David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
OK, so they play in the always-tough AFC North, they missed out on Robert Griffin III and nothing much is ever expected from the Cleveland Browns. However, Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur have made some smart moves this offseason, and the Browns could surprise many in 2012.
Running back Trent Richardson was no mere consolation prize with the draft's third overall pick. He gives the Browns a dynamic all-arounder who will quickly become the focal point of the offense.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden was a controversial pick, but the strong-armed passer could help a Browns passing game that simply couldn't stretch the field in 2011. Once they get him signed, Weeden can help expand the playbook.
As much as their ailing offense needed help, the Browns' strength is defense. Holmgren and Shurmur's offseason work on that side of the ball has been outstanding.
Free-agent defensive linemen Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker were both smart pickups. Rucker is an upgrade from 2011 starter Jayme Mitchell, and Parker can be a useful situational pass-rusher.
The Browns needed to improve depth across the front seven, and they succeeded in doing so in the draft. Tackles John Hughes and Billy Winn will work in rotation with the underrated Ahtyba Rubin and help offset the injury loss of 2011 first-rounder Phil Taylor.
Linebackers James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho have starter's potential and improve a unit that was wafer-thin behind 2011 trio D'Qwell Jackson, Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong.
Yes, the Browns are dependant on Richardson and Weeden making quick transitions to the NFL. However, an already stout defense looks stronger than last season. A slight improvement from the offense could see the Browns claw their way back to respectability in 2012.