Predicting the Last 5 In, First 5 out for the Cleveland Browns Final 53
Predicting the final 53-man roster for an NFL team before training camp is almost as tough as predicting the sex of a baby right after the first positive test. In other words, it’s pretty much impossible. It is even more difficult when you look at the Cleveland Browns
When a new coaching staff takes over, training camps are unpredictable. Coaches tend to enter the scenario with a clean slate and are willing to let anyone impress them. This should make for some wide-open training camp battles. That also means there will be some surprises on and off the roster.
It is also tough to predict because the Browns can and will make moves as players are released from other teams. The Browns might even release a player or two themselves because of salary-cap implications.
The other wild card in the whole scenario is the fact that we still have no idea if wide receiver Josh Gordon will be suspended. And if he is, for how long?
Taking all that into account, it is time for a very preliminary look at the last five in and the last five out for the 2014 Cleveland Browns. Consider this a progress report heading into training camp—after that, expect the unexpected.
Last 5 In: Chandler Jones
With all the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon, there is a golden opportunity for someone to snag a receiver spot. Right now that guy is Chandler Jones. He has been impressive throughout rookie training camp and OTAs.
Jones seems like the guy, at least amongst the rookies, who is most ready to jump into an NFL game. The video game numbers he posted at San Jose State don’t seem like a fluke so far. He is on his way to a roster spot despite being undrafted.
“@The_RichG: How do the WRs look so far? Any diamonds in the rough?”// Maybe Chandler Jones.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) June 27, 2014
Last 5 In: MarQueis Gray
The versatile tight end could not find a consistent role in Rob Chudzinski’s offense last season but seems poised to find a place in 2014. Last year he was buried behind a “Chudzinski guy” in Gary Garnidge and also battled injuries.
Gray is a tight end by trade but has been making the transition to fullback this offseason. Not only has he added some weight, but he is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Gray was a mobile quarterback at the University of Minnesota.
“They used to have me play tight end and fullback all together,” Gray told George Thomas of the Akron Beacon-Journal. “Now [recently] they told me to start focusing a little bit more on fullback throughout the finish of this camp just to get more reps.”
Last 5 In: Jacobbi McDaniel
I can almost feel Browns fans Googling this name as I type. I wrote on Tuesday that he could be a prime candidate for the practice squad, but upon crunching the numbers I think he has a shot at making the roster.
Call it a hunch, but McDaniel has big-time talent that never truly prospered in college. At Florida State, he never lived up to his billing as one of the best recruits in the country, and that was mostly because of injury.
Well now he is healthy, and if he puts together a good training camp, he could snag a spot on the team and possibly cause a surprising roster cut. Another key here is versatility. McDaniel told the Florida State Seminoles' website that he was open to a position change in the NFL. He even said he would consider playing fullback.
Last 5 In: Tyler Thigpen
The Browns could very easily go with just two quarterbacks on their roster this season, but I think Thigpen makes the cut anyway. He will not be expected to play, however. He will be inactive every week and holding a clipboard on the sidelines.
Thigpen’s quality playing days are behind him. In fact, he may have never really had any quality playing days, but that does not mean he couldn't help the Browns if called upon.
Brian Hoyer has just four NFL starts and Johnny Manziel is just entering the league. Thigpen is the perfect guy to have around in the quarterback meetings and going over defenses on the sidelines.
Thinking through the game was never his problem. He just has an issue with that whole NFL talent thing.
Last 5 In: Isaiah Crowell
The running back position will be one of the most interesting to observe throughout training camp. In just one offseason, the Browns went from the worst backfield in the NFL to possibly one of the deepest. One thing is for sure, someone with quite a bit of talent is getting cut from this team.
I don’t think Isaiah Crowell will be that guy. He is just too physically talented to keep off the roster. He has matured and seems ready to continue taking football seriously like he has been the past two seasons.
Something tells me that in a few years fans will be looking back at this offseason in awe of the fact the Browns acquired both Terrance West and Crowell. After being injured for rookie camp, Crowell returned for OTAs and looks ready to compete with the big boys in training camp. If he gets reps in the preseason, then he should win a spot.
First 5 Out: Dion Lewis
If Isaiah Crowell is part of the last five in, then another talented back has to be a part of the last five out. That guy is Dion Lewis.
Lewis was electric throughout the beginning of training camp and quickly made himself a fan favorite. That was until he was lost for the year with a knee injury.
Even though Lewis may be back and ready to compete, the backfield is crowded. He will need to show he can block as well as run and that has never been his strong suit.
"@ebyoder is Dion Lewis able to participate in ota's yet? If so how does he look? // Right now, he's 3rd behind Tate and West.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) May 29, 2014
Lewis took reps as the third back in OTAs but those will continue to diminish as the Browns see what Crowell can do with increased carries. Lewis will end up being the odd man out in this numbers game.
First 5 Out: Reid Fragel
Throughout OTAs, former Ohio State lineman Reid Fragel was taking reps for All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on the first team when he needed a breather. That made many believe he was a lock to make the roster. Not so fast.
While he certainly has a chance, he will need to beat out Martin Wallace, a 24-year-old who gained valuable playing time last season. Wallace has NFL tape and Fragel does not. Also, Wallace is the backup tackle on the right side, whereas Fragel is on the left.
Thomas has never missed a game at left tackle.
Offensive line will end up being another numbers game that will leave a talented young lineman out in the cold. Both Paul McQuistan and John Greco can play multiple positions, which gives the coaching staff flexibility. They can carry fewer linemen and beef up weaker parts of the roster.
Unfortunately for Buckeyes fans, right now Fragel is on the outside looking in.
First 5 Out: Willie Snead
To make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent you have to be darn near perfect. Willie Snead is trying to do just that but has not gotten the perfection part down as of yet.
Willie Snead toasted Haden deep in 1on1s. Perfectly thrown ball from Hoyer...and Snead dropped it.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) June 3, 2014
Snead has made some nice plays, but they have been counterbalanced by drops. He is another guy who sees the opportunity to snag a spot because of the looming Josh Gordon suspension. Sometimes that makes players rise to the occasion. Other times that pressure will break them.
Snead still has all of training camp to make grab ahold of a roster spot but he will be starting it from the outside.
First 5 Out: Gary Barnidge
The guy that Rob Chudzinski brought in last season to not only play tight end but also be his eyes and ears in the locker room will not have either of those jobs in 2014. Gary Barnidge will be pushed to the side because of recently signed Jim Dray and the versatile MarQueis Gray.
Barnidge just does not do anything particularly well. He is an average blocker, average pass-catcher, does not have great speed and runs routes like a tight end from the 1980s.
If he were able to reinvent himself as a lead blocking tight end he would have a better shot but even then he would be going against Dray. Dray is coming off of a 26-reception season and has far superior blocking skills from the tight end position.
Barnidge has a place in the NFL—it just probably won’t be in Cleveland.
First 5 Out: Leon McFadden
That’s right, the third-round draft pick from one season ago will not make the Browns roster, as much as it pains me to say it. And it isn't because it was a wasted draft pick. Rather, he has little to no chance in head coach Mike Pettine’s defense.
Pettine likes big corners who are physical and can play on an island. McFadden is built like Joe Haden, just without the elite coverage skills. The drafting of Pierre Desir was essentially the death march for McFadden in Cleveland.
McFadden is 5’10”, 190 pounds while Desir walks around at 6’2”, 205 pounds. That is a huge difference at cornerback. The crazy part is that McFadden did not have an awful rookie campaign. He just did not have a very good one either.
He looked lost for a large portion of last year, and by the time he started to seem comfortable, the season was over. His poor rookie year and the change in defense will mean a ticket out of town for the young man from San Diego State.