The Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio was extra special for Cleveland Browns fans as the Browns defeated the New York Jets 21-16 under the bright lights (when they were working). Here's a list of players whose stock on the team has either risen or fallen based on how the game played out.
Stock Up: The Browns backup running backs
John Kelly, Demetric Felton, Hassan Hall. It didn’t matter. You want big chunk runs, you got it. The backup running backs showed out in the Hall of Fame Game as all three players rushed for 5.0 yards per carry or more (Kelly ended at 4.9, but c’mon, it’s close enough). Actually, Felton and Hall were both well above 6.0 yards per carry.
The performance calmed any of my concerns about the depth at running back for the Browns. When my podcast interviewed running backs coach Stump Mitchell a couple of weeks ago, he made a strong point to highlight both Kelly and Felton.
Kelly showed his do-it-all capabilities both rushing and receiving, and Felton displayed a ground game we haven't seen from him yet in the NFL. It feels good to leave the first game encouraged about the backfield depth.
Stock Up: Dorian Thompson-Robinson
When the Browns used a fifth-round pick on a quarterback, a lot of fans wondered why. Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) is not just a quarterback; he’s the quarterback the Browns wanted. The team visited with DTR and a few other quarterbacks during the draft process, searching for the guy to be Deshaun Watson's backup for years to come.
They quickly identified DTR as the player they wanted, and they made sure they got him. After last night’s game, hopefully, all fans now understand why.
DTR was poised and decisive, commanding the offense with a confidence you just didn’t sense from Kellen Mond, who started the game. The rookie didn't miss a beat as he completed 8/11 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown with a quarterback rating of 124.0.
He also flashed his outstanding athleticism and skills as a rusher, adding 36 yards on six carries. Oh, and he also set the block that sprung Felton for his touchdown run. Long story short, the rookie from UCLA made a strong first case to be the Browns No. 2 quarterback sooner than later.
Stock Up: Browns rush defense
The Jets couldn’t do anything on the ground. Man, that would’ve been nice to say in Week 2 of last season. But on Thursday night, the Browns defense completely stuffed New York's rushing attack, allowing just 53 yards on 23 attempts for 2.3 yards per carry.
But it’s the Hall of Fame Game, these are all backups, so who cares? Look at it this way: if the Browns backups had allowed the Jets to gash us on the ground, ripping off huge chunk plays and sustaining long drives, I would’ve been very worried that Jim Schwartz isn’t impacting the defense the way everyone had hoped.
With the defense’s performance against the run last night, I feel much better about the Browns run defense being significantly improved this season. After all, if Schwartz can snuff out another team's rushing attack with guys who might not make the roster, just imagine what he’ll do with the studs in the starting lineup.
Honorable mention: Tony Fields II (6 total tackles, 4 solo tackles, and 1 tackle-for-loss)
Stock Down: Anthony Schwartz
The fact that a third-round pick entering his third NFL season had to play in the Hall of Fame Game means Anthony Schwartz was already on the edge of the roster. And he may have pushed himself over that edge Thursday night.
It's also important to note that Schwartz was dealing with a hamstring injury just last week in camp. And the Browns still felt the need to have him on the field last night.
And what happened? With his first touch on a jet sweep, Schwartz gained seven yards and ended the play by fumbling and turning the ball over to the Jets. It was what has become a vintage Anthony Schwartz play, unfortunately. He was targeted just once the entire game, though he did catch that target for a gain of seven yards.
The fact that third-year receiver Jaelon Darden did not dress for the game tells me he already has the edge over Schwartz to make the roster. Last night was put up or shut up for Schwartz, and sadly the only noise he made was a costly turnover.
Stock Down: Kellen Mond
If DTR’s stock is on the rise, it’s moving even faster with how quickly Kellen Mond’s stock is falling. Mond started the game for the Browns, and he looked the part of a career practice squad quarterback. With a stat line of 13/19 for 92 yards with one touchdown and one interception, Mond didn't end up too badly on the score sheet. But watching him told a completely different story.
Mond was hesitant, shaky, and just looked nervous and unsure on the field. He didn’t show any flashes of athleticism to offset his poor passing play. His decision-making was suspect. He threw an interception to a linebacker that every fan watching at home could see was running under the route. As I said, Mond will--at best--be the practice squad quarterback again in 2023.
Stock Down: Cade York
This might be low-hanging fruit, but Cade York has been the topic of much debate this offseason. Cleveland's kicker didn’t have the greatest rookie season, but when you look at the numbers, that assessment is based mostly on field goals and not extra points.
In 2022, York hit 35 of his 37 extra-point attempts. On field goal attempts, however, York was just 24 of 32. Those eight missed field goals had a big impact on the Browns season. The misses cost the team points both on opening drives and in last-minute go-ahead moments. But for a 21-year old rookie, bumps were to be expected. And the hopes have been high that York would improve in 2023 considering the team has not signed any other kickers to compete in camp.
But when the Browns got into field goal range to put the first points on the scoreboard Thursday night, York came out and promptly missed the field goal. Granted, it was a 49-yard attempt, but the broadcast announcers had just finished telling the crowd at home that York had one of the strongest legs in the NFL.
As if the 2022 season were still in full swing, the Browns drove down the field to open the game only to come away with no points thanks to another missed field goal.
To his credit, York made all three of his extra point attempts, so at least he’s consistent. But we didn’t want to see him be consistent with last year; we wanted to see improvement. And missing the field goal on the first drive of the entire NFL season was not a great start.
Dishonorable mention: Hall of Fame Lighting Supervisor (15-minute black-out during the second half)