9 Cleveland Browns Who Could Shock the World in 2012

Barbara Bruno@allprofootballContributor IIJune 6, 2012

9 Cleveland Browns Who Could Shock the World in 2012

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    Despite grumblings among Browns aficionados about a lack of free agent signings and some stutter steps in the 2012 NFL draft, hope runs high this summer in Cleveland.

    There’s a new, fairly young quarterback (don’t even start with the QB competition talk), a once-in-a-decade rookie running back, a full offseason of practice and a dynamic young defense.

    Let’s face the truth; even an ounce of Browns competitive success will shock most NFL fans. But there are several men who could shock even the most ardent Cleveland booster.

Trent Richardson as a Blocker

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    Breaking news: The Browns are planning to run the football. Most of the time. And when they pass it, at least some of the time Brandon Weeden will dump it off to his new running back. But there will be those times when the play called will be a pass to an actual wide receiver or tight end. Do you see where this is going?

    Trent Richardson's "seek contact" style of play doesn't end when he's not toting the rock. This block is even more dramatic (although harder to see).  

    Mike Holmgren has expressed his pass-protection confidence in the new Browns RB:

    The difference is Trent is…not just a willing blocker but a very, very good blocker so when Pat [Shurmur]'s calling the game and we’re running our offense you don’t have to be thinking, ‘Okay, now how do we protect him in the passing game?’ 

    It should be noted that he might also be effective as a runner. Fantasy sites are already making him a top-five pick. 

    Blocking, receiving and running—Brandon Weeden may need to buy the guy a car.

Brandon Jackson Becomes Kevin Faulk

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    Remember him? Signed last year to provide a safety net for the oft-injured Montario Hardesty? Immediately injured? Well, he’s back, and reportedly looking rather “explosive” according to The Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot. 

    Although overshadowed by the aerial fireworks of Aaron Rodgers and Co. when he was in Green Bay, Jackson averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2010 while making 43 receptions with (and here’s the cool part) 8.8 yards averaged after the catch. Oh, and he achieved 27 first downs.

    Trent Richardson is going to see the most downs, period. But a healthy Jackson will get in the mix and surprise fans who forgot all about him in the winter of Peyton Hillis’ discontent.

Eric Hagg Starts and Shines

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    Eric Hagg is beating out Usama Young for the starting safety gig. While he wasn’t signed to be the starter at this position, Young couldn't keep Mike Adams on the bench last year and then Usama's injury opened the door for the rookie Hagg.

    Although he wasn’t one of the more high-profile safeties drafted in 2011, “Eric Hagg was one of Nebraska’s most versatile and valuable defenders.”  He had five interceptions and three forced fumbles in his senior year.

    If he continues performing this way, Hagg could easily steal the starting job and cement a position in one of the best young secondaries in the NFL.

    We think he's got very good instincts, I think he can do all of the things that we're talking about in terms of covering, playing parts of the field and then of course tackling. —Pat Shurmur

Brad Smelley Will Become a Household Name

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    If the Browns don’t luck into a fourth WR, Smelley is going to open eyes at least as far afield as the AFC North. Owen Marecic will undoubtedly be the starting fullback. However,he is injury prone. Once Smelley gets onto the gridiron, he will immediately become a weapon—a receiving weapon.

    If he can see the grass behind Benjamin Watson, Evan Moore and Marecic, Smelley will be not only a shock to the greater football universe, but also one of those All-American feel-good success stories. Write it down.

Wide Receiver Shock No. 1—Joshua Cooper

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    Since Joshua Cooper played in the shadow of Justin Blackmon, Cooper’s potential is still a bit of a mystery to fans, if not to his college and now professional QB.

    Cooper only made it to “the show” as an undrafted free agent, but let’s not forget that he averaged 10.5 yards every time he did get the ball. Not bad.

    He has also remained un-arrested to this point in his career.

    Cooper is going to be Weeden’s outlet man whenever things break down. And that is going to get him noticed. For a guy this far under the radar, it will be a shock. 

Wide Receiver Shock No. 2—Plaxico Burress

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    All right, yes, this is technically a hypothetical shock. However, the Browns should absolutely be giving Burress’ agent a call.

    Plax maybe known forever as “the guy who shot himself,” but if ever anyone deserves a shot, it’s the man who spent almost two solid years in prison for stupidity. (Michael Vick comparisons, anyone?) Besides, he has a knack for coming down with the football in the end zone.

    In a season filled with Jets controversy, Burress’ name was noticeably absent from the media. He simply showed up to all 16 games, averaged 13.6 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns on 45 receptions. That’s one TD for every five and one half touches. Not bad.

    You know he wants to play and won’t cost an arm and a leg. What is not to like? 

John Hughes Will Be the Second Coming of Warren Sapp

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    Well, he’ll get the chance to be that anyway. Phil Taylor is out until at least mid-October. At least. The purported replacement is Scott Paxson, but this will be a fierce camp battle that only true defensive fans will follow. 

    Worth a listen is an audio of Branson Wright’s interview with the young tackle posted on his blog Starting Blocks. Hughes sounds straightforward, confident and very, very positive. This is not indicative of a young man beset by “character concerns.” It’s not what he says; it’s how he says it.

    The same is true of a video interview he gave in camp. The “kid” actually listens to questions and then really tries to answer them.  

    Hughes is going to shock his supporters as well as his detractors by being an immediate and forceful contributor on that defensive line. He will make a name for himself and AFC North running backs will develop extremely negative feelings towards him. 

The Quarterback

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    If Colt McCoy were to somehow defy all the odds of football economics and land the starting job, that would unquestionably shock 99 percent of football fans. But that is a fantasy, and back in the real world, the quarterback that will truly shock the NFL faithful will be Brandon Weeden.

    Weeden’s starting place under center shouldn’t even mildly surprise fans, but his performance will. The former pitcher has benefited a bit from the QB controversy in the sense that his ability has taken second place in the public eye to his age and his relative arm strength.

    In the back of everyone’s mind is the thought, “Well, yeah, he was a professional athlete before and he seems pretty smart.” But the full magnitude of those facts will become evident as he rockets up the learning curve on the Holmgren version of the west coast offense.

    I’m processing stuff a little bit faster and I’m not thinking quite as much. That’s the thing about this system…when you stop thinking so much and you just react… that’s when you start moving the ball down the field. —Brandon Weeden, first day of camp

    It’s generally a young offense and Weeden is a strong leader who will hold receivers accountable and they will start catching the balls. Greg Little will have his anticipated breakout season and Josh Cooper will indeed become the next Wes Welker. It’s entirely possible.

    As long as the right side of the O-line can provide a modicum of protection, it’s in fact probable. College defenses notwithstanding, don’t forget that Weeden had a rating of 159.8 last season while completing 72.3% of his passes. (And clearly, Justin Blackmon’s judgmental prowess wasn’t the reason for his QB’s success.)  

    Weeden won’t make anyone forget Cam Newton’s rookie season, but he will at the least equal Andy Dalton. Dalton was a surprise, but if Weeden can lead his team to 9-7, it will qualify indisputably as a shock. A really good one.

    If you would like to be shocked in a good way right now, check out the ESPN Sports Science segment where Brandon Weeden shatters skeet with a football. Entertaining for sure, and somewhat awe-inspiring.

Randy Lerner in the Building

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    Mr. Lerner will shock the world by showing up and acting like an NFL owner. Former Browns great Jim Brown can be a tough critic, but it’s hard to argue with his ultimate assessment: 

    The players feel that they don't have that top dog sitting there in that office so they can feel that they have great leadership from the top. There's always a question mark when your owner is in England.

    Lerner makes it hard for a football-loving member of the 99 percent to like him. Born into wealth, the Ivy Leaguer spent his junior year at Cambridge and fell in love with soccer and England. He has every right to love what he loves and buy as many soccer teams as he can afford. But his seeming indifference and elitism don’t sit well in the Rust Belt.

    Holmgren seems perplexed:

    I don't get why everyone's so worried about the owner. I worked for a guy in Seattle, Paul Allen, one of the richest guys in the world, he co-founded Microsoft, and he said nothing. 

    However, Paul Allen is a self-made millionaire while Lerner is the epitome of everything that regular Americans distrust right now.  

    Much as Mike Holmgren probably relishes the opportunity to stand in for the Browns owner at meetings and to enjoy tsar-like power in the front office, the city would appreciate a chance to believe that their team’s owner cares more about the franchise he inherited than the one in another country.

    Say what we will about interfering Jerry Jones or eccentric Jim Irsay—at least they are present. Even Daniel Snyder is passionate: misguided, but passionate. Redskins fans may think Snyder is an idiot, but they don’t think he’s indifferent.

    In 2012, Randy Lerner will once and for all dispel the perception that he doesn’t care. Lerner will have a pigskin epiphany and begin attending to his American sports franchise. Right about the time that Brandon Weeden proves he is a franchise QB and Cleveland puts up four consecutive victories.

The Entire Browns Roster

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    The general consensus among pundits large and small is that the Browns should kiss the Berea turf if they make it to .500 in the upcoming season.

    With a complete offensive overhaul building on top of a rising defense, Cleveland is going to shock the gridiron solar system by ending the season at 9-7, including at least one win in each divisional matchup. 

    Hey, it’s June; if you can’t be optimistic now, you are officially a football Scrooge. For a team with only two winning seasons and one playoff appearance in modern history, that will be the most refreshing jolt of all. 

    For more on the Browns 2012 attack on victory, check out:

    Every member of Cleveland’s 2012 draft class has a place in the “drag us out of the cellar” plan.

    The best and worst moves of the Browns offseason.

    Grading the final rounds of the Browns 2012 draft.

    The NFL will have its usual number of feel-good UFA stories in 2012. Here are 19 potential candidates who can make a difference on their teams immediately. 

    Here's a perennial sports world debate:

    Is fan booing an inalienable right?