The Cleveland Browns released their first depth chart of the 2019 season on Monday, but the initial lineup lacks returner options.
The Cleveland Browns initial depth chart has only three names to handle punt returns and kickoff returns: Antonio Callaway, Dontrell Hilliard and Jarvis Landry. Currently, there are no other challengers listed, even though the Browns have at least two other long shot players with return experience in Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi and D’Ernest Johnson.
None of those three main candidates is really a return specialist, a la Josh Cribbs, the former Browns special teams superstar who produced eight special teams touchdowns in his career while also serving as a deadly tackler on the coverage teams.
Landry of course is a star receiver, and is used on punt returns because he is an All-Pro who is willing to do whatever his team needs him to do. He is sure handed and smart, but not necessarily the game-breaking returner. He is the insurance policy in case the other returners are not available.
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Earlier this off-season there was talk that Hilliard might have a shot to make the team, given that Kareem Hunt was going to be unavailable for the first eight games of the regular season. Now, it is clear that Hilliard is at the top of the depth chart at punt returner and is also second-string as the kickoff return man. He is also second-string tailback, having moved up the depth chart while Duke Johnson was skipping workouts and is now on the sidelines with a bum hammy. The Browns would rather have Hilliard become the top punt returner, rather than Landry.
Callaway is the fastest of the three and thus is the logical candidate for returning kickoffs. But the Browns also have the option of having Odell Beckham, Jr. return punts because he is an experienced punt returner.
For whatever reason, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, the 4.38 speedster who wheedled his way into a tryout and running back D’Ernest Johnson are not listed on the depth chart. Joel Cade of Dawg Pound Daily suggests that the reason may be simply that the coaching staff relies on the public relations department for the depth chart, so it may not be as painstakingly accurate as some of us would like. We may see either or both in the game on Thursday versus Washington.
Sheehy-Guiseppi is a former NJCAA All-American returner who in 2016 led the NJCAA in kick return yards with 1,278 yards and finishing second in punt return yards with 400. He averaged 32.8 yards per kickoff return and scored four special teams touchdowns. Those are gaudy numbers, but he is only 5-foot-11 and 181 pounds. On the other hand, former Brown Travis Benjamin is 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds and is earning a decent NFL living as a returner and wide receiver.
Johnson (5-foot-10, 208 pounds) is the University of South Florida’s career leader in all-purpose yards (4,186) and has experience at both returning kicks and punts. However, he ran a 4.79 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, which is slower than the coaches would like to see from a return man.