Browns Players to Watch Ahead of Preseason Week 1

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2021

Browns Players to Watch Ahead of Preseason Week 1

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    The most anticipated Browns season since 1999 kicks off with a Week 1 preseason matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, August 14 at 7 p.m. ET. 

    Fresh off a breakout 2020 campaign in which the team advanced to the divisional round and gave the eventual AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs a run for their money, the Browns come into the 2021 campaign with an even more talented roster. 

    A lot of that talent will get a test drive on Saturday night. Fans shouldn't expect to see too much (if any) of Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb or Myles Garrett. But that doesn't mean the game isn't important. There are still plenty of players fighting for depth chart positioning or even a roster spot in camp. 

    The opportunity to put that camp work on tape against another team is crucial to making the roster or securing a role on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Here are a few names to watch against the Jags. 

DE Porter Gustin

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    The Browns made a few moves to beef up the pass rush over the offseason. Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley were both brought in to get after quarterbacks. 

    One under-the-radar move that might prove to be important was bringing back Porter Gustin as an exclusive-rights free agent after he showed some promise in his second NFL season. 

    The former undrafted free agent came off the practice squad to play in 14 games and make three starts for the Browns. While he didn't register a sack in any of those games he did pick off a pass in the playoff game against the Steelers

    Clowney is obviously set to be the primary pass-rush option across from Myles Garrett, but after that, the defensive end rotation is far from solidified. McKinley isn't with the team. He is away from the team for personal reasons with no timetable for return, although head coach Kevin Stefanski is hopeful he will be back for the season opener, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

    That leaves a massive opportunity for Gustin to prove he's ready to step into the role of the team's third pass-rusher on the edge. 

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

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    To read the reports from camp, it isn't OBJ opposing secondaries should fear, it's DPJ. 

    Donovan Peoples-Jones has drawn praise from both local and national media for what he's shown in camp. Albert Breer of MMQB noted, "he's slimmed down and catching everything" after working with Baker Mayfield all offseason. 

    Zac Jackson of The Athletic was also effusive in his praise for the 2020 sixth-round pick:

    "Look at the size, the strides and the way he extends to make tough plays in traffic. The Browns got this guy in the sixth round, and it will be no surprise if Peoples-Jones eventually ends up being a legitimate star."

    Playing time and targets will be precious commodities on a loaded offense. Odell Beckham Jr. continues to ramp up toward playing after tearing his ACL last season, Jarvis Landry is sure to see a lion's share of the snaps and Rashard Higgins has a good rapport with Mayfield. 

    That's all in an offense that figures to still feature Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. 

    However, the preseason shouldn't feature many of those veterans and will afford DPJ the opportunity to show what he can do. 

CB Greedy Williams

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    One of the most intriguing position battles on the roster right now is at cornerback. Greedy Williams is returning from a shoulder injury last season to square off against 2021 first-round pick Greg Newsome II to figure out who will start opposite Denzel Ward at cornerback. 

    For what it's worth (which might not be much), the first unofficial depth chart from the team has Williams ahead of his younger counterpart. He's listed as the starter. 

    Williams has been somewhat forgotten based on his absence last year. He put together a respectable rookie season in 2019. He started 12 games and held opposing quarterbacks to an 84.9 passer rating when targeted

    The shoulder injury was scary because it involved nerves, which always makes the timeline tricky. But it also isn't likely to cause long-term damage to his athleticism. 

    Everyone will be primed to see Newsome in action. He's the shiny new first-round pick after all, but Williams can remind everyone of his potential with a strong outing in the preseason opener.