Browns Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2021

Browns Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

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    As a team, the Cleveland Browns spent 2020 proving they were a real threat in the AFC North.

    After years of being an afterthought, Kevin Stefanski proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle as the Browns went to the playoffs and won a game for the first time since 1994 when then-coach Bill Belichick beat the Bill Parcells-led Patriots in the Wild Card Round. 

    So looking ahead to 2021, the job of next year's team will be to prove that last year was no fluke. However, for some individuals, they'll need to spend the 2021 campaign proving themselves.

    Whether it's proving they can come back from an injury and fit in the offense, rebound from a down year or just flat out show they can carve out a role in the league, each of these players has some things to show in 2021 to prove the doubters wrong. 

WR Odell Beckham Jr.

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    2020 was not a good year for Odell Beckham Jr. On top of a season-ending ACL injury, Baker Mayfield caught fire right as Beckham Jr. went down for the year. In nine games without OBJ in the lineup, the quarterback threw for 2,171 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception.

    In the seven games Beckham played, Mayfield had 1,392 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

    By every metric, Mayfield put up better numbers when OBJ was out of the lineup. There are two ways to look at that.

    First, Beckham's presence didn't allow Mayfield to always take what the defense gave him, thus constricting his ability to make the best decisions. Alternatively, you can argue Mayfield was just getting a feel for Stefanski's offense and was gaining confidence. The timing of Beckham's injury was purely coincidental. 

    The good news is we will have the 2021 season to find out which of those theories holds true. Beckham returns to the offense in 2021 as the highest-paid player on the team. 

    He has a lot of work to do to prove he and Mayfield can build chemistry. 

Edge Jadeveon Clowney

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    Jadeveon Clowney signed a one-year "prove-it" deal with the Tennessee Titans. All he proved was that he is not an elite pass-rusher and carries some injury risk. 

    The talented defensive end recorded zero sacks and four tackles for a loss in eight games. He missed the second half of the season with a core injury. It was the second year in a row that he missed time with the same injury.

    This is the third year Clowney settled for a one-year deal in free agency hoping to cash in on a long-term deal. Thus far, it hasn't materialized. 

    While Clowney's pass-rush production wasn't impressive, he is still an excellent run defender. He was ranked 19th among all edge defenders by Pro Football Focus last season despite the lack of pass-rush production. 

    If Clowney is going to have a bounceback season and regain some of his free-agency value, he came to the right place. The Browns have a need for a defensive end to play across from Myles Garrett. Garrett commands the attention of offensive lines and is the kind of player who impacts the game plan. 

    That should give Clowney plenty of opportunities to get one-on-one blocking on the edge and make his presence felt. 

S Grant Delpit

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    Unfortunately, the NFL is not a patient place. As soon as someone is drafted the clock starts ticking on their time to prove they were worthy of their draft capital. 

    So when a second-round pick like Grant Delpit misses his entire rookie season to a ruptured Achilles tendon, there isn't a lot of time to waste. 

    The Browns used the 44th pick in the 2020 draft to get Delpit. He was selected one pick before fellow safety Antoine Winfield Jr. who helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl and 20 picks ahead of Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Jeremy Chinn. 

    There will be the opportunity for Delpit to recover and play a role in the defense, but the offseason moves didn't guarantee he would be relied on. The Browns traded for Ronnie Harrison during the season last year and signed John Johnson III in free agency. 

    An Achilles injury isn't the easiest to rebound from, and we still haven't seen Delpit take an NFL snap. With enough competition on the roster, the Browns don't have to play him. He'll need to prove he can contribute quickly this season.