For once, analysts everywhere are lauding the Cleveland Browns, mostly for being aggressive yet smart in the offseason. Some have even pegged them as a wild card contender. But can the Browns really lay claim to the league’s most improved team?
Recently, well-known sports talk host Colin Cowherd had this to say about the Cleveland Browns, only a couple short weeks after his interview with quarterback Baker Mayfield.
"“Well, what do you know, the Cleveland Browns. The most improved team in my opinion, the most improved roster in the NFL. No pressure for this team, no expectations, I think Nick Chubb who they drafted from Georgia will be the offensive rookie of the year in the AFC. It will not be a Sam Darnold. It will not be a Josh Rosen. It will not be a Baker Mayfield. Nick Chubb is going to win rookie of the year at running back for them.” — Cowherd via The Herd"
Interesting comments, especially coming from Cowherd who has mostly bashed Cleveland since the draft with cries for Sam Darnold and Bradley Chubb, rather than John Dorsey‘s selections of Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward. But his comments do raise the question, is he right? Are the classic laughing stock Browns the NFL’s most improved squad?
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To decide, we’ll have to look at three categories: offensive additions, defensive additions, and those additions’ importance to the team. Let’s tackle the offensive side first.
Of course, the quarterbacks immediately come to mind, Tyrod Taylor and No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Both are smaller quarterbacks, but more mobile to fit the Hue Jackson and Todd Haley system. Neither turn the ball over too much, and Baker can really fire downfield with some accuracy. Four stars.
Running backs, we’ve got Nick Chubb, Carlos Hyde, and a returning Duke Johnson. Johnson is a stud, Hyde is a decent enough power back, and Nick Chubb might just be rookie of the year in a run-based offense. Five stars, well done.
Wide receivers, the Browns added Jarvis Landry in a blockbuster move, along with Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, and fourth-round pick Antonio Callaway. It’s confusing how these pieces might fit together, but definitely the most interesting of group on the team. Optimistically, this is a four star move, but you have to expect the unexpected, so let’s go three and a half stars.
Tight ends are nearly a moot point, as the Browns didn’t really add any major players. David Njoku, and to an extent Seth Devalve are both interesting prospects. Njoku has a chance to be special, but he’s still very much growing into his role and his frame. Three stars.
Offensive line, the Browns lost the legendary Joe Thomas, leaving Shon Coleman likely as the starter. They drafted Austin Corbett, but no one is quite sure where he fits. Donald Stephenson just retired, but who knows where he was going to play anyways? This one could get a bit uglier than you might think. Two and a half stars.
On the defensive side, we’ll start with the defensive line. Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah are studs when healthy together. Larry Ogunjobi has been mentioned in a legitimate “next Ndamukong Suh” conversation, which is certainly promising. Whoever fills that fourth spot, likely Caleb Brantley, will have three of the league’s best young and hungry defensive linemen by their sides. Nice job, boys. Five stars.
Linebackers are a major strength for the Cleveland Browns and they only got better this offseason. The Browns already had Jamie Collins for star power and Christian Kirksey for major production. This spring they added Mychal Kendricks from the Eagles to provide both and complete the starting corps. Add some major depth and you’re looking at another five stars.
Finally, the secondary, which will almost certainly be the group that takes the longest to sort out. The Browns needed secondary help, and they almost got too much of it. Gregg Williams will have more defensive backs than he knows what to do with, and we might just end up throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. Three stars for this one, as it’s almost certain that something has to stick.
Add in the addition of Todd Haley as offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson with his back up against the wall, and the ever so intense Gregg Williams and the coaching staff could be okay too. Jackson is still a major question mark, but he has more pressure this season, combined with less to do as head coach with Haley around. Three and a half stars, but this one might end up way off.
Overall, the Browns score a respectable 34 and a half stars on the improvement scale. The offensive line, while solid on the inside, might need some work, but…Colin Cowherd might actually be right. It is, scientifically it seems, entirely possible that Cleveland comes out of this season with six or more wins, making them a very likely candidate for the most improved team.