For most of the two decades since the team returned to the NFL, the Cleveland Browns have been a punchline. One of the league's most hapless franchises, their offense has been, well, offensive. Prior to last year, the Browns hadn't ranked inside the NFL's top 20 offensively since 2013.
By the end of last year—with the installation of Baker Mayfield under center, Nick Chubb in the backfield and Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator (after the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley)—the Browns climbed to 13th in the league.
Now, with Kitchens serving as the team's head coach and the additions of a couple potential game-changers in tailback Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns are in position to field a truly dynamic offense in 2019. Potentially one of the most potent offenses in all of football.
Maybe even one of the most prolific offenses we've seen in the NFL in years.
That's right. I said it.
To say that the Browns have been active in the offseason is an understatement. In trading for Beckham, the team added arguably the most dangerous downfield threat in the league—a player with four 1,000-yard seasons and three double-digit touchdown campaigns over his five years in the NFL.
Cleveland won't have Hunt for the first half of the season due to an eight-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. But the 23-year-old led the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards in 2017 and had more than 1,200 total yards in 11 games with the Kansas City Chiefs a season ago.
Those players aren't joining a team bereft of offensive talent, either. Mayfield set a new rookie record for touchdown passes in 2018 with 27—in 14 games. Chubb came up just shy of 1,000 yards on the ground as a rookie and averaged over five yards a carry. Veteran receiver Jarvis Landry has averaged over 96 catches and 1,000 yards a season over his career.
The Browns also have a very good pass-catching back in Duke Johnson and a pair of field-stretching young pass-catchers in wideout Antonio Callaway and tight end David Njoku.
Then there's Kitchens, the 44-year-old who had never called plays before the midway point of last season. You wouldn't have known that from his performance, as his innovative formations and creativity electrified the team's offense from the moment he became OC.
The Browns have as much skill-position talent as any team in the AFC. Maybe any team in the NFL. And if last year was any indication, a coach who knows how to take full advantage of it.
Granted, new faces in the locker room mean new personalities. And with the increased firepower comes increased expectations—something rare in northeast Ohio. But, per Mike Jones of USA Today, Kitchens said he's confident he can manage both:
There’s a lot of different coaches in the National Football League,” Kitchens continued, “but the more the players trust you and the more you trust them, the better you are, and it’s always been about trust and respect and that’s how we’re going to succeed. … You’ve got to make sure you develop relationships so they know that you’ve got their best interest in mind. And as you do that — that you’ve got the team’s best interest in mind — and in time expect them to do that, and I don’t expect anything less from Odell. Odell, I guarantee you that the most important thing to Odell is winning. … All these guys are the same. They care about winning because they know their individual success is tied to the team.
If he can handle those expectations and personalities, and if Mayfield takes the next step as a quarterback in his second season, then watch out—because the Browns could be close to unstoppable.
These new-look Browns present any number of matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Play tight man coverage and at some point Beckham, Callaway or Njoku are going to beat you over the top. Go to a zone and it will be death by a thousand cuts with Landry or one of the tailbacks. Double Beckham and someone's going to be wide-open. Don't double him and—well, you know how that will work out. Crowd the line of scrimmage and risk giving up chunk plays vertically. Play it soft and Chubb (and later Hunt) will chew you to pieces.
It's an embarrassment of riches. A group that appears (on paper, at least) to be every bit as dangerous as the Kansas City Chiefs or Los Angeles Rams—the NFL's two most potent offenses in 2018.
With all that said, even if the Browns field one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2019—even the best offense in the NFL—it's going to be difficult for the team to challenge to be one of the greatest offenses in league history, even with the rules favoring offense more than ever.
(I'm pretty sure it's an illegal contact penalty to look sternly at a receiver more than two yards off the line of scrimmage.)
As great as the Chiefs were offensively in 2018, averaging 425.6 yards per game, they still came up well short of the 2011 New Orleans Saints, who hold the all-time record with 7,474 yards in that magical season.
That's 467.1 yards per game—over 40 more yards a contest than the Chiefs a year ago.
Kansas City also led the NFL in scoring a year ago, piling up 565 total points—an average of 35.3 points per game. Only the 2007 New England Patriots (589 total points) and 2013 Denver Broncos (who hold the record with 606) have lit up the scoreboard more prolifically.
In other words, if the Browns can lead the NFL in scoring in 2019, the all-time mark for points could be within reach. But it will take awfully long arms (and about 38 points per game) to reach it.
Still, league records being tall orders doesn't mean that this loaded Cleveland offense can't set some.
Per Pro Football Reference, the Browns team record for points in a season is 423—notched all the way back in 1946 when Cleveland was in the All American Football Conference. The record as a member of the NFL is 415, set in 1964—the last time the Browns won a championship.
The all-time franchise record for yardage in a season by the Browns is 5,915, set by a 1981 squad that went 5-11.
Both of those marks should be well within reach of this squad.
Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. The threat of injuries is ever-looming, and we're still talking about a team with a second-year quarterback, first-time head coach, questions on the offensive line and several new pieces to fit together.
But the fact that "Browns" and "records" can be mentioned with a straight face, in an article that doesn't also include "0-16," is a testament to just how much, and how quickly, things have changed on the shores of Lake Erie.
So sit back and enjoy the show.
Even if it's not record-setting, it's going to be fascinating nonetheless.