Could the Cleveland Browns Become the NFL's Biggest Surprise in 2013?

Old AccountSenior Writer IMay 17, 2013

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 16:  Running back Trent Richardson #33 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns, an organization that has dealt with mediocrity for the past decade, has endured last place finishes while two of its division rivals have won championships. From quarterback busts to poor coaching, the franchise continues to search for an identity and a product that their loyal fan base can show their pride and joy for.

Fortunately, the years of struggle could finally come to an end in the 2013 season. The phrase "Great things come to those who wait" can evidently become true for the city of Cleveland.

When Jimmy Haslam, once a partial owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, purchased the franchise, it was clear that he was committed to bringing in a regime that offered a combination of veteran experience, along with a bright and young coach into the fold.

The additions of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi to run the front office are acquisitions that have paid off thus far. They handed the keys of the franchise to Rob Chudzinski, the former Panthers offensive coordinator who brings a unique offensive game plan and the experience of developing a young quarterback. 

They followed up those moves with two smart hires of coordinators. Norv Turner has always been best suited as an offensive minded coach, while Ray Horton is a proven commodity after witnessing the transformation of the Arizona Cardinals defense last season.

With a quality coaching staff assembled, the remaining task is to elevate one of the younger rosters in football to new heights. The Browns have stayed steady this offseason, having decided to forgo selecting another quarterback and instead allowing Brandon Weeden to win the job outright at training camp.

Instead, they have put their efforts towards improving what was already statistically a top-10 defense. The additions of Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo greatly improve the biggest weakness on their defense. The improvements of the defensive front can complement the young, talented secondary that is led by Joe Haden.

That is exactly what Horton needed, as his unit is expected to progress even more in 2013. Yet, the remaining questions fall on the offensive side of the football, which is why both Chudzinski and Turner were brought into this situation.

Time will tell if Weeden is the answer, and the upcoming season will ultimately be the deciding factor for his future. It's fair to question how much blame Weeden deserved last season, as his struggles occurred due to the lack of consistent productivity from the skill players around him.

Yet, the former first round pick is expected to grow just as his other young teammates are likely to develop. There is no denying that the Browns will utilize Trent Richardson, arguably near the plateau of elite running backs in this league. He is supported by an offensive line that is near the top half in the league, as veteran Joe Thomas continues to anchor a young group that should improve in 2013.

Then, one can look to Josh Gordon and his ability to develop into a number-one caliber receiver. His rookie season had mixed reviews because he was a raw talent who emerged from the supplemental draft. Yet, after a full year with the organization, Gordon can become that consistent deep threat, as he continues to improve his catching ability.

Alongside Gordon is tight end Jordan Cameron, who I consider to become the biggest "breakout" candidate for the Browns this season. A fourth round pick out of USC in 2011, Cameron is expected to be the top tight end this season, which could mean plenty of production coming his way. With Chudzinski's affection for productive pass-catching tight ends in Carolina, Cameron can seize the opportunity to emerge as another target for Weeden in the passing game.

The road won't be easy for Cleveland. They manage to play in a division that has the defending champion Ravens, a young Bengals team that is on the rise and a Steelers squad who wants to redeem themselves after a disappointing 2012 campaign.

Despite those challenges, the struggles that this young group of talent has gone through could pay off this year. They proved they belonged by playing with the physicality and tenacity that an AFC North team brings each week.

Now, with young talent expected to improve, anything can quickly become reality. The Browns front office seems to be targeting 2014 as its potential big year, and added a surplus of picks in next year's draft.

That being said, they might be underestimating a team that can emerge as the biggest surprise in the NFL this year.


Matt Miselis is a veteran NFL columnist for BleacherReport. Follow him on twitter @MattMiselisNFL