Quarterback is a mess and will be the focus of significant debate regarding the Browns the rest of this season and all of the offseason and likely into training camp next year. As problematic as that position is and as much focus as it gets and warrants, there are definitely other positions on the offensive side of the ball that need to be upgraded as well. The defense could get a little help but much of the focus with those 10 draft picks will be to transform the offense and build on some strengths they already have, so they can have a strong unit on both sides of the ball in pursuit of the Super Bowl.
The offensive line has a lot of talent and investment that has paid off over the past several years and the reality is the Browns unit is one they could get by with, but there are certainly opportunities to improve it and strengthen the overall unit. Joe Thomas is an institution at left tackle. Alex Mack should be the Browns center for years to come but his contract is about to run out and while the Browns typically keep everything quiet and have said they will not negotiate during the season, there is some concern about whether they will get a deal done. The most logical move for both sides is for Mack to sign a long term deal in Cleveland and continue rolling, but it needs to get done before he can be counted on going forward.
The other three spots on the line are potential spots to improve and really, the Browns only need to upgrade two players to make some big improvements along the front. The biggest question at this point surrounds Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle and just how happy the current front office is with him in that spot.
When it was revealed Eugene Monroe was traded from the Jaguars to the Ravens, there was some noise that the Browns would have been interested in trading for Monroe had they known he was available. That is bizarre that the Browns would say anything about it one way or the other as it potentially suggests the Jaguars were stupid to make the move early, but also opens up the Browns front office for questions about them not being in the loop about a potential trade, even if there was no way to know. Revealing their intentions one way or another one a deal they could not possibly make seems out of character for them and perhaps was just a way to try to motivate Schwartz. Schwartz has been substantially better with an actual guard next to him.
Had the Browns made the trade, the assumption would be that Monroe would have been moved to right tackle as he had been a left tackle for the Jaguars. It seems incredibly unlikely that he would be moved to guard. Some had made the assumption that the Browns would have traded Schwartz to the Jaguars, which is possible, but the Jaguars seemed more interested in assets in the form of draft picks than another player. Also, Schwartz could move to guard. If the Browns are looking to upgrade the right tackle spot, they could slide Schwartz inside to one of the guard spots. Jason Pinkston made the move from right tackle to left guard coming out of college as the left guard spot typically demands more athleticism, particularly in pass blocking as well as the ability to pull often. Schwartz could also simply move inside to right guard.
The contract extension the Browns signed John Greco to in the offseason made it so Greco made a reasonable amount of money if he was the starter, but in the event he is a backup, that contract number comes down significantly. Greco can do a lot of things well, but he seems to struggle with picking up stunts and adjusting to which block he should be picking up, which has allowed pressure to get into the backfield at times. He would make great depth, but he might not be an ideal starter.
The same might be true for Shawn Lauvao. Lauvao has been a better run blocker than pass blocker and is someone who can pull well, but his lateral agility is somewhat of a liability in pass protection and he can have trouble in that part of his game. Lauvao has only played two games this season, so there is time to continue evaluating him, but Lauvao came into this season as arguably the weakest member of the starting unit and there has been little to suggest that is going to change. Like with Greco, Lauvao makes little money and would be a nice backup, but his contract might be coming up and he could be someone that might want to test the market for a starting job elsewhere.
The Browns like Garrett Gilkey. They love his physical ability, his athleticism and the mean streak he brings to the game, but he was extremely raw. This was evident in preseason and the Browns made that painfully clear by throwing Oniel Cousins into the lineup over Gilkey. Cousins was a former tackle that had never played guard, but the Browns did not want to put Gilkey in there and potentially get their quarterback killed. Gilkey has shown a ton of potential and ability, but he is incredibly inconsistent and needs a great deal of work in his pass sets. The Browns do like him and they hope he eventually take one of the starting guard spots, but it is unclear which one or when that could happen. It is possible he could soak up coaching like a sponge and really progress through the offseason and have a great camp and take one. When the Browns were able to pick his spots, they had him in at left guard. His athleticism and ability to pull is an intriguing option there, but banking on Gilkey at least in the short term might be tough to do.
Pinkston is someone the Browns have liked and stuck with, but injuries and setbacks have hurt him and his ability to develop physically. With the style of linemen they like, he needs to get bigger and stronger and be able to move opponents off of the line. He was a good fit in the West Coast Offense that he was drafted to play, but at this point, he is not a great fit for what this front office wants to do.
The Browns could certainly use an early pick to address the offensive line, but it seems unlikely they will go that route to address the guard position. If they have decided they want to upgrade the right tackle position, it could be difficult to project when and where they could go with that pick. It is not out of the realm of possibility that they could love someone in the first round. If they are looking for a guard, unless the value is outstanding, it seems like that will start in the third round and later.
The one thing that could help the offensive line more than anything would be a talented running back. A legitimate running threat would make the Browns less predictable. As a result, the opposing defensive line cannot know what is coming on so many plays and have a much harder time beating the offensive line. Whether it has been Trent Richardson, Willis McGahee, or Chris Ogbannaya, there are some occasional plays that look good but the overall running game struggles. The Browns like Dion Lewis and he will back from a broken leg next year and can hopefully continue to look as promising as he did early in this year, but the Browns could use one or maybe even two running backs in this draft.
First round running backs are just not a good investment. In the second round and increasingly as the draft rolls along, the value on running backs gets to be really good. If the Browns can get one really good running back, it would make a huge difference, but they might be well served to get two running backs from the third round on and have them along with Lewis going into training camp. It would give them options on having different types of backs but also just gives them more chances to get it right and have a stronger running game. Norv Turner has been an offensive coordinator that likes to have a stable of running backs, so they can roll with the hot hand, use them in different roles and never not have a healthy option.
Wide receiver is a position with a great deal of potential but some big questions as well. No one denies the talent of Josh Gordon and the Browns have priced him to a point where they have to be confident in his ability to turn around and stay out of trouble. That might involve a fulltime babysitter of some sort and if that is what it takes to keep him on the field and producing, it is a worthwhile investment.
Davone Bess is what he is. He makes for a great third option that can get open, particularly on third downs, catch the ball and extend drives. Bess does a lot of things well, but he is not really a playmaker that a team wants to rely on to make big plays to win games. Bess is doing exactly what he should be doing in the Browns offense.
There is a big question with the second wide receiver spot. Greg Little has shown a pulse over the last two weeks but he seems far more qualified to be a fourth receiver and first backup into the game than he does a frontline player and standing number two. Certainly he will have the rest of this season to change minds on that front, but he may just not be enough. Travis Benjamin is not a wide receiver really at all. He is a part time offensive player that can line up and do a few things like stretch the field, but he is not someone that can play a ton of reps. Benjamin can get better at what he does, but he is pretty much doing what he is always going to be doing.
Unless there is a huge change, the Browns are going to be targeting a wide receiver early in the draft and they should. Not only because they could use another starter across from Gordon, but should Gordon get in trouble again and be out a year, the Browns have nothing there right now. They have to get another frontline option that can be a great option across from Gordon, but someone who could potentially fill in for Gordon as well.
Gordon can do quite a bit, but teams can double him and try to find ways to take him out of the game. There are a lot of openings created for another receiver because of what he and Jordan Cameron are doing. A better receiver could make more plays and take much more advantage of space and put more pressure on a defense as well as making whichever quarterback they have starting next year to have an easier path to success.
The Browns could end up using the other first round pick they got from the Indianapolis Colts for Richardson or their second round pick to address this position. There appears to be a good crop of receivers with varying shapes and sizes that could give the Browns a number of different looks. Rob Chudzinski and Turner have a history with bigger receivers so that could be the route they go with this move.
Jordan Cameron is great, but the Browns need additional tight end help. The way the rules in the NFL have shifted, the Browns would be stupid not to get more weapons for that position. Gary Barnidge is what he is; a utility player that can fill in, block a little bit and add to special teams but no one looks at him as a weapon. The Browns need to find someone who can be a consistent blocker but can also go out and make plays as a pass catcher; Steve Heiden to Kellen Winslow. Before injuries ended Heiden’s career, he had gone from just a big guy who could block and developed into a reliable receiver and a blue collar, lunch pail guy that fans knew what to expect from on a weekly basis.
Cameron is a big time playmaker, which is great, but he is not a great blocker. Having someone who could come in and line up next to the right tackle and move opponents off of the ball as well as being able to play opposite of Cameron and go out for passes with size and strength is invaluable. The Bengals have a great situation with Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. This is becoming an extremely popular choice because the rules make it difficult to defend and there are not a ton of players who are going to be able to stop a 6’4”-6’6” 250-270lb player with strength and the ability to jump up and catch a football. Barnidge could go back to the role he had in Carolina as the third tight end and be a full time utility player who could come in with this other tight end for goal line and load up a side of the line and allow the Browns to run as well as helping on special teams and being solid depth. Barnidge is a solid utility player but he is not a dynamic threat as a tight end to this point in his career.
Being able to have a player that could line up inline while having Cameron in the slot or even out wide puts a ton of pressure on the defense in terms of how they are going to match up in coverage and that is before they have decided how they are going to try to cover a player like Gordon and potentially stop the run. There are so many ways an offensive coordinator could move guys around and torture defenses with what they could do if they could find the right guy to complement Cameron.
There are some tight ends that could do exactly what the Browns want and potentially be superstars that would warrant a first round pick, but the Browns may not want to wait too long to address this spot. It could end up getting a little thin in terms of getting guys that could be a blocker and receiver around the third or fourth round.
Along with the tight end position, the Browns need to make a decision on how they want to approach the fullback position if they want to use one at all. The yoked up running back can be a great approach to it, but Ogbannaya is not a great blocker. He is alright and he was put in a tough spot this year trying to make the move on short notice, so maybe he can get better, but the Browns may not want to wait. The reason this is connected to the tight end position is that there are some tight ends that can work as a fullback as well which would save a roster spot. The Browns might want to draft someone who can do both jobs, which is not necessarily easy to find. It is also possible the Browns may just want to get a bunch of tight ends that are really good and just use the fullback position sparingly; perhaps using an offensive or defensive lineman to do the job in short yardage and goal line situations to do the job.
With fullbacks, they tend to go later in the draft, but that could be different if the Browns draft a tight end that could do this job as well as being an inline threat. And if they want to go with a yoked up running back, that could be picked anywhere on day three or potentially as an undrafted free agent.
The Browns have some legitimate talent on the offensive side of the ball. Thomas is as good as there is in the NFL at what he does, Mack is a consistently good pivot, Cameron has blossomed into a huge playmaker and Gordon has all the potential in the world to be a great player for the Browns for a long time as long as he can stay out of trouble. Bess is a great complementary option like Joe Jurevicious was when he was here and the Browns have some players that can be solid if need be with some of their linemen and Ogbannaya, but they have a lot of issues that need to be addressed in addition to the quarterback position.
The good news is the Browns are well equipped to do the job. Not only do they have the picks, but the positions do not all need to be addressed in the first round and they can use some of those mid to late round picks to hopefully address find some contributors. It also remains to be seen how they will approach free agency this year. Much will depend on the analysis the Browns make on what they have and how good they feel about certain players both now and going into the future. They are going to put a significant focus on the offense; who and how remains to be seen. Done well, they could potentially have an offense just as potent as the defense they have put together and give whoever is under center next year a great foundation from which to operate.
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