Roster Holes Browns Must Fill Ahead of Training CampJuly 21, 2021
Roster Holes Browns Must Fill Ahead of Training Camp
The Cleveland Browns are a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations in 2021. But the pursuit of a perfect roster is endless.
The franchise experienced a breakthrough season in 2020. They exorcised multiple demons against the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, including a playoff win. Then they nearly upset the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.
Since then, they have spent the offseason wisely spending their cap space and draft capital on fixing the obvious holes in the roster. Guys like John Johnson III, Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are players who could turn weaknesses into strengths.
But the pursuit of a perfect roster is never over. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't sign Leonard Fournette until September last season, and he ended up playing a pivotal role in their championship run.
Here's a look at the positions where it wouldn't hurt to look at options to bolster their depth.
Simply put, the Browns underachieved as a pass-rushing team last season. Myles Garrett is one of the elite quarterback hunters in the NFL, and the Browns were just 16th in sacks with 38.
That number looks even worse when you consider that Garrett accounted for 12 of them, while Olivier Vernon had nine. Vernon remains unsigned and is coming off a ruptured Achilles that will be difficult to bounce back from in his 30s.
The Browns did bring in Clowney and Takkarist McKinley. However, McKinley had one sack in four games last season, while Clowney had none in eight games with the Titans.
While Clowney and McKinley have the potential to be the answer, the fact remains they combined for 12 games and one sack in 2020. Porter Gustin is a developmental option, but there is a lack of pass-rushing punch.
There are still some veterans on the market who could be valuable members of a defensive end rotation. Justin Houston and Everson Griffen are the kind of players who could wind up helping down the stretch.
Denzel Ward has become a lockdown corner. The Browns got one of the best slot defenders in the league last season in Troy Hill. That leaves the second outside cornerback as the lone question mark at the top of the depth chart for the position.
There are enticing options available. First-round pick Greg Newsome II is the favorite to win the job. Greedy Williams is coming back after sitting out 2020 with a shoulder injury.
But if you start thinking about ways this season could go sideways, it isn't a stretch for a rookie cornerback to struggle and Williams to have issues coming back from his injury. It's not inevitable, but it is within the realm of possibility.
Should both be underwhelming, the alternatives on the roster dry up pretty quick. A.J. Green is unproved, M.J. Stewart hasn't proved to be a good option either. Adding another prospective fit to battle it out in camp would be a good idea.
Gareon Conley, Steven Nelson and D.J. Hayden could all be intriguing options.
This one is a luxury but could become important. Last year, Chris Hubbard played an important role for the Browns. He was the team's swing tackle but could also come in and play guard if need be.
With Wyatt Teller dealing with calf issues amid a breakout season, depth on the offensive line was important. With a 17-game schedule, it will continue to be critical.
The bad news is that Hubbard suffered an injury of his own in December. He tore ligaments in his right knee and had surgery. That leaves his role in question heading into the 2021 season.
The Browns have some young developmental players waiting in the wings. They drafted James Hudson in the fourth round. They also signed Greg Senat, but he only played special teams for Dallas last season.
It would be wise for the Browns to bring in a veteran who could play either tackle or guard in a pinch, making the unit even more resilient when the inevitable injuries that come with the position start coming.