Cleveland Browns to Watch in 2013
The 2013 Cleveland Browns roster is packed with young and underrated talent that is just waiting to break out.
While the team finished with a 5-11 record, Cleveland's overall performance improved as the season went on.
Heading into the offseason, the Browns are poised to make a number of moves with the sixth pick in the draft and $45 million in cap space.
Even as they add some pieces, they still have a solid base to build around for years to come.
2013 could be a huge year for the Browns. These are the players who are poised to break out—and many fans might not see them coming.
Josh Gordon, selected in the second round of the supplemental draft last season, was one of the biggest surprises for the Browns in 2012.
Gordon didn't really catch on until Week 5, but he quietly had a solid year for Cleveland. In 2013, look for Gordon to be the Brown's No. 1 wide receiver and get a lot more attention than he did in 2012.
Last season, Gordon had 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns. More importantly, he was targeted 96 times, more than anyone else on the team.
Gordon's yardage was also the best on the team. Generally, opposing defenses aren't afraid of the Browns' receiving corp, but Gordon has big-play ability that could change that assumption.
In Week 5, he had a 62-yard reception, and the next week, he topped that with a 71-yard catch.
If Gordon stays healthy, he'll be Cleveland's top receiver week in and week out.
Linebacker Craig Robertson first came to the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2011, and he got his first starts in 2012.
Robertson quietly had a solid season for Cleveland, making 96 combined tackles, 62 of them solo tackles.
The 25-year-old also had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Robertson's tackles ranked second on the team, behind only defensive captain D'Qwell Jackson.
While he only had one sack, Robertson could be a breakout performer for the Browns defense in 2013, especially under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Robertson is a restricted free agent, but if he is back with the Browns, he could be one of the best players.
Not only did wide receiver Travis Benjamin contribute to the offense in 2012, but he filled in several times in the punt and kick return games.
Benjamin caught 37 passes in 14 games for 298 yards and two touchdowns.
He also played a role in the special teams game for Cleveland, returning three kicks and three punts. On punt returns, he had 197 return yards, including a touchdown.
Benjamin's assets in the return game could be even more important if the Browns choose to let Josh Cribbs walk in free agency. Cribbs still hasn't heard from the Browns, although his agent will meet the team at the combine.
The fourth-round pick for Cleveland in 2012, Benjamin could prove to be a valuable asset for the team in 2013 on multiple sides of the ball.
Jabaal Sheard has been one of the most underrated players for the Browns, and he has played very well since he came into the league two years ago.
Since he was drafted out of Pitt, Sheard has 15.5 sacks and 109 combined tackles.
Sheard hasn't missed a full game yet, and he plays with ferocity every time he is out on the field.
Come 2013, Sheard won't be so quiet anymore, as he is poised to have a breakout season, even better than his past seasons.
Sheard should be even more involved in the defensive scheme, with the loss of defensive linemen Frostee Rucker and Jaqua Parker to free agency.
While he's against working in a 3-4 defense under Ray Horton, Sheard could still be a household name by the time the season is over.
Despite starting out the season with a large number of drops and overall poor production, Greg Little straightened himself out towards the end of 2012.
Little's production even slumped so much that then-head coach Pat Shurmur threatened to bench him.
The wide receiver, entering his third year in the league, ended up finishing the season with the most catches on the team with 53, and finished second in yards with 647.
He doubled his touchdown production from his rookie year as well, putting up four touchdowns.
It was clear that from Week 10 and on, Little was out to prove himself to the coaching staff.
If Little can develop better hands, he and Josh Gordon could make a powerful one-two combination. It's not that Little is rarely known among fans, but defenses will underestimate him going into the season with his history of drops.
Little can take advantage of this, hopefully making defenses pay for overlooking him.