Grading the Cleveland Browns' Entire 53-Man Roster
This isn’t a question of how far the Browns have come in the three years Tom Heckert has been building the roster. The 53 men who will start the Week 1 preparation for the Cleveland Browns will play a large part in determining what future owner Jimmy Haslem will do with the team.
I am going to use the playmaker grading system to determine how the Browns' 53 stacks up to the rest of the NFL.
The word "potential" sums up the group on offense with so much youth in key positions. The quarterback Brandon Weeden leads off the youth movement in terms of NFL experience, followed by Trent Richardson, Mitchell Schwartz, Josh Gordon, and Travis Benjamin.
The Grade: C
The defense has been hit by injuries and suspensions, which hurt the grade for this part of the roster. The unit has a good mix of veterans and rookies, which should add speed to a slow defense from last year.
The good news for the defense is it has at least one playmaker at every level. The defensive line has Jabal Sheard and Rubin, the linebacker group has D’Qwell Jackson, and the secondary has Joe Haden.
The Grade: C+
The special teams unit has normally been a strength for the Browns since they have come back, but last season not so much. Joshua Cribbs only had one return for a touchdown, the long snapper was cut, and the punter was lost for the season on the first day of training camp.
The 2012 preseason didn’t inspire a lot of confidence either, with two blocked punts. The strength of this group is they have some of the best players in the NFL at kicker in Phil Dawson, returner Cribbs, and punter Reggie Hodges. The problem for the special teams is the 15 rookies on the 53-man roster, most, if active on gameday, will play on special teams.
The Grade: C
The Full Roster:
The overall roster gets a grade of C for the low number of playmakers.
The Browns have too many questions at the key playmaker positions to get a high grade on the Week 1 53-man roster. If some of the young players turn into playmakers during the season, then the grade could change drastically.
Let's take a look at the player by player breakdown.
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The 28-year-old rookie has a live arm, but still has a lot to learn. His deep ball accuracy will be difference from last year with Colt McCoy.
The Browns picked Colt McCoy over the veteran Senaca Wallace because of his good preseason. Colt is more polished than last year, but his overall game hasn't changed much.
Thad has shown he is worth developing, but the Browns might be in trouble if he has to play.
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The class of this group is Richardson and he is getting a B based on what he showed in practice before the knee scope. I have seen him in person and he has rare skill at the running back position. When healthy he will provide the Browns with a legit playmaker at running back.
The minus on the grade is for the fumbles in preseason. Hardesty had a pretty good camp and he stayed healthy which is plus for him.
In the reps that Jackson got in the preseason, he played like a serviceable running back.
Ogbonnaya is the ultimate "give you everything he has" guy that every team needs. His try-hard play still doesn't put him in the playmaker category though.
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The fullback position is a dying breed in the NFL, but Marecic does what is required for position.
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Little came into camp lighter, but had some trouble getting the timing with Brandon Weeden down.
Gordon was put on the fast track and played a lot of snaps in the preseason. He showed flashes of his playmaker potential during training camp.
Cribbs provided his usual steady play at wide receiver. He gets overlooked at the position, but he was second on the team in catches last season. Cribbs is definitely a playmaker, but he is not used enough to get a high grade.
The preseason games started with a familiar refrain for Massaquoi with a head injury in the first game. Overall, he had a pretty good camp, but needs to show he can take a hit and stay on the field.
The speedy wide receiver from the U played well during training camp, displaying rare speed and good hands. He is another player to watch who could turn into a playmaker for the Browns.
It was a good day for Jordan Norwood when the Browns drafted Brandon Weeden. Norwood and Benjamin will be the biggest benefactors of the Weeden deep ball. The quarterback change should give Norwood more chances to show his skill.
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Watson is looking to bounce back from a season that ended with a concussion. He was the security blanket for Colt McCoy, but hasn't had a lot time with Brandon Weeden due to a training camp injury. If he can stay healthy he should have a big year being the most veteran pass catcher on the team.
The former college basketball player has yet to prove himself in the NFL, but the coaches love his athletic ability. In the era of pass catching tight ends, he could be the Jimmy Graham for the Cleveland Browns.
If you need a tight end to block and do the dirty work, it is Alex Smith. He won't catch many passes, but he will clean out a defensive end at the point of attack.
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Is one of the best young centers in the NFL. He will be critical to help Brandon Weeden set the protections at the line of scrimmage.
The second year guard only got better as the season went on being in between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. He came into camp lighter and the mindset to master his craft.
The five time pro bowler is a master technician at left tackle. The only reason he gets a mark down is for giving up a sack in the preseason. He is another key to protection Brandon Weeden's blindside while he is looking for the deep ball.
The right side of the offensive line needs to improve from last year for the Browns to improve on offense. Lauvao is one piece of the puzzle along with rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
The Cal Bear was brought in to shore up the right tackle spot for the Browns, which was a major problem last year. Schwartz has had some struggles in preseason getting use to the speed of the game. He has the technique of the position down; he just needs to learn how to apply it in the pro game.
Another rookie added to the offensive line mix, Miller will plug in as a backup at right tackle.
The play of Cousins in the preseason didn't inspire a lot of confidence, especially on the field goal blocking unit. He is listed on the preseason depth chart for the Browns as the backup left tackle. The Browns will be in trouble if Cousins has to take over for Joe Thomas. The drop is talent is considerable.
The backup at center, Greco wil most likely be the first guy off the bench to cover for either guard. Greco provides solid interior line depth, but not an outstanding talent.
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The second year left defensive end should see more double teams after his 8.5 sacks in 2011.
The veteran defensive end will come in on third down to help with the pass rush.
The big man in the middle will have to take on a bigger role with Phil Taylor out for the first half of the season. He is one of the more underrated playmakers on defense.
The rookie defensive tackle played well in the preseason filling in for Rubin and Taylor.
Another rookie on the interior defensive line that played well in the preseason, Hughes will be called on to help replace Phil Taylor.
The Browns paid Rucker like an NFL playmaker, but his play with Bengals was average. The right defensive will be in on first and second down to help stop the run.
The under the radar defensive end played a lot during the preseason filling in for Frostee Rucker. He flashed some playmaking ability, which should warrant him some playing time in the defensive line rotation with Parker and Rucker.
The undrafted free agent who was released by the Baltimore Ravens, played in all their preseason games. He was released at final cuts. He should provide another player for the defensive line rotation.
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The best playmaker in the Browns secondary, Haden is facing a possible 4 game suspension for violating the NFL PED policy. The third year cornerback has had one of the best training camps of any player on the Browns roster. Haden needs to get his hands on more interceptions after having none last year. He didn’t have a lot of opportunities, because teams didn’t throw his way.
The second year player is the fastest player in the secondary for the Browns and would most likely fill in for Haden if he is suspended.
The rookie comes in with a high grade because of his shutdown corner play in the preseason. He displayed the ability to play bump and run coverage and not give up the big play.
Johnson made his mark on special teams in the preseason, which is an area of focus of the Browns. The team had a drop in special teams coverage last year and he will be called on to improve that performance.
The veteran corner is getting closer to the end of his career and it is starting to show. In 2011, teams attacked Brown with the deep ball due his lack of speed. He was beat on a few deep ball attempts in the preseason which can’t make the coaches feel good. If the deep balls keep going over his head, the coaching staff will be forced to make a change.
Patterson didn’t play much in the preseason due to injury, but played outstanding in the slot last year.
The second year safety took over the starting safety spot next to T.J. Ward from Usama Young. In limited opportunities last year, Hagg made plays. He could be another up and coming playmaker in the Browns secondary.
Ventrone is the scrapy defensive back that will give you 100 percent on every play. He is also a great player on special teams coverage.
Another guy who will play on special teams, proved he could make plays at safety in the preseason.
T. J. Ward:
Ward is coming of an injury which cost him a large part of the 2011 season. The third year starter at safety picked up where he left off before the injury playing well in training camp. He is on the verge of playmaker status.
The starter at safety last year will be in a backup role to start the 2012 season. He missed the entire preseason with an injury. He could still see a lot of snap if the Browns decide to bring him on the five defensive back package to play linebacker, instead of another corner.
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The rookie linebacker out of Nevada is a speedy run-and-hit guy. He has to work on not over pursuing with his speed. He is out with an injury and the Browns have not said when he will back.
The leader of the Browns defense had an outstanding 2011 season. He looks to follow it up with back-to-back healthy productive seasons.
The undrafted free agent did nothing but make plays during the preseason. The injury to James-Michael Johnson will provide an opportunity for him to start against the Eagles in week 1.
One of the few picks left from Eric Mangini’s first draft with Browns, Maiava has stepped to start last season for Scott Fujita and not this year for Chris Gocong. He is a smart defender who can play both outside linebacker positions.
A free agent the Browns picked up at the of the 2011 season, who has taken his opportunity and run with it on defense. He has made plays in camp and is also an option to fill in as a starter for Scott Fujita who is out on suspension.
The former Rose Bowl MVP from TCU, was claimed after being cut by the Buffalo Bills. He was a fifth-round pick in the 2012 draft which lands him with an automatic average grade. He gets a slight knock down because he was cut.
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The only Browns player left from the 1999 team, Dawson is one the best bad weather kickers in the league. He also has been the most consistent player from week to week. He will be called on again to provide points for the Browns; hopefully it will be more extra points than field goals.
Hodges has one of the strongest legs for punter in the NFL, which will give the Browns defense good field position to pin the opponent deep on their side of the field.
The longer snapper for the Browns stopped the bleeding last year after bad snaps cost them a couple games. He has been steady since taking over last year.
Cribbs is one of the best return men in the NFL, who had a down year in 2011 with one return for a touchdown. He is also one of the best punt and kickoff coverage guys in the NFL.