Cleveland Browns: 7 Players Who Will Have Breakout Seasons in 2012
The success of the 2012-2013 Cleveland Browns will be determined by how many of their young players live up to their potential and become impact players.
The Browns have a few players on both sides of the ball who can breakout and have great, productive seasons.
Let's take a look at seven players who will do just that.
Joe Haden had a great rookie season in 2010 hauling in six interceptions (via ESPN) and consistently shutting down the opponent's No. 1 receiver.
In 2011, Haden took a little step back. Don't get me wrong, he still had a good season by any cornerback's standards. However, he had zero interceptions, as he dropped several balls that hit him in both hands. He also allowed more than a few big plays by slipping several times.
For a Browns team that struggled to get defensive turnovers last year, Haden needs to lead the charge and pick off several balls this year.
Haden has the potential to be a top-three corner in the NFL. He is one of the best tacklers on the team; he just needs to create more turnovers like a star corner should.
Look for Haden to establish himself and be an all-around corner this season.
Safety T.J. Ward missed half the season last year with a sprained foot, but look for him to build off success he had his rookie year when he led the team by far in tackles with 80 (via ESPN).
Ward is a great physical tackler, and it was obvious the defense missed him last year.
In order to be a complete safety though, Ward needs to improve in pass coverage as he hasn't shown great instincts in that area. He had only two interceptions in 2010 and zero last year in eight games (via ESPN).
Ward should improve on defending the pass this season to truly become a force in the Browns' secondary.
Defensive end Jabaal Sheard shined during his rookie campaign.
Sheard was not only able to provide a steady pass rush last year but force turnovers as well.
He ended the season with 8.5 sacks, 55 tackles and five forced fumbles (via ESPN) which are outstanding numbers for a rookie. Sheard has plenty of pass-rush moves as he can use his strength and quickness to get by his blocker. He does a great job going for the strip every time he gets to the quarterback.
The one criticism of Sheard is that he needs to improve against the run, something he is working hard on in training camp (via Scout.com).
If a defensive end on the other side of the line can step up and provide a consistent pass rush (Rucker, Parker, Benard), it will free up Sheard even more as he was the only pass-rush threat other teams had to worry about last year.
Running back Trent Richardson is coming into Cleveland with extremely high expectations as he should.
Richardson has all the physical gifts coaches and fans want in their running backs.
It helps him that running backs have the easiest transition to the NFL, as many rookie tailbacks have shown they can step right in and produce their first year. Alabama running a pro-style offense when he was there will help his cause too.
Many Browns fans are concerned about Richardson's multiple knee surgeries including his most recent minor knee surgery (via The Plain Dealer), so he will have to prove he can be a durable back.
If Richardson can stay on the field, look for him to put up near 1,500 yards on the ground.
Little recorded 61 catches for 709 yards last year with two touchdowns (via ESPN).
Little did struggle with drops last year with 14 (via Pro Football Focus) which ranked him third among wideouts. He seemed to lose concentration at times and try to look upfield before making sure he secured the ball first.
Little has impressed the coaches and media with a strong training camp showing great hands and improved quickness which is attributed to Little dropping 11 pounds in the offseason (via Akron Beacon Journal).
He should improve significantly this season with a year under his belt and a better quarterback throwing him the ball.
Third-year wideout Mohamed Massaquoi has drawn a lot of criticism from Browns fans.
Massaquoi has never been able to live up to his potential because of the two concussions he has suffered the past two years.
He has the ability to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL. However, the hits he has taken to the head may have contributed to him playing too timid at times and always looking over his shoulder.
Massaquoi is getting rave reviews in training camp so far, so hopefully, that translates in the regular season.
If Massaquoi can keep from getting another concussion this year, he will look like a different receiver, which he flashed at times his rookie year.
Josh Cribbs will prove this year again why he is still the best kick returner in the NFL.
Cribbs hasn't had a spectacular year returning kicks and punts since 2009 when he had three kickoff return TDs and one punt-return TD for a total of 1,994 yards in the return game (via ESPN).
Last year, Cribbs spent a lot of time as a receiver as he had 518 yards and four TDs (via ESPN). He was a pretty reliable target, but that took away his energy from the return game.
The new kickoff return rules also didn't help Cribbs with the amount of touchbacks and times he had to start his returns in the end zone. The special teams blocking struggled last year as well.
This season, the Browns want Cribbs to focus more on special teams. If the blocking in front of Cribbs really improves, look for more vintage Cribbs' returns.