Ranking Strength of Every Cleveland Browns Positional Unit
The Cleveland Browns had several apparent holes in their roster at the conclusion of the 2013 season, but they've since made some wise moves that will surely prove to benefit the team. They helped out just about every position of need except for wide receiver, leaving their corps of weapons pretty dry now that Josh Gordon is out of the picture for the time being.
On the brighter side of things, they helped themselves a whole lot when they drafted Justin Gilbert with their first overall selection.
Now that they have both sides of the field covered they can focus on getting after the quarterback with some riskier packages. This will open up their defensive playbook, allowing them to give opposing offenses many more looks, confusing them in the process.
There's certainly a good amount of talent on this team, but there are definitely some cracks in the armor of Cleveland.
7. Wide Receiver/Tight End
Given the impending suspension from the NFL of Josh Gordon, the Browns are left with very little talent in their receiving corps.
They made a desperate move in signing Miles Austin, who won't nearly be able to lead this group like Gordon has been. Admittedly, the Browns aren't likely to be expecting him to fully make up for the loss, but he just doesn't bring too much to the table regardless.
Past Austin, it's a pretty patchwork group of guys. We have seen some flashes of greatness from Travis Benjamin, but there are big questions as to whether or not he can handle being in a maximized role. Nate Burleson would've been a solid signing if he didn't break his arm recently, which will keep him out until training camp, via Rotoworld.
It's hard seeing this group of receivers do much for Cleveland's offense, but stranger things have happened. The sole bright spot of Cleveland's group of receivers right now is Jordan Cameron, who has really come on strong for the Browns amidst all the controversy at quarterback.
No one knows what we can expect from the group as a whole—all we know is that this makes the Ben Tate signing that much more crucial. He can help the team maintain consistency on the offensive side of the ball while it gets the passing game figured out and can surely be the workhorse runner for this team.
6. Defensive Line
The Browns defensive line certainly isn't a bad group, but it was definitely just OK in 2013.
Desmond Bishop is pretty athletic for his size and can put pressure on the quarterback but struggles against the run. Because of his lack of strength for a defensive lineman, Bishop often gets thrown around more than he should and is easily moved off the ball.
Billy Winn and John Hughes offered some relief as backups, but neither are starting-caliber players. Ahtyba Rubin had an average year in 2013, though he will benefit from having more talent around him on the defense.
The team's nose tackle, Phil Taylor, seems to unable to get over the hump of NFL mediocrity. He has been brilliant at times for Cleveland, but his inconsistency is what holds him back from being a great, more relied upon player.
This group isn't going to wow anyone, but it's still a respectable defensive line.
Linebacker is a mixed bag for the Browns, as their outside backers are the weak points, yet their inside backers are pretty good. Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard comprise one of the worst outside linebacker pairs in the league, though they both can rush the passer.
Neither player is terribly consistent, which hurt Cleveland last year. What will be the biggest help to its linebacking corps is the addition of Karlos Dansby, one of the most respected Mike linebackers in the NFL.
Third-year player Craig Robertson has also proven to be a good starter for Cleveland—he recorded 85 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
Dansby and Robertson should make for a nice combination, but Kruger and Sheard need to catch up if the Browns are to take a step forward in 2014.
The Browns' quarterback situation got a lot more interesting when they selected Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick, though he may not even end up as the starter.
Brian Hoyer really impressed me when he was the team's starter last season, and there's no telling how the season would've gone had he stayed healthy. Cleveland would've undoubtedly been a better team, though how much better is the remaining question.
Manziel certainly brings a unique set of skills to the table, but there are obvious red flags when it comes to his ability as a passer. As a football player he is tremendous, but as an actual quarterback he does lack some very key mechanics.
The argument against his lack of skill is normally based around the gaudy numbers he put up in college, but a very large part of that was him tossing up the ball to Mike Evans and him bringing it down. Not to fully take away the merit of Manziel's stats, but we must keep in mind that he will no longer have an athletic freak like Evans catching the ball for him anymore.
The jury is still out on Hoyer as a franchise quarterback, and the same could be said about Manziel, but at least there is a healthy handful of competition at the position where they need the most help.
3. Running Back
Bringing in Ben Tate will prove to be one of the smartest free-agency moves Cleveland has made in a long time. Tate will be the focal point of the team's offense in 2014 as its passing game is weakened with the loss of Josh Gordon, and he should do well as Cleveland's bell-cow runner.
Tate will also benefit from the addition of Joel Bitonio in the draft, setting him up for a great first season as a Brown. We also can't forget about the speedster back who Cleveland often keeps in the trunk, Dion Lewis.
The former Pitt Panther reminds me of a poor man's Darren Sproles, as he has a smaller stature yet is extremely fast. Lewis will be a nice change-of-pace back for Cleveland and should get more touches than he saw last season.
Terrance West, the newly drafted runner from Towson, will be the runner to watch in training camp and preseason. He's a pretty stocky runner at 5'9", 225 pounds and ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at this year's combine.
He's a durable runner who could play his way into getting some touches as the third running back, creating a loaded three-headed monster at running back for the Browns.
2. Offensive Line
Cleveland's offensive line has slowly but surely become one of the most respectable groups in all of football. Joe Thomas is arguably the best left tackle in the league, and Mitchell Schwartz makes for a pretty nice bookend on the right side of the Browns line.
On the interior, Alex Mack rules the middle of their line from the center position, with John Greco holding things down one spot to his right.
The wild card here is Joel Bitonio, who's likely to be their new left guard. Bitonio had a heck of a career at Nevada and displayed plenty of ability as an agile lineman with some sweet feet and good balance.
He should fit well into Cleveland's blocking scheme and could end up being one of the most underrated picks of this year's draft.
The Browns offensive line didn't have much talent to block for last season but should be able to help Ben Tate put numbers on the board in 2014. It's an overall solid group with a lot of young talent.
The Browns secondary was already improved after signing Donte Whitner in free agency but was bolstered even more when the team drafted Justin Gilbert with its first pick in the draft. Gilbert and Whitner are set to take over starting spots in the secondary to match with star cornerback Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson.
Whitner has a well-documented history of being a ferocious hitter on the back end of the secondary and will definitely make up for some of the punch that was lost with T.J. Ward. Gilbert also fills a huge need at cornerback, as Cleveland had been needing another talented corner to pair with Haden.
While Gilbert, Haden and Whitner seem to be the obvious headliners, don't count out Gipson as a healthy contributor just yet. In 2013 Gipson proved his worth as a starting safety in this league, tallying 95 tackles to go along with his five interceptions and 11 passes defended.
Together they form a secondary that—on paper—looks to be one of the best, youngest groups in the league.
The Browns played things extremely smart throughout this offseason and have built quite an impressive secondary along the way.