The Cleveland Browns greatly underperformed in 2019, forcing the deck of cards to be re-shuffled. Kevin Stefanski took over for Freddie Kitchens as the head coach in northeast Ohio. There are plenty of skill positions players in place for the Browns to be successful. What do they need to do to ascend the ladder in the pecking order? After posting records of 7-8-1 and 6-10 the past two years, will they close the gap on Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North?
This side of the ball gave up a lot of plays. Complimentary football has been lacking, another reason there has been a dearth of winning seasons for three decades. Getting off the field on third down has been problematic. That being said, versus Baltimore, for almost 180 of the 240 minutes, the defense was able to contain the eventual league MVP Lamar Jackson and their offense.
To be successful, they must be able to defend both the run and the pass. They added a veteran defensive end, Adrian Clayborn, on March 31st, per Daryl Ruiter. Clayborn adds some experience and leadership after coming over from Atlanta. Having started fifty-two games, he needs to stay healthy as the games grow in importance. Picking up former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo was another solid addition for the back end of the defense.
K’lavon Chaisson – LSU
Cleveland’s first pick is at ten. The team needs to atone for the loss of Joe Schobert. They may not get Isaiah Simmons by that point, so I suspect they pick up another player on their roster who went to LSU. Though he tore his ACL in 2018, he was able to come back the following year to win a national championship. He recorded thirteen and a half tackles for loss and six and a half sacks this past term to help get his side to the mountaintop.
The AFC North is very physical. Many games, particularly late in the year are played in less than ideal conditions, with rain or snow potentially playing a role. I sense that Stefanski, having spent time with the Minnesota Vikings would be the type of coach that likes to run to set up the pass. Cleveland will utilize their backs, which if successful, allows them to feast on defenses through the passing game. Baker Mayfield had a sophomore slump, and he needs to show that it was an aberration in year three. He needs to take better care of the ball.
Still, I believe the offensive line will be a major reason they sink or swim in the division when play resumes. Players like Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Austin Hooper, Jarvis Landry, etc. cannot be effective if the line cannot block, one of many hard lessons from last autumn. Remember, the Browns have to deal with T.J. Watt twice a year, so one way to shore up that area was acquiring Jack Conklin from Tennessee. He played on the right side of the offensive line in Nashville.
Andrew Thomas – Georgia
A six-foot-five, 315-pound offensive lineman falls into their lap out of the University of Georgia. He gets selected in the second round at forty-one overall after completing his junior year in Athens. He ended up playing right tackle in his first year but went to the left side in his sophomore season. Having played against great players in the SEC on a weekly basis will prepare him. A couple of months ago in Indianapolis, he finished with twenty-one reps on the bench press, and thirty and a half inches on the vertical jump. I think he will gain a lot of wisdom from Conklin and he will plug in nicely.
A productive kick returner has been difficult to come by ever since Josh Cribbs donned the Cleveland Browns attire a decade ago. Jabrill Peppers, outside of a signature game in Denver in Week 16 of the 2018 season did not produce enough game-changing plays during his stay, and it was a game-clinching play on defense that Browns fans no doubt remember. Having short fields and not driving eighty yards on a consistent basis would be refreshing. Saturday the 25th, the team is scheduled to go ninth in the fourth round. I expect them to use the pick for someone who can flip the field following a punt or kick.
Denzel Mims – Baylor
The Baylor wide receiver timed in at 4.38 in the forty-yard dash. He will return kicks as a backup to JoJo Natson and will fit nicely at wide receiver on offense. He hails from Daingerfield, Texas. His vertical jump for the six-foot-three senior was thirty-eight and a half inches. He had sixty-six catches for just over a thousand receiving yards in his most recent year playing for the Waco-based university.
What do you feel is a position of need in the 2020 NFL Draft for the Cleveland Browns? Leave a comment below.
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Works cited: The Dan Patrick Show, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, The Rich Eisen Show, Cleveland Browns Daily, Cleveland Browns app, YouTube, Sports Illustrated, Twitter, radio.com 92.3 The Fan article “Clayborn enters 10th season, had 4.0 sacks for Falcons in 2019”, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, ESPN, NFL app and website (had player bios)