Ranking Cleveland Browns' Most Irreplaceable Players
There's a litany of good players to choose from, but there are a select few who are truly worthy of the moniker of being irreplaceable. Joe Thomas is one player who is worth a whole lot to this team.
In 2013, Thomas protected whichever mediocre quarterback Cleveland threw behind him but always blocked as if he had Peyton Manning there.
On the other side of the ball is Joe Haden, who is largely considered to be a top-10 cornerback in this league. Haden has provided a reliable blanket of coverage for the Browns week after week, and they would've surely done worse had he not been playing.
When measuring the level of importance and irreplaceability that comes with a player, you must consider the adverse impact his absence would have on the team's output. Not only that, but also who would have to step up behind him if he was to go down with injury.
Consistency is the name of the game in the NFL, and each of these eight guys helps maintain a consistent team performance in every game.
8. Jabaal Sheard, OLB
Jabaal Sheard is becoming a pillar of Cleveland's young but maturing defense. The rising fourth-year pro led the team in sacks last year with 5.5 and made an impact on almost every play he was on the field for.
Sheard does lack in some areas—mainly in coverage and as an open-field tackler—but makes up for his flaws with his pass-rushing ability and efficiency against opposing runners.
He's gotten progressively better throughout his career thus far and will undoubtedly be developed well by the Browns' new, defensive-minded coach, Mike Pettine.
7. Brian Hoyer, QB
Brian Hoyer played very well as the team's starter last season and is its best option as a starter as we head into the 2014 season. Drafting Johnny Manziel in the first round certainly locked in a level of commitment to the quarterback, but the Browns could easily sit him this season and let him get his bearings as Hoyer's backup.
That being said, there is definitely a chance Manziel beats out former the New England Patriot. But given Johnny Football's off-field shenanigans and his lack of mechanics as a passer, Hoyer is that much more important to Cleveland's success.
He won't have the best receiving corps, but he could definitely make some magic happen. Hoyer is a pretty good quarterback who we haven't really seen get into a groove yet, but he will have a chance to strut his stuff in 2014.
6. Mitchell Schwartz, LT
Mitchell Schwartz doesn't get a whole lot of shine due to the fact that he's across from one of the league's best linemen in Joe Thomas, but he is a very important part of the offense. He is a great bookend to Thomas and helps round out an offensive line that has played well despite not having much talent to block for in recent years.
Now that Cleveland has a legitimate runner in Ben Tate, it will be able to build its passing game off its running game, an attack that will be spearheaded by the Browns' stud O-line. The interior linemen definitely do their part in terms of blocking, but it's clear Schwartz and Thomas are the leaders along the front lines.
Without Schwartz, Cleveland would be stuck with starting rookie Joel Bitonio who simply is not ready to start for an NFL team. Schwartz holds things down and—most importantly—doesn't make too many stupid decisions.
5. Donte Whitner, S
Cleveland took a big loss when T.J. Ward went over to the Denver Broncos via free agency, but it got itself a star to replace him. Donte Whitner is widely regarded as one of the best defensive backs in the league and will be a more than worthy replacement for Ward.
Whitner is not only good in coverage, but excels as a tackler. He can lay a big hit on receivers but also stays poised when chasing a guy down in space. Admittedly, he's not the best safety in the league, but he is a pretty great football player and can track guys down in the open field.
He also adds veteran talent to a position that is rich in talent but is still very young. Jordan Poyer and Tashaun Gipson are tremendous prospects who will surely develop into reliable players, but Whitner provides stability and dependability on a defense that needs all the help it can get.
Whitner is a great player who will help lead this team in the right direction and (hopefully) bring some of that winning spirit over to Cleveland.
4. Jordan Cameron, TE
On an offense that lacked much firepower outside of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron really stepped up and played well for the Browns last season. Cameron recorded 80 catches for 917 yards and a whopping seven touchdowns, coming in second on the team in all those categories.
Especially with Gordon's impending suspension, Cameron's ability as a receiver could be what saves this passing game. Now that Cleveland has beefed up its running back stable it only needs a little bit of consistency from its passing game.
Of course the more productive the better, but the Browns could definitely build this offense around the run and feature a select few receivers on less passing plays, hopefully opening things up for this offense to explode.
3. Josh Gordon, WR*
There's little doubt Josh Gordon is one of the best receivers in this league, but his name requires an asterisk because of his off-field issues. If Gordon could just clean up his act and stay out of trouble, then there's no way he wouldn't continue to grow and perform well.
He was one of the few bright spots on the roster last season and leaves a gaping hole at receiver now that he's going to miss some games.
The Browns have signed a couple OK receivers to hopefully patch up the hole left by him, but many question whether Miles Austin and Nate Burleson could even add up to Gordon's impact.
Regardless, the impact of not having Gordon in the lineup is clear and truly defines him as an irreplaceable player.
2. Joe Haden, CB
Joe Haden has proved himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league and has led the secondary of the Browns ever since being drafted by them. Haden is an inarguable star on the defensive side of the ball and makes his presence felt in every game.
He's tremendous in coverage and can match up well with most receivers. He's extremely athletic, which allows him to take risks in coverage that others could not.
If something were to happen to Haden and he got injured (knock on wood), the Browns would be left with rookie Justin Gilbert and the ever-so-"eh" Isaiah Trufant as their starters—that's a losing combination they won't have to worry about as long as Haden is around.
1. Joe Thomas, LT
Joe Thomas is without question the best player on Cleveland's roster.
He's building a Hall of Fame career game after game and is one of the best in the league at his position. B/R's Matt Miller even labeled Thomas as the "perfect technician when it comes to pass blocking."
Thomas is a stalwart lineman who is the definition of irreplaceable for the Browns. He is truly one of the best tackles in all of football and would be hard to replace on any team—there are really not many left tackles better than him.
Thomas has been nothing short of stellar since being drafted by Cleveland a few years back and is part of an elite class of players within the NFL. Behind him, there's very little talent at the left tackle position, so his starting means a whole lot more to the team than just losing its starter.