs
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1. Trent Richardson, RB
2. Montario Hardesty, RB
3. Brandon Jackson, RB
4. Brad Smelley, FB
The Cleveland Browns backfield has been completely overhauled since 2010. Trent Richardson and fellow Crimson Tide alum Brad Smelley will make-up the starting line-up.
Owen Marecic, the Browns 4th round pick in 2011, will not beat out the rookie from Alabama. Smelley's experience with Richardson, solid hands and strong blocking will likely set him ahead of the oft-criticized Marecic.
Given the injury history of Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson last season, it is possible Chris Ogbonnaya or Armond Smith may earn roster spots in their place if they do not make it through training camp and preseason.
In either case, running back depth will not be as essential with Trent Richardson carrying the bulk of the load moving forward.
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1. Greg Little
2. Joshua Cribbs
3. Mohamed Massaquoi
4. Travis Benjamin
5. Jordan Norwood
6. Carlton Mitchell
7. Josh Cooper
The Cleveland Browns wide receivers did not go through a massive overhaul in the offseason. However, the lightning-fast rookie Travis Benjamin will immediately upgrade the unit's threat factor.
Undrafted free-agent Josh Cooper will likely catch on with the Browns due to his solid skills and chemistry with friend and college teammate Brandon Weeden.
Carlton Mitchell is a borderline roster-cut at this point. Undrafted free agent Jermaine Saffold will challenge Mitchell for his roster spot and could usurp him if he doesn't show up this season. It may be the last chance for the promising young wide-out.
Second-year man Greg Little will act as the team's No. 1 target. Hopefully he's done some work in the offseason hanging onto the football, because he's going to be leaned on heavily by rookie QB Brandon Weeden.
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1. Benjamin Watson
2. Alex Smith
3. Evan Moore
4. Jordan Cameron
There are no real expected changes for the Cleveland Browns tight ends in 2012. Concussions kept Benjamin Watson out of a significant portion of 2011.
Evan Moore is the tallest threat of the group and should see increased playing time if he can stay healthy.
This group has the potential to be one of the most well-rounded and efficient tight end units in the NFL. Injuries seem to be their biggest limiting factor.
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1. Joe Thomas, LT
2. Alex Mack, C
3. Jason Pinkston, OG
4. Mitchell Schwartz, RT
5. Shawn Lauvao, OG
6. John Greco, OG
7. Oniel Cousins, OT
8. Ryan Miller, OG/OT
9. Matt Cleveland, OG
The Cleveland Browns seem to have finally solidified their offensive line. This is crucial because they are heading into 2012 with a rookie quarterback.
The addition of Mitchell Schwartz at the right tackle position will be critical to the success of Brandon Weeden and the Browns offense. He is the most important piece to the puzzle on their troubled right side.
Fellow rookies Ryan Miller and Matt Cleveland can provide depth at both the tackle and guard position and look to, as most rookies do, have endless potential and room for growth.
Additionally, perhaps the biggest question mark is the progression of guards Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao. The entire success of the Browns offense is predicated on their continued improvement and solid play upfront.
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1. Joe Haden, CB
2. T.J. Ward, SS
3. Usama Young, DB
4. Sheldon Brown, DB
5. Dimitri Patterson, CB
6. Eric Hagg, S
7. Buster Skrine, CB
8. Ray Ventrone, S
9. Trevin Wade, CB
Not much has changed in the Cleveland Browns secondary since 2011.
With Mike Adams' departure, there is a gap in the depth of the safety position. It has not been addressed as of yet which may indicate the long anticipate move of Sheldon Brown to the safety position.
If the Browns do move Brown to the safety position, Wade's development will be critical to the success of their secondary.
Either way, depth in the defensive backfield is at a premium in today's NFL. If there is any discrepancies in my prediction it will be that the Browns may end up going with 10 DBs instead of the nine I have projected.
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1. Phil Taylor, DT
2. Jabaal Sheard, DE
3. Ahtyba Rubin, DT
4. Frostee Rucker, DE
5. Juqua Parker, DE
6. Brian Schaefering, DT
7. Billy Winn, DE/DT
8. John Hughes, DT
9. Marcus Bernard, DE
The Cleveland Browns defensive line got even stronger after the 2012 NFL draft.
While it struggled as a unit in rushing defense, the Browns defensive front made large strides in rushing the passer and in short yardage defense in 2011.
Four new faces will likely be added to the fold as a result of free agency and the draft. Of those four, Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker look to make the quickest impact.
However, rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn could see significant action in certain situational roles.
The X-factor of this unit is second-year man Jabaal Sheard. The former second-round pick burst onto the scene last year and wreaked havoc in opponents backfields.
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1. D'Qwell Jackson
2. Chris Gocong
3. Kaluka Maiava
4. Benjamin Jacobs
5. James-Michael Johnson
6. Emmanuel Acho
*Scott Fujita is suspended for the first three games of 2012. He does not count against the 53-man roster until Week 4.
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Cleveland Browns is their linebacker group. Apparently GM Tom Heckert agrees with that assessment as he drafted two linebackers in April's 2012 NFL draft.
With Scott Fujita likely to be suspended for the opening three games of the 2012 season, rookies Emmanuel Acho and James-Michael Johnson may see significant action in rotational roles.
In Fujita's absence, the trio of D'Qwell Jackson, Chris Gocong and Kaluka Maiava will start the season as the Browns linebackers. Each of them have their own strong points, but as a unit they have been ineffective as run stoppers. This has a little bit to do with scheme and the performance of the defensive line.
However, in a 43 defense, the linebackers must be able to fill their gaps and not get completely driven out of the play.
That happened way too much in 2011.
Hopefully the strength of James-Michael Johnson and the speed and athleticism of Emmanuel Acho will help to rectify some of those problems in 2012.
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Kicker: Phil Dawson
Punter: Reggie Hodges
Long-snapper: Christian Yount
The only surviving member of the inaugural 1999 Cleveland Browns team remains placekicker Phil Dawson.
Not only has Dawson been a reliable kicker, but he's been one of the best scoring options for the Browns during his career in Cleveland.
The Browns' special teams unit took a hit last year as punter Reggie Hodges missed the entire season after an injury in training camp. Pro Bowl long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand was shown the door after forgetting how to snap the football correctly. This made room for Christian Yount to take over, and that seemingly fixed the problem.
However, the special teams coverage did not improve. After letting coordinator Brad Seely walk during the 2011 offseason and sign with the San Francisco 49ers as their special teams coordinator, the Browns' special teams have not been so special. They were downright atrocious in 2011.
Hopefully the mistakes of a season ago have been corrected and the unit improves as a whole. Having Hodges back should help some in the field possession battle.
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