The Browns begin the 2012 season today with the Philadelphia Eagles in town, which also means many of the Browns’ players begin their NFL careers. 15 of them to be exact. That’s a lot of rookies. Let’s take a look at what to expect from these NFL newbies.
Trent Richardson: Richardson is a flat-out physical freak. His ability to stop on a dime to wait for holes to open up, find that new hole, and get right back into full gear is as impressive a skill as I have ever watched out of a college back. The many defenders stuffed into the box to help contain Richardson will likely be Trent’s toughest hurdle to overcome as a rookie. Still, he should step right in and become a 1,000 yard rusher and flirt with 1,500 all-purpose yards in his rookie campaign. Hey, at least for the first time since the Browns returned to the NFL, Cleveland has a dynamic talent that the entire nation wants to watch play.
Brandon Weeden: There has been talk that Weeden was somewhat disappointing in the preseason. I would expect nothing else. After all, he is a rookie. A rookie who is not so far off from receiving AARP letters, but a rookie nonetheless. Even Dennis Quaid in The Rookie thinks Brandon Weeden is old. Yet I fully expect Weeden to be the starter for the entirety of the Browns’ season, barring injury of course. Weeden’s air-it-out mentality will provide both ups and downs in his first season, but he can throw the ball more than 15 yards down field, which is a major change of pace for the Browns.
With that, however, will come interceptions. As a rookie, he will be fractions of a second late on some of the deep balls he heaves up and 20 interceptions on the season is a fair expectation for him. Despite his high chances of getting picked off, I think Weeden’s play will be strong enough to make Browns fans excited to see what future seasons have in store. He will eclipse the 3,000-yard mark and actually have a season that is not too far off from what a fellow redhead, Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals, had in 2011. Brandon Weeden is also proud to be an American, where at least he knows he’s free.
Mitchell Schwartz: First and foremost, from one member of the tribe to another, I’d like to say Mazel Tov to Mitchell for reaching the NFL and being named the Browns’ starting right tackle. Schwartz was not a sexy pick, but he will be a productive one. He will step in as a rookie and provide a major upgrade to the right side of the offensive line. Fellow California Golden Bear Alex Mack will be a great mentor for the rookie and will help Schwartz elevate his level of play immediately.
Josh Gordon: Gordon is a complete question mark, but he is bound to have 400-plus yards simply because the other wide receivers are so pathetic. Mohamed Massaquoi is always hurt, so Gordon will naturally earn more time as the season goes on. I liked what I saw out of him in the preseason, and Gordon will show glimpses of being a very good NFL wide receiver. However, because of his limited experience, the learning curve for him is very high.
John Hughes: Hughes seemed like a head-scratcher in round three, but he will turn heads as a rookie due to his relentless motor. Hughes will not be a superstar, but he is a nice rotational guy that will add much needed depth to the defensive trenches. The problem is that the injury to Phil Taylor leaves Hughes as much more than a rotational guy. Accordingly, he is going to experience serious growing pains. Expect a couple tackles a game and a forced fumble or two for Hughes in his first season.
Travis Benjamin: I actually loved the Benjamin pick, even though I try not to trust people with two first names. When the Browns selected the Miami (FL) product, there were other wide receivers available who had “No. 1 wide receiver potential,” but the Browns would have been foolish to select one of those players who rarely pan out. Benjamin will never be a star wide receiver, but he will immediately add an element to the offense that I don’t remember ever having: blazing speed. Benjamin can stretch the field in a way the Browns were never able to do last season (or any season for a really long time). Expect Benjamin to become to the Browns’ offense what Devery Henderson is to the New Orleans Saints’ offense. I see about 500 yards receiving and a few deep touchdowns as his projection.
James-Michael Johnson: Johnson adds much-needed depth to the linebacker unit. He has a knack for making plays and has impressed the coaching staff thus far. If he can make a seamless transition to outside linebacker, expect him to start racking up tackles immediately. It seems 50 tackles is a reasonable expectation for Johnson, but he has a much higher ceiling than that depending on the amount of playing time he receives after his recent injury.
The Rest: Ryan Miller will be a nice depth addition on the offensive line. Emmanuel Acho would have stepped in this year as a productive special teams guy, but he has been placed on injured reserve. L.J. Fort and Tank Carder have awesome linebacker names and are going to be forced to play larger roles given the injuries incurred at the position. Billy Winn and Trevin Wade, well, I don’t know too much about them. Production from either is a bonus. However, my bold prediction is that Brad Smelley rises up from the practice squad and earns some serious playing time in his rookie campaign. Honestly, I just want Smelley to be better than he probably is.
The Browns will start the season with 15 rookies, an unheard of amount. Production from the rookies is guaranteed, seeing as they make up more than a quarter of the entire roster. Rather, the rookies better produce, or this team is in serious trouble. I expect the Browns to be a team more like it was two seasons ago; one of the “best bad teams” in the league. They will play hard and be close in a lot of contests, but I don’t expect it to translate to many wins. That being said, the Browns season begins today!
Here we go.