I noticed something a couple years ago: the Cleveland Browns don't draft bad players; in fact, they usually find pretty good players. I'm talking Pro Bowl-level.
I was looking at old Browns rosters (back to 2012) and there are a lot of notable names. Below are former Browns players that ended up playing for playoff teams not long after they left Cleveland. The year that team made the playoffs is also listed.
- T.J. Ward - DEN (2014,15)
- Alex Mack - ATL (2016,17)
- Ahtyba Rubin - SEA (2015,16)
- Jabaal Sheard - NE (2015,16)
- Joe Haden - PIT (2017)
- Taylor Gabriel - ATL (2016,17)
- Dion Lewis - NE (2015,16,17)
- Tashaun Gipson - JAX (2017)
- Frostee Rucker - ARZ (2014,15)
- Jordan Cameron - MIA (2016)
- Trevin Wade - NYG (2016)
- D'Qwell Jackson - IND (2014)
- Mitchell Schwartz - KC (2016,17)
- Benjamin Watson - NO (2013)
- Cameron Erving - KC (2017)
And this is just looking back to the 2012 roster. I didn't even include some guys because of them being primarily reserve players. Travis Benjamin isn't on here but he's currently on a Chargers team that are sleeper Super Bowl contenders this year. All the recent playoff years means that a lot of these guys were on the same Cleveland Browns roster. Why they didn't re-sign some of these guys is beyond me. Some of them were even Pro Bowlers before they left the team.
What that list tells me is that other coaches can see the talent in Browns players and utilize their potential. Cleveland can find talent but don't realize when they have it. If they've seen all their ex-players bloom in different locations then maybe they'll learn to trust themselves more often. I'm a firm believer that personnel continuity is one of the keys to a successful team. If half your roster is hitting free agency every year then you're starting from scratch each offseason. It probably doesn't sound like I'm making a case for myself so let's get back on track.
Things Going Right
Tyrod Taylor doesn't get enough credit. He's one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league, in my opinion. He seldom turns the ball over and runs efficiently. Some say he's a little too cautious but Sammy Watkins knows he can throw a deep ball. He also led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs and you can't take that away from him.
The crazy thing is that he may not even be starting for the full season. Baker Mayfield was selected with the first overall pick in this year's draft so Tyrod may not have a lot of breathing room. Baker reminds me of Russell Wilson. He's on the smaller side but is mobile and knows how to make plays. He doesn't have the red flags that Johnny Manziel and Brandon Weeden had. DeShone Kizer's big flaws last year were turnovers and being too eager with deep balls which is what ultimately decided games. I don't think you have to worry about that with either Tyrod or Baker.
They finally get Josh Gordon back for a full season since his record-breaking year in 2013. He's often the best player on the field and can take over a game which Cleveland hasn't been able to say about a player in a long time. They also managed to get Jarvis Landry in a trade from Miami. Nobody in NFL history has more receptions in their first four years than Jarvis Landry. Last year, Cleveland's top receiver was Duke Johnson who is great but he's the second-string running back. Having Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon is a major upgrade for whatever QB is under center. Tight end, David Njoku is also entering his second year. He's a little raw but a freak athlete that's a mismatch for almost anybody in the league. Kizer had trouble getting him the ball last year but Tyrod and Baker like tight ends. Njoku even caught a TD from both guys in their opening preseason game.
Defensive backs Damarious Randall and Terrance Mitchell are two of the newest faces in Cleveland. Randall was acquired in a trade with the Packers and Terrance Mitchell last played for Kansas City. They're not household names but they have experience starting in playoff games which doesn't come around often in Cleveland.
Last year's first round pick now has the help of this year's 4th overall pick Denzel Ward, and second-year man Jabril Peppers returns as well.
Hue Jackson is entering the third year with the Browns. Having a lone win over the last two seasons isn't much to boast about but he hasn't inherited a team like this one. He's not a bad coach. His coaching history with his former teams shows that. Jackson being allowed back for a third year is a good thing. He has a better grasp of his roster now. This goes back to the continuity thing I was talking about.
Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator is another valuable addition to the team's offense. He's making his way over from a Steelers team that created stars in Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, and Juju Smith-Schuster. Jarvis Landry has already gone on record by saying that Haley has a lot more routes prepared for him than they did in Miami. We're going to be seeing Jarvis all over the field this year instead of just the slot.
Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb are certainly an upgrade over Isaiah Crowell on paper. Last year the coaching staff said they would try to get Crowell the ball more but that's hard when you're facing a deficit so early in the game. I really wish Joe Thomas stayed around one more year so he could be apart of this unit. There's not exactly much star power or veteran leadership when you look at the current crop of guys they have.
I hope their first preseason game wasn't any indication on the outlook of their season because they couldn't get anything going on the ground. Hopefully Tyrod's running ability can help open things up.
They don't currently have anyone providing pressure up the middle which is a huge problem. However, I think guys like Myles Garrett, Jamie Collins and Mychal Kendricks are good enough to elevate the play of Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard. Although they need help at defensive tackle, linebackers Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert were at the top of the NFL in tackles last season.
Years to Come
The Browns have all the young talent in the world. Now they just need to hang on to them. The Jacksonville Jaguars are a good example of this. They were also once the punchline of the NFL. They got solid draft pieces in Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, Yannick Ngakoue, and Dante Fowler. Once they set their foundation, they were able to fill in the pieces with the free agent acquisitions of Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye. Now they're the most feared defense in the league.
The wins are coming. They have four games every season scheduled against the Ravens and Bengals and nobody exactly has them pinned for deep playoff runs. They get the Raiders and Jets in two of the first four weeks. Losses against those teams means we really have a problem. If the Cleveland Browns re-sign their studs and address the line of scrimmage in the upcoming drafts then the future could be looking bright.