Grading the Strength of the Cleveland Browns Roster Heading into Free Agency
NFL free agency is quickly approaching and the Cleveland Browns are one of many teams that will be actively searching for new talent that can help them return to the playoffs in 2013. This slideshow takes a look at the Browns' current roster and grades each position for the team heading into free agency.
The grading system is based off of position needs during free agency or at any other point throughout the summer months. The grading scale is as follows:
A: No immediate signing needed, position set for 2013
B: Some questions surrounding the position, but should be solid
C: Could use some depth because of injury or lack of talent
D: Position is very weak and will be a glaring hole
F: Impact starter is needed in order for the team to have success.
Now that the grading system has been explained, here are the position grades for the 2013-14 Cleveland Browns roster before free agency.
Brandon Weeden had one of the better seasons in 2012 for a Cleveland Browns quarterback in recent memory, but that is not saying much when compared to the talent the Browns have brought to the line of scrimmage over the last 10 years.
Weeden needs to work on his decision making ability and his accuracy. He has the arm strength to compete in the NFL, but does not seem to have the touch based on his performance from last season.
Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner have worked with many different quarterbacks over the course of their careers and Weeden will have to be another project for them to work on this season.
Colt McCoy and Thad Lewis are very hard to evaluate at this point in the process. Both players do not have the resume or reputation to compete in the Browns’ new style of offense, but each has shown promise in their limited opportunities.
The biggest concern for McCoy has to be his injury situation. McCoy has missed multiple games with Cleveland because of various injuries to his ankle, head and shoulder over past two seasons. Those injury woes have to be on the mind of the new coaching staff and it would not be surprising to see McCoy released if the Browns get another quarterback this spring.
Overall Grade: C
The quarterback position will likely be a focal point for this new coaching staff and fans can expect there to be a new addition before the 2013 season begins. Whether that addition comes from free agency or the 2013 NFL Draft remains to be seen.
Trent Richardson had the best rookie season for any Browns running back in franchise history in 2012, despite the fact that he played most of the year recovering from knee surgery and broken ribs.
Richardson has already solidified his status as a fan favorite with the Browns organization, and his 950 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and 51 receptions should be all that the organization needs to see to call this position sealed up for 2013.
Montario Hardesty is currently the only running back on the roster to back up Richardson because Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya are scheduled to become free agents the first week in March.
Hardesty battled back from injuries in 2012 and served as a capable backup to Richardson in his limited opportunities. I fully expect Hardesty to be in a Browns uniform in 2013, but his role will not be determined until the final roster is set.
Overall Grade: B
The only reason this position does not get a higher grade is because the Browns do not have much depth behind Richardson and Hardesty. There will have to be additions to this group in order to fill out the roster and hopefully Cleveland will be able to find a playmaker that they can keep stashed for a later date.
Owen Marecic is listed as the Browns fullback but lost his starting role to Alex Smith for most of the 2012 season.
There has not been a lack of criticism for Marecic over the course of his time with the Browns and many fans believe that he should not hold a roster spot for 2013. Marcecic is still relatively young in terms of football years, but will have to find a way to impress this new coaching staff if he wants to keep his job.
Overall Grade: F
This position was probably the weakest on the Browns roster in 2012. Smith provided a great boost when he became the starter, but he is not a natural fullback.
Cleveland will have more success in the running game and will be able to protect the quarterback better if they can find an impact fullback at some point this offseason.
The Browns have gotten better at wide receiver after less than stellar years in 2010 and 2011. Josh Gordon and Greg Little both showed massive improvements over the course of training camp to the end of the regular season and both players will likely be quality starters for Cleveland in 2013.
However, behind those two starters, there are some significant questions at the wide receiver spot. Mohammed Massaqoui and Josh Cribbs are both scheduled to become free agents this year and no other player on the Browns roster came forward in a consistently productive role last season.
Overall Grade: C+
Travis Benjamin and Josh Cooper will be the true wild cards at this position in 2013 and the Browns could avoid signing a quality starter if one of them can step forward as a slot man or third option.
Benjamin has to have the edge to be that guy at this point in his career because of his big play ability and his speed. However, Cooper was probably the more sure-handed of the two, coming through on some key third downs in 2012.
The Browns offensive line will continue to be anchored by Joe Thomas for the foreseeable future, and that has make Cleveland fans happy as the team continues to go through transitions.
Thomas, Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz all played well last season and will remain the starters at their spot barring any injuries.
However, that leaves both of the guard positions unattended and in need of some serious overhaul. Jason Pinkston missed most of the 2012 season because of a blood clot while John Greco and Shawn Lauvao were left to pick up the slack. Greco’s case is widely unknown, but it is expected that he will be back in 2013 because he is still under contract.
Other guards like O'niel Cousins and Ryan Miller have not displayed that they can be consistent options.
Overall Grade: C
Thomas and Mack are the two players on the Browns roster that deserve to have an A attached to their positions. However, the fact that there is a gap in talent around them brings down the grade of the offensive line.
This position gets an average grade because of the fact that Thomas, Mack and Schwartz are all quality options. But both guard positions are in need of some serious attention.
Guard could be a point of emphasis for the Browns in the 2013 NFL Draft if they do not address it during the free agency period. Either way, there should be at least one new starter at a guard spot next season.
The Browns cornerback position is looking like the weakest spot on the defense at this point in the process. Joe Haden is slated to be the top starter, but Sheldon Brown is headed to free agency in a few weeks and there is no one on the roster that can match his experience or production.
Dimitri Patterson was the only other player on the Browns roster that could arguably fill a void left by Brown, but he was released in December of last season and is currently a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Buster Skrine, Eric Hagg and Trevin wade are the other options at corner that are currently on the depth chart at this point.
At safety, T.J. Ward and Usama Young are slated to be the starters in 2013, but each player has had concerns with injuries. Hagg filled in at the safety spot in Young’s absence in 2012, but it would be wise for the team to add some depth if they are worried about health issues next season.
Overall Grade: D
Joe Haden is turning into one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the game, but he cannot be the only player that can cover a receiver in the Browns secondary. Cleveland needs to find some talent this offseason to take the pressure off Haden and the rest of the defense.
Dee Milliner from Alabama would be a quality option in the 2013 NFL Draft if the Browns can’t acquire some talent at the position in free agency.
Cleveland’s defensive line may have been the brightest spot on the team in 2012 as the unit battled through injuries and sustained a high level of production.
Athyba Rubin and Phil Taylor continued their development as two of the best young defensive tackles in the game, while Billy Winn and Johh Hughes added rookie production that was felt throughout the entire defense.
Jabaal Sheard and Jaqua Parker anchored the end positions for the defense. Sheard will be entering his third season in 2013 and has been a solid player throughout his stint in the Browns 4-3 system. The Browns will be switching their base to a 3-4 in 2013, so it is a possibility that Sheard could be moved to outside linebacker.
Parker and Frostee Rucker played well in their rotation at the right end position, but neither will likely be back with the team next season.
Overall Grade: C
The Browns will need to add a defensive end at some point this off season, unless they intend to convert some of their defensive tackles. Parker will likely be released into free agency in March and Rucker, the team’s biggest free agent acquisition last year, has already been released this week.
Rubin could possibly be moved to an end spot while Phil Taylor plays nose tackle and then a rotation at the left end with the remaining linemen. However, I fully expect the Browns to add another player on the defensive line through the draft because of a need for pure pass rushing ability.
The Browns have a solid mix of age and experience at the linebacker position heading into the 2013 season.
D’Qwell Jackson is just as productive as he has ever been and he continues to be the leader of the team both on and off the field. Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong were non-factors for the franchise in 2012, but each have had success in the past and will be welcome additions when they can return to action.
The young linebackers are really what sets this spot apart from the rest of the defense. Craig Robertson, James Michael-Johnson, Kaluka Maiava, Emmanual Acho, Tank Carder and L.J. Fort are all listed on the Browns depth chart for the 2013 season and each man has the potential to be a quality linebacker if given the opportunity.
Michael-Johnson was considered to be the most talented young linebacker on the roster in 2012, but a rib injury plagued him for most of the year.
Robertson excelled in the absence of “JMJ” and was playing a consistent role by the end of last year.
Position Grade: B
The Browns don’t really have a need to go out and seek a linebacker if they can keep the current unit together. Even though Fujita and Gocong are getting older, Cleveland could hold off one more season before addressing the need and they can take this time to build other spots on the defense.
It would be wise for the Browns to give their young linebackers one more season to prove themselves before they bring in new talent. The new coaching staff is not familiar with these players on a day to day basis and may be pleasantly surprised when they can coach them in training camp and the regular season.
Phil Dawson and Reggie Hodges are both free agents this spring and both are not expected to be back with the team in 2013. According to Tony Grossi on Twitter,
"@puckhogg1 when will the browns make the call on re-signing phil? // Not happening.
— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi)
Many fans would say that finding a new kicker or punter is not a big deal, but Cleveland is one of the toughest places to kick in the NFL and no one knows the swirling winds like Dawson.
Overall Grade: F
It is impossible to grade a position that does not have a player on the active roster. Judgement will have to be held on the Browns' new special teams experts until the team signs some talent in the coming months.