Cleveland Browns Midseason Report Cards for Each Positional Unit
It’s the halfway point of the season, so we have to hand out the midseason grades for the entire Cleveland Browns roster. With a 3-5 record, however, there won’t be many players’ parents happy with their grades.
Some of the positional groups are interesting because of personnel changes. On offense, quarterback, running back and wide receiver have all had players traded, benched, hurt or suspended. On defense, the line has been hit with injuries all season long.
The midseason grade is determined by the average positional group grade from each of the first eight games.
Weekly grades are handed out based on how much a player impacted the game, if they won their individual battle, whether they were a positive contributor and if they could have performed better.
Let’s see who is passing at the midseason mark.
Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell: C-
Brandon Weeden was obviously the weak link in this group. In his four starts, the team is winless and has struggled to move the ball. He only played one good half of football, and that was when he replaced Brian Hoyer against Buffalo.
Hoyer and Jason Campbell combined for four solid outings. They took care of the football for the most part and allowed the defense to rest.
Since it seems Campbell will be the starter for the remainder of the season, efficiency and consistency should be his focus.
The Browns quarterbacks have combined to go 183-of-331 for 2,069 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Previous position grades: D+, C+, C+, A, B, D+, F, A
Trent Richardson, Willis McGahee, Bobby Rainey, Fozzy Whittaker and Chris Ogbonnaya: C
It has been a wild year at this position so far. The former face of the franchise, Trent Richardson, was traded after just two weeks. The new starter, Willis McGahee, was pulled off the street.
They signed Bobby Rainey off of waivers from the Baltimore Ravens, and he has since been released. They also signed Fozzy Whittaker, and he is becoming a larger part of the offense.
The one constant this season at running back has been lack of production. They had a stretch of three good games after Richardson was traded, but lack of big plays and lack of commitment to the run by the coaching staff have kept this unit average at best.
The Browns running backs have combined for 147 rushes for 482 yards and one touchdown. That is just 3.3 yards per carry.
Previous position grades: C-, C-, D+, B-, B+, B+, D, C-
Josh Gordon, Davone Bess, Travis Benjamin and Greg Little: C+
If this were a midseason grade for Josh Gordon by himself it would be an A+. Unfortunately for him, he has to be lumped in with Davone Bess, who has had a terrible season, and Greg Little, who has been wildly inconsistent.
Bess’ struggles are surprising since he came into this season known as one of the best third-down pass-catchers in the NFL. Perhaps even more puzzling than Bess’ struggles is the lack of touches for Travis Benjamin. He has just six total touches on the year.
The Browns need to figure out how to get him more involved moving forward. They also must decide what Gordon is worth to them. If they don’t see a future with him, then they should just part ways.
I think he is too talented to be traded unless you get a first-round draft pick in return.
The Browns receivers have combined for 109 receptions for 1,181 yards and four touchdowns. They are averaging 11 yards per reception.
Previous position grades: D, D, A-, B+, A-, C+, D, C
Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge: B+
This has been arguably the best position on the team. Each week, Jordan Cameron has continued to improve his blocking skills and establish himself as an elite pass-catcher.
He continues to jockey back and forth with New Orleans tight end Jeremy Graham for the most receptions and yards in the league at their position.
His 49 receptions are tied for the second most by a Browns tight end through eight games of a season. Only former tight end Kellen Winslow had more with 51 in 2006 (stat courtesy of the Cleveland Browns postgame notes*).
The Browns tight ends have combined for 55 receptions for 618 yards and six touchdowns.
Previous position grades: A-, A-, A, A, C+, B, B+, B+
*The Cleveland Browns email postgame notes to all media members after the contest is finished.
Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao, Oniel Cousins and Mitchell Schwartz: C
This is by far the most improved unit on the team. Its Week 1 performance was disturbing, and the weeks that followed were not much better.
Ever since the return of right guard Shawn Lauvao, however, this unit has steadily improved.
In the team's Week 8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it was phenomenal. The Chiefs, who boast the best pass rush in the NFL, were only able to sack Jason Campbell one time.
The Browns were legitimately one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL after Week 3. If they can maintain the level they are currently playing at and stay healthy, they will back amongst the elite by the end of the year.
The Browns offensive line has given up 28 sacks on the year.
Previous position grades: F, D+, D+, C+, C-, A-, B, A+
Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes, Desmond Bryant, Billy Winn, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Armonty Bryant: B
The defensive line has been by far the most consistent unit on the Browns squad. It has created pressure and rattled quarterbacks all year long and is possibly the most physical group in the league.
Anchored by Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant, this unit has size and speed which very few opponents can match.
Despite having injuries throughout the line the entire season, this unit has been as dominant as any in the league. Even seventh-round draft pick Armonty Bryant has looked good.
The Cleveland Browns defensive line has combined for 100 tackles and 9.5 sacks so far.
Previous position grades: A+, B-, B-, A-, C+, C+, C+, B+
Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo: B
The only thing that has slowed down the outside linebackers has been health. Their performance has been astounding considering that only one of them was even in this unit last season. Jabaal Sheard is the lone holdover, and he played in a completely different system.
If it weren’t for injuries to Sheard and Quentin Groves, they would probably have some gaudier sack totals.
Some people want to criticize Paul Kruger for his lack of sacks, but he is actually having an excellent year. He is not an elite pass-rusher but is still creating consistent pressure. His job is to be a run-stopper, a leader and open the door for Barkevious Mingo and Sheard to get sacks.
Mingo has shown flashes of how special he can possibly be. He needs to find a way to get to the quarterback more consistently, however.
The Cleveland Browns outside linebackers have combined for 60 tackles and nine sacks on the year.
Previous position grades: A-, A-, B, B-, C, C+,C+,B+
Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson: D+
It would seem as though this unit has regressed considerably since the beginning of the year. The reality, however, is that offenses have finally started attacking what has always been the weakest part of defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s bunch.
Craig Roberston and D’Qwell Jackson have been pretty good against the run, but in pass defense, they have been overmatched and exposed.
Opponents now attack the middle of the field freely. This past Sunday alone they let up 13 receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown to the Chiefs tight ends and running backs.
Horton made some good halftime adjustments, which helped this unit out, but they need more. This is a position where the front office will look to make major upgrades in the offseason.
The Browns inside linebackers have combined for 125 tackles, four sacks and two passes defended.
Previous position grades: B, A-, B-, C+, C-, D-, D-, D
Buster Skrine, Chris Owens and Joe Haden: B-
Joe Haden is not having a Pro Bowl year, but he has still been very good. Buster Skrine, however, is quickly becoming a playmaker in the secondary.
Skrine, who was the fans whipping boy last season, has learned to finish around the football, and it is fun to watch. Not only does he fight for every pass, but he hits hard for a smaller cornerback.
Haden has been up and down a little this year but is still taking away half the field from the offense. On Sunday, Chris Owens was abused by Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster. Owens is the weak link in the group but is solid enough that he is normally not a huge liability.
The Browns cornerbacks have combined for 101 tackles, 23 passes defended, 2.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble on the year.
Previous position grades: C-, C, A, A, A, B-, D+, B
Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward: B
This unit had a boatload of question marks coming into the season. Could Tashaun Gipson handle being an every-down free safety? Could T.J. Ward stay healthy enough to roam in Ray Horton’s defense and make plays week after week?
Is there enough depth behind those players if one were to go down with an injury?
Luckily, none of those questions have been a factor since this unit has been productive and healthy. Ward is growing into a top-level safety and should be in for a nice payday from the Browns or someone else this offseason.
Gipson has very good range for a free safety and can play the ball in the air like a defensive back.
These guys have cleaned up a lot of mistakes by the units in front of them, and that’s exactly what good safeties are supposed to do.
The Browns safeties have combined for 109 tackles, 12 passes defended, four interceptions, four tackles for loss and one sack.
Previous position grades: C+, B, B-, C+, A, B+, B, B-
Billy Cundiff, Spencer Lanning, Travis Benjamin, Fozzy Whittaker, Greg Little, Bobby Rainey and coverage units: B-
The fact that this unit is getting this high of a grade speaks to the job the coaching staff and front office did during the offseason. Remember, this was a unit that lost possible Hall of Fame kick returner Josh Cribbs and elite kicker Phil Dawson.
Travis Benjamin has emerged as one of the best young special teams weapons in the league, kicker Billy Cundiff has been surprisingly consistent and Spencer Lanning is making the most of his opportunity in the NFL.
Fozzy Whittaker has been a nice addition to the kickoff return team as well and seems to have some ability in that area. The Browns coverage units have been solid all year long and are among the league’s best in covering kicks.
Previous position grades: C+, C+, A+, D+, A+, B-,B, C