Cleveland Browns' Most Likely Postseason Award Candidates for 2014 Season
Head coach Mike Pettine is now in-charge, and with Kyle Shanahan coming along for the ride as the team's offensive coordinator, the Cleveland Browns look a completely different team entering the 2014 season.
Despite that level of change, there are still a ton of questions this coaching staff has to figure out.
For starters, will Brian Hoyer get a shot to start the year under center? Or will rookie Johnny Manziel win the job in camp and take the reins?
The less glitzy but just as important conundrum, revolves around the Browns defense. Can this unit take the next step and turn into one of the league's best with Pettine running the show?
Finally, what players have the best chance to win one of the NFL's prestigious awards at the end of the year?
It may be early, but with OTAs in session, we're able to delve through this roster and figure out some potential candidates.
Here's a look at five of those names.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Johnny Manziel
This one's obvious, right?
Assuming Manziel takes over at quarterback either before opening day or shortly after, he'll have the best shot of the all the Browns players to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
For arguments sake, you could throw third-round pick Terrance West into the conversation.
NFL Media analyst Charlie Casserly believes that West is good enough to wrestle the starting job away from free-agent halfback Ben Tate:
"2,500 yards last year and a natural in the zone-running scheme that Kyle Shanahan runs. Here's my prediction: This guy is going to beat out Ben Tate to be the starting running back this year," Casserly said, per NFL.com's Bryan Fischer.
The problem is, even if he does wind up becoming the team's No. 1 option, Tate will get his touches. That factor alone will diminish West's chances of winning the award.
Manziel has the best odds of winning because he'll logically receive the most touches. Even if the Browns decide to run the ball, Johnny Football will still have to chuck the pigskin around if this team wants to win games in a tough division.
He's a dual-threat quarterback with sensational instincts. Instincts that are so good, they could put his numbers on a pedestal despite not having an explosive wide receiving corps to work with.
The battle at quarterback is heating up like summertime in Texas right now.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi talked about Manziel's progress thus far saying, "Manziel has impressed coaches with his ability to learn from mistakes. So when Manziel’s errors are corrected in post-practice film study, he generally rebounds splendidly. All the public attention focused on Manziel is hard enough for Hoyer to stomach."
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Justin Gilbert
If the odds are in Manziel's favor to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert is the polar opposite.
Since Charles Woodson snagged the award back in 1998, there hasn't been a single cornerback named Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Staggering when you think about the amount of quality cornerbacks who have shuffled through the NFL since that year.
You could push for first-year linebacker Christian Kirksey as a dark-horse candidate to win the award. However, regardless of the odds stacked against him, Gilbert's talent still makes him the favorite.
The Browns need cornerbacks who can lock down wide receivers.
Gilbert's athletic ability, combined with his sensational ball-hawking skills, gives this secondary a devastating combo of top-flight defensive backs capable of achieving that feat.
Coach Pettine got his man when the team selected Gilbert eighth overall—Vic Carucci of ClevelandBrowns.com tweeted about Pettine wanting "the tallest" first-round cornerback, per Bleacher Report's Andrea Hangst.
In order for Gilbert to become the first cornerback to win the award since Woodson, it will come down to what the Browns' defensive scheme looks like.
Assuming the coaching staff decides that Haden will always shadow an opposing team's top pass-catcher, Gilbert's chances for high-end production should increase.
As a point of reference, Woodson's rookie season looked like this: 61 tackles, five interceptions and one defensive touchdown.
That's going to be one tall mountain to climb for a 22-year-old rookie.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jordan Cameron
Josh Gordon's impending suspension puts the weight of the Browns offense on the back of tight end Jordan Cameron.
Last season with Norv Turner—a known tight end aficionado—calling the plays, Cameron was able to enjoy a breakout year.
With 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns to his credit, his 2013 season ended with a trip to the Pro Bowl.
As impressive a season as that was, Cameron should be able to exceed those numbers in 2014.
Coach Shanahan's offensive schemes have historically been tight end-friendly. Dating back to his time as the Houston Texans offensive coordinator up until he joined his father Mike Shanahan in Washington, tight ends have always been a major part of his play-calling regimen.
Above anything else, Cameron's production should be revved up due to the fact that Gordon is facing a lengthy suspension.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi elaborated:
There is no doubt the Shanahan offense will commit to running the ball. Shanahan’s zone-blocking run scheme and the additions to the run game (backs Ben Tate and Terrance West, and guard Joel Bitonio) will force defenses to move a safety into the tackling box. Because if they don’t, Shanahan and Pettine will be content to run all day. So when defenses commit their safety to the run, Cameron will have greater opportunity to beat single coverage down the field.
It'll be tough for Cameron to take home Offensive Player of the Year honors because of his position. But if anyone has a shot at winning the award on this roster, it's the former USC product.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joe Haden
In Cleveland, it's Joe Haden over everything.
Fresh off another impressive season, the 25-year-old cornerback just inked a mega-deal to remain in an orange helmet for the next five years.
Haden is the anchor of this defense. Anytime you can find a cornerback capable of shadowing wide receivers, it's a gift in today's NFL.
Among the elite defensive backs, Haden is more than capable of holding his own.
Checking in on Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 2013 metrics, once again he found a way to remain a constant in their positional rankings.
Haden's going to be in for a battle if he wants to hoist that Defensive Player of the Year trophy come season's end.
Apart from all of the elite defenders lining up elsewhere on the gridiron, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis will provide heavy competition at the cornerback position.
The wild card here for Haden is going to be the play of Justin Gilbert.
Haden is a big fan of the Oklahoma State rookie. He told Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com, "He was the No. 1 dude I had on the board as a cornerback."
If Gilbert is able to produce right away, team's won't have the luxury of avoiding Haden like the plague, which in-turn will give him a chance to make more plays.
Comeback Player of the Year: Brian Hoyer
The NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award was tailor-made for quarterbacks. Since 2002, 10 signal-callers have walked away winners.
Coming off an ACL injury, Brian Hoyer is an ideal candidate to continue the rich tradition of the award.
But that won't happen unless he has the wherewithal to hold off Johnny Manziel this summer.
Hoyer's quest to reclaim the starting job he lost after suffering a cataclysmic knee injury is all the veteran QB can think about.
"It’s always in the back of my mind and that’s why I push myself as hard as I can to be as ready as I can,” he told Scott Petrak of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.
If Hoyer's able to walk away with the starting gig come September, he'll have an excellent shot to be named Comeback Player of the Year.