Browns' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles
The Browns have aspirations this season that go far beyond winning games in the preseason. The exhibition matchups, however, are great for getting a good look at some players on the bubble and working out communication for the coaching staff.
They also give fans some insight into the position battles playing out in camp every day.
Those battles will continue to wage on Sunday when the Browns kickoff preseason game No. 2 against the New York Giants.
With the team releasing a new unofficial depth chart ahead of that contest, let's take a look at some of the most intriguing position battles going on.
There are three linebacker spots listed on the new depth chart with Mack Wilson claiming the Will, Anthony Walker Jr. starting at Mike and Sione Takitaki slotting as the first Sam backer.
Those not listed as starters include Jacob Phillips who enters his second season, veteran Malcolm Smith and second-round pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
That's a lot of talent that will be pushing some of the starters over the next two weeks. That's especially true when you consider the Browns will likely be in nickel and dime personnel plenty where at least one linebacker is coming off the field.
Owusu-Koramoah is going to be especially difficult to keep off the field. The Notre Dame product showed big-play ability in the preseason game.
Just 10 days after returning to the team facility from COVID-19 he registered eight tackles, three for a loss and a quarterback hit against the Jaguars.
He's certainly made a believer out of the man slated to play Mike.
"He's explosive, man," Anthony Walker said of JOK, per Andrew Gribble and Anthony Poisal of the team's website. "He's been dominating on the practice field, and obviously you saw it this weekend. He brings a different element."
If he continues to play like that, he will crack the starting lineup. The fact that Mack Wilson has a shoulder injury won't help him stave off the rookie either.
Prediction: Walker, Takitaki and Owusu-Koramoah are the starting linebackers Week 1.
No. 2 Cornerback
Denzel Ward is a foundational piece of the defense. Troy Hill was brought in to bring a veteran presence to the cornerback room with the versatility to play inside or out.
The Browns are one good cornerback away from turning a liability last season into a true strength.
Whether that happens will depend on the play of Greedy Williams and rookie Greg Newsome II, who are locked into a training camp battle for playing time. Per the unofficial depth chart, Williams holds the upper hand.
He played his first live snaps in over a year last weekend. He's returning from a shoulder injury that cost him his entire second season in 2020. He played 18 snaps against the Jaguars.
Although Williams has been given the unofficial edge over Newsome, it's hard to believe they will play a guy who hasn't played in over a year over their 2021 first-round pick. Newsome was the 26th pick in the draft and is drawing rave reviews.
"Similar to Donovan Peoples-Jones, he can run, and he runs all day," head coach Kevin Stefanski said of Newsome, per Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal. "He's out there on special teams. There is no shortage to what he is doing right now. We are really throwing a lot at him, and he has been able to handle all of it."
That sounds like a coach ready to roll with his first-round pick from the get-go.
Prediction: Newsome starts on the outside across from Denzel Ward.
No. 3 Receiver
Despite missing three games in 2020, Rashard Higgins was third on the team in targets last season. With Odell Beckham Jr. returning from injury, there was reason to believe that number would drop.
But a one-year, $2.4 million contract in the offseason could have been seen as a show of respect for what Higgins has done with his opportunities. In other words, it would have been safe to assume he would remain the third receiver behind Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
That was before Donovan Peoples-Jones started showing out in camp.
The 2020 sixth-round pick has drawn plenty of praise from Stefanski, not only for his flash plays but for his consistency.
"He did it last year too," Stefanski said after the first preseason game, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. "When his number's called, he's been making plays, going all the way back to last year. He's a dependable player. He shows consistency. He plays very hard, so I think he's having a nice camp."
That was after Peoples-Jones snagged three of his five targets for 26 yards against the Jaguars. Apples to apples comparisons in a preseason game are flawed, but Higgins caught one ball for 12 yards on two targets.
This is one that will become a little clearer with more preseason action, but right now it would appear the second-year player may have a leg up.
Prediction: Donovan Peoples-Jones is the third receiver.