Cleveland Browns: Top 10 Most Reliable Players
Every NFL team has those guys that coaches and fans just KNOW they can rely on. The Colts trust Peyton Manning to be the leader of their offense, the Arizona Cardinals trust Larry Fitzgerald to catch anything thrown his way, and the Tennessee Titans trust Chris Johnson to lead their rushing attack.
So who can the Browns trust when the season starts...?
#10 RB Jerome Harrison
After a QB rotation usually only seen in pre-season and some underwhelming performances by starter Jamal Lewis, Harrison got his chance. After making the most out of limited attempts earlier in his career, Harrison was the key to the Browns closing the season with four straight wins.
Rushing for over five-hundred sixty yards and five touchdowns in Browns last three games, Harrison showed he can be more than just a change-of-pace back. He was also the Browns most consistent receiver, tying Mohammed Massaquoi for a team high 34 receptions.
Some might question him being on this list when he also has a lot to prove. I wrote more about him in my last article: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/395308-top-ten-browns-players-with-something-to-prove-in-2010, but for now he is the most reliable weapon the Browns have.
#9 C Alex Mack
After just one season in the league Alex Mack has earned a starting spot and kept it. It was a difficult decision deciding who to put in this spot, Mack or Eric Steinbach, but after asking a few other Browns fans Mack was the choice.
There were many groans during the 2009 draft after the Browns finally picked an offensive lineman. Many were hoping for a more exciting player like Ohio State's Beanie Wells, but once the season started Mack proved he was worth the pick.
After taking over for the veteran Hank Fraley, the pass blocking improved at the position immediately, and after some initial problems with snaps those improved as well. By the end of the season Mack became the second most reliable player on the offensive line. The Browns will look for him to continue his improvement during his second season.
#8 CB Sheldon Brown
The only player on this list that is new to the team, Brown is a veteran cornerback who has proven his value with the Philidelphia Eagles.
Playing in every game the past eight seasons, Brown will give Eric Wright the first veteran opposite him since Leigh Bodden was traded to Detroit. Coming off a career-highfive interception season, it is clear Brown still has plenty of gas in the tank.
#7 P Dave Zastudil
The punting game me be one of the most underappreciated parts of football, but it can be very important in close games. Browns fans don't need to look any further than the 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills this past season. With high winds and not much offense for either team Dave Zastudil was able to consistently pin the Bills deep in their own territory.
Zastudil actually played so well that game a Sports Illustrated story on punters claimed the headline should have read "Zastudil Beats Bills."
It wasn't just that one game that has him on this list though, before his arrival the Browns had problems at the position after Chris Gardocki left. With inconsistent play and shanked punts at the worst times, the punting game was a disaster. As a guy without any of those problems, Zastudil was a welcome addition to the team.
#6 FB Lawrence Vickers
A 7th round draft pick in 2006, Vickers suplanted a good fullback in Terelle Smith his second season and improved the position immediately. Leading the way for Jamal Lewis in 2007, Vickers was a major key to the Browns 10-6 season.
Last season he also played a role in the Browns four-game winning streak, leading the way for Jerome Harrison and Josh Cribbs. He received a lot of praise for his performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, when he was a key blocker for both Cribbs' and Harrison's record breaking performances.
Fullback may be considered a dying position, but for three years now Vickers has demonstrated how valuable a good one can be.
#5 CB Eric Wright
With Josh Cribbs being undrafted, a strong argument can be made for Wright being the Browns best value pick since 1999. An immediate starter his rookie season, he has improved each year and hasbecome the Browns best defensive back by a mile.
Like Sheldon Brown, Wright also had a career high in interceptions in 2009. His numbers have also been consistent, with just one less tackle in 2009 than 2008, and one more inteception.
But it isn't just his play that is reliable, you can also count on his toughness. Just two days before a game against the Green Bay Packers Wright was involved in a car accident. Despite rolling his car, he started that game and recorded four tackles.
Now, with key additions such as Brown, Joe Haden, and T.J. Ward, this offseason Wright should have the best help of his career.
#4 KR/PR Josh Cribbs
Many people have said Cribbs is the face of the Browns, and he has done everything (literally) to earn that role. From returning kicks to throwing passes, Cribbs has seen time at more positions than just about anyone in the league.
But it is his returns that have him so high on this list. As a two-time Pro-Bowler for his work, Cribbs has proven he is the best in the league. After a two touchdown game against the Kasas City Chiefs last season he holds the record for career kick return TDs.
But his scoring potential isn't why he's here either, he is considered such a reliable player because every time he touches the ball the Browns offense can count on starting with good field position. Cribbs has had one of the highest return averages in the NFL, including a league leading 30.7 yards per return in 2007 .
#3 LS Ryan Pontbriand
No list of reliable players would be complete without Pontbriand, who during his time in Cleveland has pretty much defined the word. A fifth round draft, Ponbriand has spent seven season with the Browns without a single botched snap.
After the team posted a winning record in 2007 Pontbriand finally got the credit he deserved, being named to the Pro Bowl. He followed that honor by earning another Pro Bowl for his play during the 2008 season.
#2 LT Joe Thomas
It isn't often a player makes three Pro Bowls each of their first three years in the league, and even less common for someone on a losing team for two of those seasons to do it. That is exactly what Joe Thomas has done, and people have noticed.
With his continued high level of play Browns QBs don't have to worry about pressure from their blindside, so they can focus on getting their pass to an open receiver. While pass protection is his best attribute, you also see many of the Brown's long runs going to his side.
#1 K Phil Dawson
Still the only player left from the 1999 expansion team, Dawson has proven his worth season after season. He has kicked game winners under pressure and made field goals in the most difficult weather.
Even with the infamous swirling winds of Cleveland Browns stadium Dawson has managed to be one of the 10 most accurate kickers in NFL history. He is 3rd on the Browns all-time points list behind Hall of Fame kicker Lou Groza and a little more than one hundred points behind Don Cockroft for 2nd.
Despite never making a Pro Bowl, Dawson has been one of the leagues best kickers over the last ten years, and he continues to be the most reliable player the Browns have had over that time period.
As always there are a lot of questions about this team, if something goes wrong these are the ten guys the coaches can count on to make it right.
Thank you for reading.
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*All stats from NFL.com player pages