Cleveland Browns: Projecting the 2011 Depth Chart, Version 2
It's tough to predict the Browns 2011 depth chart this far in advance, especially given that lockout conditions have prevented team-organized offseason workouts and activity in free agency.
But with the draft now complete, we're one step closer to putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. This is an update of the depth chart I created prior to the draft and reflects where the new draftees fit into the Browns' big picture as well as changes suggested by commenters.
The hierarchy at some positions has become much clearer after the draft, while other spots still have a large degree of uncertainty. Regardless, we're' now one step closer to knowing what the depth chart might look like on the first day of the 2011 season.
As always, your opinions on the matter are highly valued, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!
1. Running Backs
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Running back wasn't a position where we expected much to change on the depth chart going into the draft, but the addition of FB Owen Marecic ended up shifting things around here—in a good way.
In my initial rollout of the depth chart, I talked about how this was one of the few positions Browns fans don't need to worry over, and that's probably even more true now.
Hillis is obviously at the top of the depth chart and he's followed by Mike Bell at the moment, though provided Montario Hardesty is healthy, he should quickly move into the second slot and give the Browns a killer one-two punch in their ground game.
With the draft of Marecic, it looks like we'll be bidding farewell to Lawrence Vickers. I'll miss Vickers and I respect him immensely, but I believe the addition of Marecic will ultimately be an upgrade. We now have a fullback who can block AND catch. I believe he'll be great in goal-line situations and he brings a little something extra to the table in that he can play defense as well.
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The quarterback position is pretty much set on the depth chart, with McCoy starting, Wallace as the backup and Delhomme as the lawn ornament. Er, third-stringer.
If McCoy stays healthy, there are no problems here. If he were to be injured, the Browns could have a big problem on their hands. Wallace can handle the backup job adequately if it's only a game or two, but I'm not sure I'd want to see the offense in his hands all season long if something were to happen to McCoy.
Still, as backups go, he isn't awful, and he's certainly better than Delhomme. And Delhomme does have a function on this team; he's already proven to be an excellent mentor for McCoy. I don't really want to see him on the field ever again, but I love what he brings to the table in terms of guiding McCoy.
So, no changes here from the first version of the depth chart as a result of the draft. One addition that should be made, however, is the inclusion of the fourth quarterback on the Browns roster, Jarrett Brown.
While it seems unlikely that the Browns will carry four quarterbacks throughout the season, there's a good chance Brown ultimately ends up the third-stringer instead of Delhomme, and could be the go-to guy if McCoy and Wallace were both sidelined with injuries.
3. Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
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The draft resulted in some potential big shifts on the depth chart for the Browns at both WR and TE.
The selection of TE Jordan Cameron isn't necessarily going to shake up the hierarchy at his position, but it definitely adds some serious depth at a position where the Browns didn't have much of a plan B.
Ben Watson remains the top TE on the roster and should see the majority of the playing time at that position.
After that, how things shake out may depend largely on Evan Moore's health. If Moore were to be able to stay healthy, he'll likely be the second TE on the depth chart with Cameron following him in the third slot. Given Moore's injury history though, there's a good chance he misses at least part of the season with health issues, which means the rookie Cameron could find himself as Ben Watson's backup or as his bookend should the Browns use a two-TE formation.
There's also some merit in the idea of using Moore more as a slot receiver, which would also open up more playing time for Cameron at TE.
The WR situation changed as a result of the draft too, but it's more difficult to determine how the depth chart will really shake out at the start of the season there.
As it stands, Mohamed Massaquoi remains the Browns No. 1 receiver, but the addition of Greg Little could change that eventually and certainly changes how things look behind him on the depth chart. Coach Shurmur made comments after the draft indicating that Little could wind up being the Browns No. 1, but the job will be Massaquoi's to lose.
I expect Little to push him, but not necessarily swipe his job.
I do, however, expect to see Little land at least in the No. 2 slot, pushing Brian Robiskie back to third. Hopefully, this will push Robiskie to take his game to the next level. I think he can function adequately in a West Coast offense, but he's going to have to step it up if he wants to compete with MoMass and Little.
Behind those three, there is wild-card Carlton Mitchell, whose speed and potential suggest he could be a valuable contributor in heavy receiver sets, and Haggerty is still around as well. If he's fully healed from injury, he could be in the mix too.
4. Offensive Line
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As discussed in the previous depth chart rollout, the Browns offensive line has a lot of issues, particularly on the right side. Not much attention was paid to this in the draft, where the only O-line guy the Browns picked up was Jason Pinkston, who for now looks like he'll be in a backup spot on the depth chart.
The left side of the line is stocked with talent in terms of starters with Joe Thomas at left tackle, Eric Steinbach at left guard and Alex Mack at center. The problem over there is there isn't really much depth beyond that. If someone gets injured, even the left side of the line could have major problems.
The right side, as we've discussed many times, is a mess. Pinkston provides some depth and could even possibly get in as a starter, given the problems with the incumbents. If Tony Pashos and Shawn Lauvao are healthy, the Browns could do a great job of protecting Colt from the right side. But that's a big IF.
Billy Yates is still in the mix and could step up this season, and it's possible that Porkchop Womack could return, but his age and deteriorating skills suggest that ideally he should only be retained in a backup role. Suffice it to say that the Browns need to, at the very least, build up some depth for the O-line when free agency opens up if they don't want McCoy to spend a good bit of the season flat on his back.
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My dreams of a super-powered, elite pair of CBs reminiscent of Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield died when Patrick Peterson was off the board in the draft before the Browns made their first selection.
Still, the secondary is far from a major problem area for the Browns. Joe Haden quickly established himself as one of the league's best corners in his rookie campaign, and he's followed by Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown on the depth chart, both of whom have some concerns attached to them but also have potential to succeed.
Brown is certainly serviceable, but his age means he carries some injury risk and probably won't see as much time on the field as some of the younger guys. Eric Wright had a lot of problems (many of them all in his head) last season, and it remains to be seen whether he can conquer those and hold down the second CB spot.
The Browns drafted CB Buster Skrine, which should help with depth concerns at CB at the very least and to keep the secondary from getting overwhelmed against teams that run out big receiver sets.
If there is an injury or if Skrine adjusts quickly to the NFL, he could even find himself a starter at some point later in the season. Coye Francies, Nick Sorensen and Ray Ventrone are also in the mix.
At safety, T.J. Ward is of course at the top of the list. After that, things get a little hazy. Hopefully, the Browns will bring back Abe Elam, who played well at the end of last season. It's possible that Brown could move over to safety as well if he isn't needed as a CB, and I urge you to keep an eye on seventh-round pick Eric Hagg as well.
Hagg was a steal in the seventh and while it's unlikely that he'll start, he adds some legitimate depth to the position and may be surprisingly useful in his rookie campaign and will certainly have a shot at a starting job down the road.
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Linebacker was a questionable area entering the draft for the Browns and given the lack of attention paid to the position on draft day, it remains as such.
There are certainly some bright spots among the Browns LB corps, with Scott Fujita providing strong veteran leadership and Marcus Benard being a far better player than he often gets credit for. Matt Roth has mostly played well for the Browns, but his attitude and financial demands suggest that he probably won't be back.
D'Qwell Jackson and Chris Gocong both have the potential to round out the linebacking corps, but neither is a proven commodity just yet. And even if Fujita, Benard, Jackson and Gocong all pan out, there isn't much depth at the position if someone is injured.
Acquiring at least one more LB should be a top priority for the Browns whenever free agency opens up.
7. DE, NT and DT
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Entering the draft, the defensive line was perhaps the shakiest area of the team for the Browns. They did an excellent job improving that in this year's draft.
Picking up DT Phil Taylor and DE Jabaal Sheard in the first and second rounds, respectively, added two starters to a line that had no guaranteed starters prior to the draft aside from NT Ahtyba Rubin.
Rubin and Taylor up the middle should help the Browns tremendously in stonewalling the run up the middle, and Sheard's blocking and aggression should contribute hugely to the pass rush.
Obviously, that still leaves some holes on the line. Brian Schaefering looks like he could be a big contributor, and Robaire Smith will get a shot as well, though he's probably a backup at best.
That means that while the Browns did an excellent job of beefing up the line on draft day (literally, in Taylor's 334-lb. case), they still have a lot of work to do. Cleveland still probably needs at least one DE and one DT from free agency to round out what could become an excellent defensive line if all the pieces are in place.