Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns' Roster After the 2014 Draft
With the 2014 NFL draft now in the past, the Cleveland Browns will likely enter the season with essentially the same roster. There may be a couple additions—maybe even a significant one or two—but the team won't be too different from what it is now.
What positions will be areas of strength for the Browns, and what spots will be their Achilles' heel? Cleveland has some strong spots and some obvious weaknesses. Will the strong spots be enough to make the Browns a good team, or will the weaknesses dominate and sink them?
Predictions are difficult. Roster analysis itself isn't easy, and putting that analysis into practice is an even more challenging practice. It is nearly impossible to say how the 2014 season will play out for Cleveland.
With some level of confidence, though, we can know where the team's strengths and weaknesses lie.
At this point, it is impossible to say who will start at quarterback for the Browns in 2014. Brian Hoyer played well before tearing his ACL last year, and he will be given the opportunity to beat out Johnny Manziel.
Now, Hoyer may not be anything amazing, and he isn't an electrifying talent like Manziel is, but he isn't a bad player. Cleveland can win with him at quarterback.
Additionally, playing Hoyer gives Manziel the chance to develop on the sideline without the pressure of being on the field. Manziel could use this opportunity, as he probably isn't ready quite yet.
If things don't go so well with Hoyer under center, though, it will be difficult to keep Manziel on the bench. Manziel is simply too exciting with too much potential not to start if Hoyer struggles.
Regardless of who starts, though, the Browns have a short- and long-term option on the roster. Cleveland drafted Manziel to be the team's franchise quarterback, and the team has every expectation of him being the guy as soon as he is ready.
Last year, Cleveland's running backs were horrible. This year should be a different story, as the team potentially has three new backs on the roster.
The Browns signed former Texan Ben Tate in free agency, and he will probably start, at least to begin the year. Beyond Tate, though, Cleveland drafted Terrance West in the third round.
Both Tate and West are great fits in Cleveland's zone-blocking scheme, where their impressive vision and power are the most important qualities.
Additionally, though, the Browns signed Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted free agent. Crowell was the most talented running back in the draft but wasn't selected due to off-the-field issues. The former Georgia star needs to stay focused, but if he does, he could see significant playing time, even as a rookie.
Over the course of the offseason, running back went from being a glaring weakness to a potential strength, and Cleveland didn't even have to invest big money or much in the way of draft picks.
With Josh Gordon expected to miss the 2014 season, Cleveland's wide receiver unit is abysmal. Andrew Hawkins can be a good slot receiver, but that is about all the team has.
Greg Little is a horrible wide receiver, and he could once again be starting for the Browns. Beyond Little, the team basically has Travis Benjamin, who should probably only be a return man.
The Browns do have some undrafted free agents with potential, though. Chandler Jones and Willie Snead both have chances to make the roster.
Unless Cleveland makes a trade or signing here, the team's wide receivers will be one of its worst units. No undrafted free agent is going to make significant enough of an impact to turn this unit into even an average one, unless Gordon ends up playing in 2014.
With a breakout season, Jordan Cameron established himself as a legitimate weapon at tight end. He isn't much of a blocker, but the athletic Cameron caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
If Josh Gordon is suspended, Cameron is the team's only legitimate receiving threat. He is athletic enough to move around the field, and he can make plays all over the field. Last year was Cameron's first as a starter, and with a little more development, he could become even more dangerous.
While the Browns have one good tight end in Cameron, their depth is suspect. Gary Barnidge isn't particularly good as a receiver or blocker, and free-agent acquisition Jim Dray is purely a blocker.
Last year, Cleveland's offensive line was good. In 2014, it should be even stronger.
All-Pro center Alex Mack was set to hit the free-agent market during the offseason, but the Browns hit him with the transition tag and matched Jacksonville's offer, keeping Mack a Brown for at least two more seasons.
Alongside Mack, Cleveland has an All-Pro left tackle in Joe Thomas and one solid guard in John Greco. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has had his struggles but, on the whole, isn't too bad of a player.
This was already a solid unit, and the addition of Joel Bitonio with the No. 35 pick makes it much better. The 6'4", 305-pound Bitonio could compete with Schwartz at right tackle or step in at guard.
With Bitonio now on the roster, the offensive line doesn't have a huge weak spot. This unit can do some damage.
For depth, Cleveland has Jason Pinkston, who can play right tackle and either guard spot. Paul McQuistan is another versatile lineman who can play anywhere along the line. Garrett Gilkey is another potentially solid backup at guard.
The defensive line was Cleveland's most solid unit entering the offseason. The group has both impressive starting talent and depth.
At nose tackle, Phil Taylor is a good, if unspectacular player. Ahtyba Rubin is similar at defensive end, as he's an outstanding run defender but a lackluster pass-rusher. The team's other defensive end, Desmond Bryant, struggled some in 2013 as he dealt with injuries and a heart problem, but he is undeniably talented.
Behind those three, the Browns have an impressive duo in John Hughes and Billy Winn. Hughes is outstanding against the run, and Winn is a good pass-rusher with the ability to penetrate backfields.
Between that group, Cleveland has five players capable of starting and playing at a high level. Additionally, Cleveland has versatile linemen, some of whom are terrific against the run, and others who excel at getting after the quarterback.
The Browns also have Armonty Bryant, who, as a rookie in 2013, showed pass-rushing potential in limited playing time. Ishmaa'ily Kitchen is competent depth at nose tackle, though he could be upgraded.
Cleveland will run a 3-4 defense under head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil, so the team needs a deep linebacker unit, which it has.
At outside linebacker, the Browns go four deep. Last year's No. 6 overall pick Barkevious Mingo wasn't spectacular in 2013, but he still has tremendous potential, especially as a pass-rusher.
Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard are both established veterans capable of performing as pass-rushers and run defenders. Between Kruger, Sheard and Mingo, the Browns have three capable starters. Then, as a fourth outside linebacker, Cleveland has Quentin Groves, who excels on special teams and provides strong depth.
On the inside, the Browns aren't quite as strong. The team released D'Qwell Jackson during the offseason, choosing to replace him with Karlos Dansby. Here, Cleveland got older but also better.
The Browns also upgraded their other inside linebacker position by drafting Christian Kirksey in the third round. Craig Robertson played there last year and struggled immensely. Kirksey provides a huge improvement over Robertson, especially in coverage where Robertson was abused.
Cleveland's cornerbacks weren't even that bad in 2013, but the team still saw fit to make improvements. The most notable addition, of course, is No. 8 overall pick Justin Gilbert. However, the Browns also added Pierre Desir in the fourth round and signed Isaiah Trufant as a free agent.
With Joe Haden manning one spot, Cleveland is already off to a good start at cornerback. Haden is a tremendous athlete who can play in any defensive scheme, whether on the outside or out of the slot.
The spot opposite Haden was a bit more concerning. Buster Skrine was okay in 2013, but the 5'9" cornerback is better suited for the slot and lacks the length to play outside in Mike Pettine's defensive scheme. The same applies for last year's third-round pick, Leon McFadden.
The addition of Gilbert gives Cleveland a tremendous athlete with great size who can play on the outside. The 6'0", 200-pounder has huge playmaking ability and should be able to pick up plenty of interceptions.
Desir is a similar player, though he obviously lacks Gilbert's extreme talent. The additions of Gilbert and Desir give Pettine the press cornerbacks he needs and allow Skrine to stay inside as a nickelback, where he belongs.
In free agency, Cleveland lost Pro-Bowl safety T.J. Ward to the Denver Broncos, replacing him with another Pro-Bowler in Donte Whitner. Whitner and Ward are similar talents, though Whitner is a year older.
Next to Whitner at free safety is Tashaun Gipson. In his first year as a starter, Gipson performed above expectations, intercepting five passes. The 23-year-old displayed above-average intelligence and stepped into his role while making startlingly few errors.
While both Whitner and Gipson are solid, Cleveland's depth at safety is inexperienced. The Browns' old coaching staff liked Josh Aubrey as a strong safety, and he could develop into a good player. Jordan Poyer falls into a similar boat at free safety.
Cleveland also has Johnson Bademosi, a standout special-teamer as a backup safety. 2013 fourth-round pick Jamoris Slaughter will compete for a roster spot, but he could end up a preseason cut.
Cleveland's special teams are essentially unchanged from last season. The team re-signed Billy Cundiff as its kicker, though he was merely average in 2013. Cundiff has a big leg but lacks great accuracy.
At punter, the Browns have Spencer Lanning. Lanning is below average, but he isn't horrible, and at punter, is below average really something to get concerned over? The Browns also have their long snapper, Christian Yount, returning.
Before tearing his ACL, Travis Benjamin excelled as a return man, averaging 48.7 yards on three kickoff returns and 11.7 yards on 22 punt returns, taking one punt back for a touchdown.
Benjamin has upper-level burst and speed, and he should be an excellent return man for Cleveland if he is fully recovered from his injury.