Cleveland Browns: 6 Current Unknowns Who Could Be Contributors by 2014
The Browns have a lot of question marks on their roster entering 2011. We have a lot of young and unproven players who have yet to establish themselves as premier NFL talent, yet all our hopes currently lie with them.
But beyond that, the roster also has its share of players who are at the moment not even a factor in how we expect the team to perform in the next year or two. These are the true unknowns, the guys who we have very little evidence on to make an assessment of whether they can be major contributors in the next three years, or who we just don't think much about at all.
Following are six relatively unknown players who I believe might just have the potential to make an impact for the Browns by 2014. They range from the completely unknown in a barely even talked-about sense to those players whose future is often discussed, but what it may hold is hard to determine at this point.
Please share your thoughts on other unknowns or little-known players on the Browns roster who may have a chance to contribute something, however big or small, by 2014.
1. WR Carlton Mitchell
Obviously, WR Carlton Mitchell isn't a guy we can truly call a complete unknown. We all know who he is, we all talk about him in discussions on the future of the receiving corps and we all have an opinion on what he might bring to the table.
But just exactly how much he might contribute remains an unknown quantity, given how little we've seen of him since he was selected by the Browns late in the 2010 draft.
Mitchell saw virtually no playing time in 2010, and we don't know how much he'll see in 2011. Generally speaking, he isn't one of the players mentioned as a front-runner to win one of the top three receiving spots, but his name has been thrown into the mix for that, and he certainly remains in contention to be a No. 4 or 5 guy.
But what about further into the future? It's conceivable that Mitchell just might break into the top three down the road.
This will depend in part on how those currently listed ahead of him on the depth chart perform; whether Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi ever live up to the expectations once placed on them; whether rookie Greg Little is as good as we think he will be; and whether Josh Cribbs truly plays out best at WR rather than at another position on the field.
But mostly it depends on Mitchell himself. We know he has speed, we know he can run crisp routes, we know he's a smart player and we know he's a hard worker. But the million-dollar question is: Can he catch?
His critics argue that he never proved he could in college and was held off the field last season for that reason. His supporters argue that he's never had the chance to prove that he can, and that he was held out last season because of yet another of Eric Mangini's philosophical quirks.
We have no idea who is right about this of course. But it stands to reason we'll have a pretty good idea in the next year or two, and if his supporters are to be believed, Mitchell may just be a big factor on offense by 2014.
2. WR Jonathan Haggerty
While Mitchell is an unknown who Browns fans nevertheless have spent a lot of time discussing, his fellow WR Johnathan Haggerty is an unknown who is barely mentioned at all.
Haggerty was picked up last year as an undrafted free agent. He impressed the Browns at the start of camp but was injured in the team's first preseason game against Green Bay, and hasn't been heard from since.
Technically, Haggerty is a free agent, which means he may not even be in a Browns uniform when 2011 starts, but for my money, the odds are good that he will be, though it may be a practice squad uniform...for now.
Unlike in the case with Mitchell, there's no doubt Haggerty has good hands. Last summer, he caught coaches' notice right off the bat with his ability to haul in the ball. He was touted as a hard worker with a good attitude, and became one of those guys who many thought might just be the next diamond in a pile of rocks among the year's crop of undrafted free agents.
Sadly, the preseason injury ended Haggerty's hopes of becoming a core member of the second-team offense with big hopes of joining the starting ranks eventually. But there are a fair number of believers out there who are quietly suggesting that Haggerty might yet make the grade.
We haven't heard a peep about him in a while from the Browns themselves, but if Haggerty sticks around, he may wind up in the mix to contribute within the next few years.
Even without an injury setback, undrafted free agents have a tough road to traverse. But sometimes that road leads to a starting spot. The Browns have a living, breathing example of that in one-time undrafted free-agent Josh Cribbs.
3. QB Jarrett Brown
Another one-time undrafted player and virtual unknown is QB Jarrett Brown. Brown was undrafted out of West Virginia in 2010 and was signed by San Francisco, spending part of the season with the 49ers.
The Browns snatched him up in January, a signing that was met with so little fanfare that most fans didn't even know he'd been brought in at the time.
Obviously, the ceiling for Brown is probably a little different than it could be for Mitchell or Haggerty. The Browns already have a starting QB for the future in Colt McCoy.
McCoy certainly has his doubters, but I am not one of them. When I suggest Brown could have an impact for Cleveland in the future, I certainly don't mean he's got a good shot to steal McCoy's job. But there are two other ways in which Brown just might be a contributor.
The first is as a backup to McCoy. If Brown improves and shows he's the player the Browns felt he had the potential to be when they signed him, he could be a very solid second-stringer. He might get the job after Senenca Wallace is gone, or he might even beat Wallace out for the job. At the moment, the job is Wallace's to lose, but that could change down the road.
The second possible use for Brown is as trade bait. If McCoy stays healthy and Wallace sticks around and proves to be a solid backup consistently, then the Browns won't have much use for Brown except in that seldom-used third-QB role. However, if he proves to be a valuable commodity anyway, he might fetch something that will help the Browns directly in trade with a team that is looking for a reliable backup for their starting quarterback.
4. S Eric Hagg
Late-round draft pick players often don't get a lot of attention entering their rookie season, particularly those at positions which were not considered extremely high priority for their team.
Such has been the case so far for safety Eric Hagg out of Nebraska, who was the last pick for the Browns in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.
As one would expect for a late seventh-round pick, Hagg wasn't talked about much in the aftermath of this year's draft. Yet he may be one the best shots among the guys on this list to make an impact for the Browns in the next few years or even in the 2011 season.
Obviously no one is going to touch the phenomenal T.J. Ward's job, least of all a seventh-round rookie, but things are quite a bit fuzzier at the other safety spot. Should he be re-signed, Abe Elam is obviously the favorite for the job, but we don't know if Elam will be returning to us, and even if he does, we can't expect he'll be around for more than a year or two.
That leaves the door wide open for Hagg, who many (myself included) expected to go much higher in the draft than Round 7 and appears to have the potential to (at least someday) become a starter or at least get a significant amount of playing time.
5. CB Buster Skrine
A player in a similar situation to Hagg's is rookie CB Buster Skrine, drafted out of UT-Chatanooga in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.
Like Hagg, Skrine came to us late enough in the draft at a position that wasn't considered a "desperate need" spot for the Browns that he hasn't seen much attention since he he joined up with Cleveland.
Still, what we do know of Skrine speaks to some pretty good potential down the road. There's certainly no disputing Skrine's speed, which is tremendous. As for the rest of his skill set, it seems too early to tell.
But also like Hagg, he's at a position where the Browns may need options. If all goes to plan, the Browns won't be looking for a starting CB this season in Skrine or anyone else, since the position (ideally) will have been filled.
But there are no guarantees even in that. Aside from Joe Haden, the team doesn't have another CB who is considered a 100 percent lock to hold down his job. Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown are obviously the guys we're counting on, but there are no sure things there.
What's probably more relevant for Skrine though is a lesser role, or at least a role that won't manifest for a few years. Skrine could be useful now against teams that run big receiver sets since the Browns have little depth at CB, and he could certainly wind up being a guy who wins a bigger role a few years down the road, when Brown is too old and Wright may no longer be with the team.
6. OT Jason Pinkston
The final relative unknown to make this list is another 2011 draft pick, OT Jason Pinkston out of the University of Pittsburgh.
Pinkston was snatched up by the Browns in Round 5 and was considered a good deal for that draft slot, as many predicted he would go sometime between the late-third and fourth rounds.
While there's nothing to suggest that Pinkston will see major playing time in 2011—and he isn't a guy who you can yet say one way or the other on that issue for down the road—he may still wind up being an important contributor to the team in terms of depth as soon as this season.
As we're all too well aware of, the right side of the Browns line is a bit of a mess. Things are expected to improve this season, but not to the point we'd like them to. At the moment, one of the biggest problems for the line is depth, and that's where Pinkston comes in for the time being.
While he's currently listed as a tackle, most scouts seem to think his strength and the rest of his skill set make him profile better as a guard. There are concerns he doesn't have the height or the athleticism to be a serviceable tackle.
But the Browns need depth at guard on the right side just as much as they need it at tackle, particularly given injury concerns. Pinkston could see some reps this year at RG in the event of an injury, and could very well wind up being a bigger contributor there down the road.