The Cleveland Browns have transformed their personnel and the general perception of the organization in record time. We take a look at how far they were able to come in the past year.
At this time last season.
The Cleveland Browns were entering their third campaign under Hue Jackson. The Browns were coming off a winless season, a feat that had not been matched since 2008. The Sashi Brown-era had finally and mercifully came to an end, and Jimmy Haslem hired John Dorsey as the new general manager to right the ship.
A large majority of the roster consisted of highly touted unproven commodities. Some of these players were not even given an opportunity to prove themselves. Instead, they were placed in waiting behind some middle of the road veteran players.
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One such player was Baker Mayfield, a quarterback who was drafted at No. 1 overall and placed in waiting so the coaching staff could bring him along slowly. They decided the safer route would be to go with a veteran journeyman at quarterback, because…reasons.
Another young player who was being passed up for a “safe” veteran player was running back Nick Chubb. Chubb flashed many times throughout the preseason, but apparently not enough to warrant him earning any meaningful playing time.
Many of the Cleveland Browns offensive hopes had just arrived from yet another rehab stint in Gainesville, Florida. The talented wide receiver, who shall not be named because he is no longer wearing orange and brown, possessed tons of ability, just not reliability or availability. Instead of tearing off the band-aid so that we could begin to heal, the organization, like a jilted lover, held on to the hope that he could and would change. A few weeks later he did change. He changed uniforms.
The biggest offseason addition to the team was Jarvis Landry. Dorsey made a trade for the talented fourth-year receiver and immediately signed him to a long-term deal. The move provided stability at the position but was met with criticism due to the amount of money Landry was going to be making.
The elephant in the room was the hole left behind by future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. For the first time in a decade, the Browns had to look for a left tackle. During the preseason, the Browns tried out rookie Austin Corbett, as well as veteran left guard Joel Bitionio, at the position. In the end, and with no evidence supporting it would work, the coaching staff went with undrafted free agent rookie Desmond Harrison at left tackle.
On the defensive side of the ball, the young talent was getting the opportunity to prove themselves. Myles Garrett was already considered the biggest bright spot on the team, although he had yet to prove that to be true on the field. The optimism surrounding the 2017 No. 1 overall pick was immense.
The linebacker unit was looked at as the most complete group on the roster. Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, and free-agent signee Mychal Kendricks were viewed as a strength the defense could rely on.
The defensive back room had the most unproven talent on the team. Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward was getting most of the publicity, but Terrance Mitchell had been proving himself as a solid starter during camp. The safeties were huge question marks. The Browns had traded their previous starting quarterback for Damarious Randall; a cornerback who was going to convert to playing safety. Rounding out the group was Jabrill Peppers, who was starting to be viewed as a bust. The coaching staff decided to move Peppers from free safety to strong safety in hopes that it would kick-start his NFL career.
Fast forward one year.
Hue Jackson is no longer driving the bus. His license was suspended, and the keys were handed to longtime NFL assistant Freddie Kitchens. John Dorsey has entrenched himself as the architect of this franchise and the future has never been brighter.
Baker Mayfield finally did get the opportunity to play. Mayfield took the reigns and never looked back. He proved himself as the unquestioned leader and future of the team, and for the first time since Bernie Kosar, the Browns have a franchise quarterback.
The Browns finally ripped off the band-aid known as Flash and nurtured the young wide receiving talent they had on the roster. In the offseason, they added Odell Beckham Jr. to an already burgeoning wide receiver room. The sky is the limit with the weapons Mayfield now has at his disposal.
The running back room will not be at its full potential until Week 10 due to Kareem Hunt’s suspension. Even without Hunt’s presence, the Browns are in the best situation at running back they have been in since the late 1980’s. Nick Chubb emerged as an explosive playmaker who can score from anywhere on the field. His ability to make the first defender miss will keep the Browns ahead of the chains and keep the offense unpredictable.
The Browns have not found Joe Thomas’ replacement at left tackle. They probably will never have that level of play at the position again; a testament to how great Thomas truly was.
On the defensive side of the ball, all of the young unproven talent has blossomed into one of the most promising units in the league. Myles Garrett is a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate who strikes fear in the heart of opposing quarterbacks. Larry Ogunjobi is a stellar defensive tackle who could be in line for a breakout year. Dorsey added former pro bowlers Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon to the defensive line as well.
The linebacker unit has gone through some changes, mostly due to schematic reasons. Schobert and Kirksey will get the lion share of reps, but rookies Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki will add some depth as well as athleticism.
Denzel Ward proved to be the elite cover corner he was drafted to be. Terrance Mitchell has held serve as the opposite starting corner and Dorsey added to the talent in the room by drafting Greedy Williams in the second round. The move to trade for Damarious Randall proved to be one of the greatest steals in the history of the franchise.
What a difference a year makes.
It’s hard to recall a faster turnaround in recent memory. The Browns have gone from the basement to the penthouse in record time. The team has to prove everything on the field to cement their status among the elite, but the roster assembled by John Dorsey is jaw-dropping. He took the Browns from a team with nothing in the cupboards to an embarrassment of riches in a little over a year.
From the NFL’s perennial punching bag to the cover of Sports Illustrated’s NFL preview, what a difference a year makes.