Our 2018 Regular Season Preview now heads to Cleveland, where the perpetually rebuilding Browns are looking to pick themselves back up after a winless season, or if you really want to get specific, 1-31 over the past two years combined. Simply put, no team in the league was in a more dire need of rebuilding than the Browns, even if they’ve appeared to be stuck in rebuilding mode for the better part of two decades now. With that said, this team has experienced a wealth of new arrivals, both on the Roster and the Coaching Staff, which should help raise their considerably low talent pool. Of course, the biggest changes came at Quarterback, where Cleveland added veteran Tyrod Taylor in Free Agency, and used their No. One Pick in the NFL Draft on 2017 Heisman-winner Baker Mayfield. Add an appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks to the equation and there hasn’t been this much to be excited about in Northern Ohio since LeBron James returned. So with that said, let’s take a look at three key storylines that will dictate just how improved the Browns are, and if they can finally distance themselves away from years of mediocrity.
Baker versus Tyrod
There have been fewer longer-running jokes in football than the volume of Starting Quarterbacks that the Browns have employed since their return to the NFL in 1999. Well, you can two new names to that list with the additions of Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield, whom will likely spend the campaign competing for the full-time gig. It’s been a while since Cleveland had a competent veteran under Center to rely on, period, and Taylor (62.6%, 2,799 YDS, 14 TD, 4 INT, 56.4 QBR in 2017) should give them that. The 29-Year Old is dependable and efficient (51 TD, 16 INT since 2015), while spending last season ending the Buffalo Bills’ 16-Year Playoff Drought in 2017. Plus, he’s mobile, which should definitely help out given the retirement of Hall of Fame Left Tackle Joe Thomas. And then there’s Mayfield, who was the most decorated (and discussed) Quarterback in College Football last year, guiding Oklahoma to another Big XII Title and a trip to the College Football Playoff. Simply put, this kid is a winner, and what’s even better is that he possesses the attitude and charisma that can really infectuous in improving a team that has struggled for so long. Watching these two compete throughout Training Camp and the Preseason should be a joy, which is probably why Cleveland was opted for Hard Knocks this year. Despite the potential of starting Mayfield right away, it’s our opinion that Hue Jackson and his Staff will opt to field Taylor, if only temporarily until the No. One Overall Pick has proven himself ready of taking the reins of the attack.
It’s safe to say that whomever emerges from the Quarterback Competition, be it Taylor or Mayfield, will be afforded the opportunity to pilot what should be a vastly-improved Offense, for this side of thefootball has been dramatically overhauled over the past six months. First and foremost, Cleveland added former Dolphin and pass-catching machine Jarvis Landry (112 REC, 987 YDS, 9 TD in 2017) via trade, while at some point expecting the long-delayed return of the troubled Josh Gordon (18 REC, 355 YDS, 1 TD in 2017), who though it seems like it was ages ago, was a receiving Pro Bowler in 2013, in which he led the league with 1,646 Receiving Yards. While suspensions and off-field misconduct have plagued him in the years since his breakout turn, there is reason to believe that he could thrive as a major piece in the new culture being cultivated in Cleveland. Talented, yet also troubled, rookie Antonido Callaway could be a steal at 105th Overall, giving Hue Jackson a potentially explosive Receiving Corps, and that doesn’t even include uber-athletic sophomore Tight End David Njoku (32 REC, 386 YDS, 4 TD in 2017). Former 49ers’ Tailback Carlos Hyde (240 CAR, 938 YDS, 8 TD in 2017) brings a proven ball-carrier to the Backfield, while the additions Chris Hubbard, Donald Stephenson, along with Second Round Pick Austin Corbett should help assuage the loss of the aforementioned Thomas. Perhaps the most signifcant addition though, is to the Coaching Staff, where they managed to steal Todd Haley from division rival Pittsburgh, giving them an experienced, innovative, and aggressive Offensive Coordinator to further mold this unit.
Odd Man Out?
The only thing that was more surprising than Marvin Lewis keeping his job in Cincinnati was his former protege and counterpart in Cleveland managing to salvage his after a hisotrically disastrous two seasons at the helm. Seriously, how exactly does a Head Coach in today’s NFL survive going 1-31 in his two years on the sideline? The proverbial Doomsday Clock began ticking on Jackson a year ago after guided the Browns to a 1-15 showing in his first season with the Franchise, particularly after ownership hired John Dorsey as their General Manager. Many believed that it was a surprise (and it was) that Doresy didn’t replace him then and there, which was a notion that was only underlined after Jackson led them to just the third winless record in league history. Now, with the hiring of the aforementioned Haley, whom Jackson has since ceded playcalling duties to, the seat has never been hotter for a guy who has managed to win just nine games in three years as a Head Coach. However, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t make it to the Finish Line in 2018; if we’re being completely honest, the only plausible reason that Jackson was retained was due to the fact that Dorsey couldn’t find any qualified replacements, which is no longer the case with the addition of Haley, along with Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, who have both served as Head Coaches in the past. Furthermore, Haley’s personality is notorious for being as aggressive as his playcalling, which should make for a fascinating relationship with Jackson, who seen nothing but more and more of his power and authority stripped away of late. With the progress of such an important rebuild hanging in the balance, not to mention the development of a potential Franchise Quarterback, Dorsey will be extremely cautious with the Head Coach position in 2018.
2018 Outlook: 4-12
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s a brand new day in Cleveland, where the Browns are hitting the rest button once again. However, for some reason it feels like this time they’ll get it right, or at the very least be patient enough to see the project through (we’re looking at you Jimmy Haslem!!!). Bringing the aforementioned Dorsey in to coordinate the Front Office and Scouting Department was a long-overdue masterstroke, while acquiring Haley could bear major fruit down the line. Furthermore, drafting a talent (and personality) like Baker Mayfield could finally give this team a face to build around. There is an awaful lot to like about the Browns at the moment, and time will tell just how far along this plan really is. For after all, it’s not about returning to relevency. They did that when they drafted Mayfield. The true test will be a return to being truly competitive again. We think that they’re probably a year away from doing so, but they should maange improve their total of wins by a significant margin. By the way, we know what you’re thinking: four wins is definitely significant.