Updated 53-Man Roster Predictions for the Cleveland Browns
By the afternoon of August 30 all teams must have their rosters cut down to 53 players. It is extremely ironic that on Labor Day weekend hundreds of people will be out of jobs in the NFL. That is just the way it goes, however.
The starters for the Browns are set, but there is still plenty of room for maneuvering at the backup positions. That is what makes the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears so important Thursday night.
It is the last shot for players to make an impression on the coaching staff. It will also be a little tougher than usual, as head coach Mike Pettine plans on playing most of his starters around a quarter.
Before we see the players' last gasp at making the team, let’s make our final 53-man roster prediction.
There will be fans who want to see rookie Connor Shaw make the squad this season, but it just cannot happen. He will be a victim of circumstance more than anything else.
Despite the fact that veteran Rex Grossman has not taken a snap for the Browns this preseason, he will make the roster simply to help the young quarterbacks in the meeting room.
If either Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel had played fantastic then maybe Shaw would have been the third quarterback kept. The fact they both struggled so much highlights the need for Grossman and his five years experience in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system.
The top of the list at running back is certainly no surprise, as the big free-agent signing of Ben Tate and third-round draft pick Terrance West will make the team. After that is where the surprises begin.
The entire length of training camp I believed Dion Lewis would not make the team because of his blocking struggles and the talent of undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell. Well, Crowell has gotten very little work this preseason, and Lewis has earned himself quite a few snaps.
During the third preseason game Lewis got three carries, which was just as many as Tate. His blocking has improved markedly, and he seems poised to make the team as a change-of-pace weapon out of the backfield.
Ray Agnew should also make the squad on the strength of his blocking from the fullback position. He has really impressed throughout training camp and the preseason games.
I have the Browns keeping seven wide receivers, but only three of them are ready to make a real contribution in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rest of the group is either unproven because of experience or unproven because of injury.
Nate Burleson finally returned to action this week, and the only reason he will make the team is because there is no one else to take that spot. Burleson has experience in the league but has battled a hamstring injury nearly the entire offseason.
Between Willie Snead, Taylor Gabriel and Charles Johnson there is very little experience and a lot of unknown. I would not be surprised if one or more of these names are replaced by players cut from other NFL training camps.
The tight end position is fairly clear-cut this season. Obviously Jordan Cameron is on the squad and will be leaned upon heavily to help carry the offensive workload.
The second spot is between Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray. Each has spent some time injured this offseason, and it is a very close battle. I still feel Dray will end up snagging the backup spot because he is a better blocker and just about as good of a pass-catcher.
MarQueis Gray will also make the roster because of his versatility. We have seen him featured in the offense throughout the preseason, and that should continue into the games that actually mean something.
The Browns will carry more offensive linemen than normal because of the questions that still remain after an entire offseason. The team tried to create depth at the guard position but ended up with another group who leaves something to be desired.
John Greco and Joel Bitonio won the starting guard spots, but the line has still struggled. Bitonio looks good and will probably continue to get better as his rookie season gets underway. Greco, on the other hand, has looked mediocre and old.
Once again this is a spot where the Browns could snag a player or two from other teams after roster cuts come down.
There was quite a bit of jostling and rotating on the offensive line, but in the end it remained status quo. Everyone who will make the team this season was on the squad last year.
While guys like undrafted rookie free agent Jacobbi McDaniel pushed hard to snag a roster spot, the depth and talent here was too much to overcome. The other reason the team would not rush a guy like McDaniel onto the roster is because it should be able to sneak him onto the newly expanded practice squad.
Perhaps the most impressive piece of the defensive line this offseason was Armonty Bryant. The kid who was selected with a seventh-round pick last season has quickly turned into a guy the team has to get snaps because of his pass-rushing ability.
As always the roster will be linebacker-heavy. This is because the special teams needs extra bodies but also because the depth at inside linebacker is less than ideal.
Karlos Dansby has been as impressive as advertised when he was signed this offseason. The other spot has been handled by Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey. Many, including myself, thought that those two would rotate in the position since Kirksey is more of a cover linebacker, and that is Robertson’s weakness.
It now looks like Kirksey has a shot of becoming the starting inside linebacker next to Dansby. He has had a great offseason and is much better against the run than originally anticipated.
The Browns had depth issues at cornerback toward the end of last season, and this year they hope to have alleviated that problem. The fix has certainly been put to the test.
During the third preseason game both Joe Haden and Buster Skrine did not play, which heaped playing time upon rookie Justin Gilbert and second-year player Leon McFadden. They not only struggled; they were abused.
Gilbert should improve because he is a rookie with very high upside who was seeing his first real playing time in the NFL. McFadden is much more worrisome.
He did not look good last season either and will be thrust into a position where he will need to play if anyone becomes injured. Pierre Desir, a guy who this regime really liked when it selected him in the fourth round, has been injured nearly the entire preseason and has not been able to contribute anything.
One of the better positions on the team looks to be safety. Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson are as formidable a starting duo as you will find in the NFL.
The backups, Jim Leonhard and Jordan Poyer, can certainly step in for a short amount of time but would be exposed if there was a long-term injury to a starter. Health will be of the utmost importance this season for the Browns at the safety position.
Leonhard is old, and Poyer is inexperienced. Then again, it is a rarity to find backups who can step in and do exactly what the starters can do.
The Browns special teams unit looks much stronger heading into the 2014 season than it did heading into last year.
There were questions surrounding Billy Cundiff, who had some big misses in his career, and Spencer Lanning was very unproven at the punter position. Now, however, Cundiff has been the model of consistency, nailing all seven of his attempts this preseason, and Lanning has posted a very respectable 41 yards-per-punt average.
Rounding out the special teams unit is a very solid long snapper and one of the funniest guys in the NFL, Christian Yount.