Unknown Cleveland Browns Who Could Surprise This Preseason
Before last season began, a virtually unknown running back came to Cleveland in a trade. When he arrived, he had two seasons of experience and a total of 397 career rushing yards.
But then everything changed.
In 2010, he joined the 1,000 yard club, won the heart of every Cleveland Browns fan out there, and wound up on the cover of Madden. Yes, that would of course be Peyton Hillis. Not bad for a guy somebody gave up for Brady Quinn.
Hillis is living proof that today's unknown commodity can become tomorrow's superstar.
Obviously for every unknown who winds up a video game cover subject, there are thousands who fade out of the league before we even learn their names.
But as dedicated football fans, we all pride ourselves on being able to predict The Next Big Star. Nine times out of 10 of course, we wind up having to concede that the guy we hyped last year now mows lawns for a living.
But it's always fun to take a shot at predicting the unknowns in the league who might blossom into stars in the upcoming season, or even those who, while they'll never have true star power, will be surprisingly great assets to their team.
So here are five largely unknown Browns who could surprise this season. It's unlikely any of them will become the next Peyton Hillis-calber star at their position, but each of these guys definitely has the potential to become much more than what's currently expected.
Be sure to leave your own thoughts on unknown Browns who could surprise this season in the comments below!
1. Jordan Norwood
In 2009 the Browns, infamous for trolling the undrafted free agent market and finding buried treasure, snapped up a WR out of Penn State named Jordan Norwood.
By the end of camp, it appeared the Browns had missed the mark on this one when they waived Norwood during final roster cuts. Norwood would go on to join up with the Eagles, but was eventually waived there as well in September 2010.
It was then that the Browns signed Norwood for the second time, and he spent the bulk of 2010 on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster toward the end of the year.
Norwood saw no game action last year, and thus fell off the radar of all those who had been watching him when he first broke into the league. But it seems now that Norwood may yet have something to offer, given the buzz that has surrounded him at camp thus far in 2011.
It seems like a stretch to say Norwood will ever be an elite receiver given that in two seasons, he hasn't even gotten much in the way of playing time, but to say he could be a surprisingly useful contributor in a lesser role is well within the realm of possibility.
Currently, Norwood is not viewed as a front runner for a a starting WR job for Cleveland this season, but based on what we've seen from him thus far in camp, the chances seem promising that Norwood could surprise as a contributor to the Browns receiving corps in a lesser but still useful capacity.
2. Buster Skrine
As with undrafted free agents, players taken late in the NFL draft don't draw too much attention out of the gate. Unless you're talking about a player who contributes exclusively on special teams, anyone drafted in the sixth round or later generally has at least some sort of major knock on him by scouts before he enters the draft.
Such is the case for CB Buster Skrine, who caught the eye of scouts with his blazing speed, but left them very wary overall based on his notably small size.
Speed, intelligence, and a nose for the ball can make up for a lot of size deficiency in the NFL, but for a cornerback, there's a limit to how small you can be no matter your talent before teams get concerned that you won't be able to effectively cover and tackle larger wide receivers.
And yet Buster Skrine, despite being pint-sized, finds himself practicing regularly with the first team defense in camp this summer.
Given that the Browns have major uncertainties at the CB position aside from Joe Haden, Skrine's time running plays with the first team defense would seem to suggest that despite being "too small," he might not only see serious playing time his rookie season, but could even (gasp) be a contender for a starting job.
Obviously, it's unlikely that we'll see Skrine starting at CB in week one of the 2011 season, but if he continues to play as well as he has in camp, he could surprise a lot of people by fighting for a starting job later in the season or next year.
3. S Eric Hagg
Just like fellow late round 2011 draft pick Buster Skrine, S Eric Hagg didn't get much press after the Browns selected him late in the seventh round.
But while Cleveland was abuzz with opinions and thoughts on Phil Taylor and Greg Little, there were whispers amongst those in the know that former Cornhusker Hagg just might have been one of the 2011 draft's biggest steals.
Even many of us who were not quite so profound in our predictions were surprised Hagg lasted until the end of the seventh round. I had predicted him to go in the fifth in my final mock draft this spring.
And while we haven't heard as much about Hagg out of camp as we have about Skrine, it's become very apparent that Hagg has potential that exceeds his draft slot.
Also similar to Skrine, Hagg is at a position where there may be ample opportunity to jump in and make some noise, even as a rookie who was taken late in the draft.
T.J. Ward and Usama Young are expected to be the starting safeties for the Browns when the season opens, but Hagg may log a surprising amount of playing time and be a valuable contributor to the team if he's really as good as it looks like he can be.
4. G Billy Yates
It's not often that a player with seven years of service time in the NFL can, on the eve of his eighth season, be called an unknown with potential to surprise, but then again, it's not often that a player in that situation is as quietly talented as OG Billy Yates.
Yates was a UDFA signing for the Dolphins in 2003 who then bounced between the active roster and the practice squad of the Patriots for a number of years and then eventually wound up with the Browns in 2009.
In the last two years, Yates has played in just nine games for the Browns and has started in only three of those, but last season, he caught the attention of a few astute fans who were pleasantly surprised by the performance he turned in when called on to fill in for injured players on the O-line.
Things are a little different when it comes to the Browns offensive line this year in that (fortunately) the talent on the roster in that area is much deeper (and in many cases, healthier) than it was in 2010.
But still, Yates played well enough last season that he'll get consideration for significant playing time even if not for a starting job, and could be called upon to start in the event of injury.
5. WR Carlton Mitchell
Around these parts, it's a bit of a stretch to call WR Carlton Mitchell an unknown. A few regular commenters on Bleacher Report and I have been hyping Mitchell since last season. But to the world at large, and even to your average Browns fan, Mitchell is a little-known player.
And in a way, he's an unknown to all of us in that with virtually no playing time during his rookie year in 2010, none of us have any idea what he's truly capable of on the playing field.
His detractors say he can't catch and those of us who are enamored of him tout his intelligence and speed, but what most folks are saying about Mitchell is, well, nothing at all.
While some of us do propose Mitchell as a candidate for serious playing time at WR this season, he doesn't factor into the majority of discussions as to who will be in the top three for Browns WRs this season.
But that might all change during this season. While Mitchell won't likely be starting at WR in the opening game of 2011, I expect we'll see him get his chance at some playing time relatively early in the season.
If Mitchell can make as much out of that as some of us believe he will, he could go from virtual unknown to surprise success before the midpoint of the season.