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Projected Cleveland Browns' Final 53-Man Roster, Training Camp Edition

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJune 21, 2016

Projected Cleveland Browns' Final 53-Man Roster, Training Camp Edition

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    Since the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, the team has had only two winning seasons. They've made the playoffs only once.

    The team's record over that span? 73-151.

    It hasn't been pretty, folks.

    This year a new staff will try to reverse that freight train of futility, with help from talented young players such as running back Trent Richardson and cornerback Joe Haden.

    That duo will all but certainly be among the final 53-man roster that emerges from training camp and the preseason.

    Here's an early look at the players who will join them.

Quarterback

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    (3) Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer

    Analysis: There was some chatter about a potential quarterback battle in Cleveland early in the offseason, but it was just that.

    Brandon Weeden enters his second NFL season as the unquestioned starter, a job that ESPN's Ron Jaworski believes Weeden can become "rock solid" at, according to Evan Silva of Rotoworld.

    The 31-year-old Campbell will serve as Weeden's backup, while Hoyer will spend most weeks as the team's emergency quarterback, meaning he won't count against the 53-man roster limit.

Running Back

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    (5): Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Dion Lewis, Chris Ogbonnaya, Owen Marecic (FB)

    Trent Richardson enters his second NFL season as the focal point of the Cleveland offense. Richardson should be in for a heavy workload in 2013, as Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland recently pointed out that lead backs on Norv Turner offenses average over 350 touches a year.

    Montario Hardesty will serve as Richardson's primary backup, while Dion Lewis (who came over in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles) and Chris Ogbonnaya will handle some third-down work.

    Fullback Owen Marecic suffered through a nightmarish 2012 season, but with Brad Smelley working with the tight ends during minicamp, the starting job at fullback appears to be Marecic's to lose.

Wide Receiver

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    (5): Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Davone Bess, Travis Benjamin, David Nelson

    Once Josh Gordon returns from his two-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, he's locked in as a starter. He'll most likely be flanked by Little, unless Little's drop-filled past and a strong camp from Benjamin causes a depth-chart shakeup.

    Bess, who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Miami Dolphins, will see a lot of time in the slot, while Nelson will play on passing downs in some four- and five-wide sets.

    The Browns have a number of young wideouts and undrafted free agents on the roster with considerable potential, and at least one of those youngsters will probably be headed for the practice squad.

Tight End

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    (3): Jordan Cameron, Kellen Davis, Gary Barnidge

    Many pundits are expecting a breakout year from Jordan Cameron in his third NFL season, and Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer points out that Cameron was used to stretch the field a lot in OTAs.

    Davis is a solid blocker with significant starting experience, and Barnidge has the skill set to provide depth at either the "move" or "in-line" tight end spot.

    Brad Smelley and rookie Travis Tannahill are a pair of "H-back" blocking types who could sneak their way onto the team as special teams contributors, or land on the practice squad.

Offensive Tackle

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    (5): Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz, Oniel Cousins, Chris Faulk, Ryan Miller

    There's absolutely no question who the starters at tackle are for the Browns, as Thomas and Schwartz form what might be the best one-two punch at the position in the AFC.

    Cousins is a veteran presence who appeared in 14 games for the Browns a year ago, while Faulk is a first-round talent who fell out of the 2013 draft altogether due to a knee injury.

    The 320-pound Miller, who rounds out the group, is a versatile second-year pro who provides depth at both the guard and tackle spots.

Offensive Guard

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    (3): Shawn Lauvao, John Greco, Jason Pinkston

    The guard spot is the weak link along the Cleveland offensive line.

    Who the starters are may well not be determined until well into training camp, although the Akron Beacon-Journal reports that Lauvao and Greco were running with the first team in OTAs.

    The smart money's on things staying that way, but Pinkston will at least provide serviceable depth behind them after an injury-marred 2012.

     

Centers

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    (2): Alex Mack, Braxston Cave

    Alex Mack is one of the NFL's top young centers and one of the cornerstones of Cleveland's offensive line, while Cave is a promising rookie who can fill in at both center and guard.

Defensive End

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    (5): Ahtyba Rubin, Desmond Bryant, Billy Winn, John Hughes, Armonty Bryant

    The Browns' switch to the 3-4 means a position change for the 320-pound Rubin, who will slide from tackle to end in Ray Horton's scheme.

    Rubin will be flanked by Desmond Bryant, another 300-pound-plus pro who came over in free agency from Oakland.

    That duo will be backed up Billy Winn, John Hughes and Armonty Bryant. Hughes and Winn saw fairly extensive playing time last year due to injuries, while Bryant is a talented but troubled youngster who the Browns grabbed in the seventh round of April's draft.

Defensive Tackle

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    (2) Phil Taylor, Nick Jean-Baptiste

    It's going to be an All-Baylor bunch manning the nose in Cleveland's 3-4 defense, with undrafted rookie Nick Jean-Baptiste backing up Phil Taylor, who will try to bounce back in 2013 after injuries cost him half of the 2012 season.

    It may seem strange for the team to only carry two tackles, but Rubin will also see time at tackle this year. According to Len Pasquarelli of the The National Football Post, defensive coordinator Ray Horton plans to rotate the duo, saying “We can mix and match."

     

Inside Linebacker

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    (4): D'Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, L.J. Fort, Tank Carder

    D'Qwell Jackson is the elder statesman of the Cleveland defense and a player who led the NFL in solos in 2011, and after a disappointing 2012 campaign Jackson should thrive in Horton's aggressive scheme.

    After topping 90 stops in 2012 Robertson is penciled in as the starter opposite Jackson. However, the second-year pro is undersized for the position, and should he falter, either Fort or Carder will have to step up their games.

     

     

Outside Linebacker

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    (5): Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo, Quentin Groves, James-Michael Johnson

    With the scheme switch in Cleveland, outside linebacker was a position of need for the Browns, and it's one they addressed aggressively in the offseason, beginning with Paul Kruger.

    After notching nine sacks for the Baltimore Ravens last year Kruger signed a fat free-agent deal with the Browns, and he'll be bookended by a rotation featuring Mingo (the team's first-round pick in 2013) and Sheard (who is making the switch from defensive end).

    Groves provides depth behind that trio, and while there have been reports that Johnson is on the bubble the Browns may not be deep enough at the position to cut the second-year pro loose.

Cornerbacks

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    (6): Joe Haden, Leon McFadden, Buster Skrine, Chris Owens, Josh Aubrey, Trevin Wade

    The Cleveland secondary is led by Joe Haden, who has become one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks.

    The starting spot opposite Haden will be one of the most closely watched battles of the summer. Buster Skrine saw significant playing time last year but was abused with regularity, and Owens lacks the size to play outside, so rookie Leon McFadden is the leading candidate to win the gig.

    The cornerbacks are rounded out by Aubrey, an undrafted free agent with excellent speed, and Wade, who saw some time in subpackages for the Browns in 2012.

Safeties

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    (4) T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, Jamoris Slaughter, Johnson Bademosi

    Ward is safely entrenched as the starter at strong safety, but the spot opposite the fourth-year pro is wide open.

    Tashaun Gipson has the NFL experience, while rookie Jamoris Slaughter has the talent, provided he can show that's he's recovered from the Achilles injury that ended his 2012 season at Notre Dame.

    Bademosi is the dark horse, but his skills on special teams should help ensure he makes the roster.

Special Teams

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    (3): Shayne Graham (K), T.J. Conley (P), Christian Yount (LS)

    Barring injury, both Graham (who replaces Phil Dawson at kicker) and Yount are locks to make the team.

    There's a battle at punter between Conley and journeyman Spencer Lanning, but we're betting on Conley's NFL experience (he was the New York Jets' punter in 2011) winning out.

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    There's an old saying that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

    For these players, this summer will hold a bit of both, as they are set to make the Browns' roster by the skin of their proverbial teeth.

    Chris Ogbonnaya, running back: Ogbonnaya is one of a trio of running backs with a similar skill set fighting for a roster spot in Cleveland, but the fourth-year pro showed with 24 catches last year that he's capable of producing as a receiver out of the backfield.

    Quentin Groves, outside linebacker: A former second-round pick, Groves has been a huge disappointment so far in the NFL and was arrested shortly after joining the Browns. Still, Groves did manage four sacks for the Arizona Cardinals last year, and the Browns need depth at his position.

    Johnson Bademosi, safety: A converted cornerback, Bademosi paced the Browns with 18 special teams tackles last year, and it's that ability to contribute in the return game that will keep Bademosi with the team.

    Chris Faulk, offensive tackle: Had Faulk not torn up his knee at LSU last year the big man may well have been a first-round pick. That sort of talent is worth a flier, even if it takes Faulk some time to develop.

    Armonty Bryant, defensive end: The seventh-round pick's DUI arrest got his tenure in Cleveland off to a rocky start, but if Bryant can keep his head on straight he's very adept at making opposing quarterbacks miserable.

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    Every year coaching staffs across the NFL are faced with tough decisions.

    Sometimes a logjam at a position leaves a talented player the odd man out. Sometimes it's a bad scheme fit. Sometimes it's just bad luck.

    The players listed here are probably going to be disappointed with how things turn out in Cleveland, although some will either catch on with another team or wind up on the practice squad.

    Brandon Jackson, running back: The Browns signed Jackson to a one-year deal back in May, but the 27-year-old is cut from a similar mold as Dion Lewis and Chris Ogbonnaya and possesses the least explosiveness of the three.

    Garrett Gilkey, offensive tackle: A talented youngster out of tiny Chadron State, the 318-pounder may find himself the victim of the numbers crunch with the Browns. Gilkey's a very likely practice squad candidate, where he would have time to develop.

    Rashad Butler, offensive tackle: Veteran offensive tackles are worth their weight in gold. However, Butler has missed most of the last two seasons with two triceps tears, and one-armed offensive linemen aren't generally all that effective.

    Jordan Norwood, wide receiver: After catching 13 passes for 137 yards last year, the Browns tendered Norwood earlier in the offseason. The fifth-year veteran is what he is...an adequate end of the bench receiver who doesn't do anything especially well. The staff may decide that his roster spot is better spent on a player with more upside.

    Vernon Kearney, cornerback: A converted wide receiver from Lane College, Kearney latched on with the Browns after trying out during rookie minicamp. The coaching staff must have seen something they liked, but it's not going to be enough to get Kearney into the final 53.

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