As the 2012 NFL season rolls on, it is a safe bet that at 2-7, the Cleveland Browns will not be making a playoff run. But that does not mean that the improvements made to the roster this past offseason were wrong ones.
With that in mind let's take a look at some improvements that the Browns have made this season which could pay off dividends for seasons to come.
QB Brandon Weeden, a 29-year-old rookie, has shown flashes of real potential this season, but is he the long-term solution for the Browns at quarterback? At this point the jury is still out.
He has thrown for more yards than any rookie QB this season, with over 2,000 so far through nine games. He also most likely will break into double-digit touchdown passes, with nine passes having gone for scores already. Last year's starting QB, Colt McCoy, only through for 1,576 and six touchdowns in roughly the same number of games (McCoy played in eight games in 2011 compared to Weeden's nine games so far in 2012), so Weeden has been a step up.
However, just because Weeden is better than McCoy statistically does not mean that he is the answer.
With new owner Jimmy Haslem, new team president Joe Banner and most likely a new head coach after this season, the Browns may once again may be in the market for a starting quarterback.
Over the seven games left to play, it will be up to Weeden to ensure that he has the starting role next season. A strong finish to what has been an up-and-down rookie season could go a long way to securing his current starting role.
Running back Trent Richardson has been exactly what Cleveland hoped he would be coming out of Alabama.
To this point through nine games, Richardson has put up 575 rushing yards along with six total scoring TDs (five rushing, one receiving). Richardson has proven he can be an explosive asset on the Browns offense.
The question going forward will be how Richardson holds up to a full season in the NFL. He has already had minor knee surgery during the preseason and missed a good portion of two games due to a rib injury.
So over the last seven games, it will be interesting to see if Richardson can hold up to the punishment or if he misses more time with another injury. Only time will tell, but I am comfortable in predicting Richardson as a stable element in any future Browns offensive scheme.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon is by far the most interesting element in this question. Not only do we need to question whether the addition of Gordon's talents was a vast improvement to this team, but the fact that he was a second-round supplemental draft pick makes his selection that much more critical.
Considering the Browns' current record, the supplemental pick that the Browns spent on snagging Gordon could be as valuable as 33rd overall in the 2013 NFL draft.
So has he performed to that level?
It has been clear from the beginning of the season that Gordon possesses the physical talent to be a star for the Browns, but what has held him back has been his skill set. He appeared lost in the preseason, running poor routes and dropping some passes.
However as the season has progressed, Gordon has become a go-to target for QB Brandon Weeden. At this point, going into the bye, the rookie wide receiver has snagged 19 receptions with four TDs and a very healthy 21.9 yards per reception.
It is looking more and more like Gordon's adaption to the NFL level is coming quicker than anyone anticipated. Due to numerous injuries in the Browns wide receiving corps, Gordon has received more playing time. Gordon in turn is making the most of his opportunities.
Whether he was worth such a high pick is yet to have been determined; however, at this point I am comfortable saying Gordon will be a huge payoff for the future of the Browns franchise.
Much like the players listed above, the remaining seven games will be critical in determining the successes or failures of the young talent that this team has assembled for this season. Will the 2013 roster be similar to that of this year, or will there be wholesale changes in Cleveland at the end of this season?
What do you think? Let us know.