The Cleveland Browns just completed the franchises first 0-16 season. Only one other team (2008 Detroit Lions) in NFL history has finished 0-16. The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in their inaugural season. Failed draft choices, bad free agent deals and tensions with the coaching staff led to the firing of General Manager Sashi Brown. The roster needs a large influx of talent and new General Manager John Dorsey is armed with 10 draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft as well as over $100 million dollars in cap space to spend in free agency. Here are my grades on the current roster by position and the outlook for 2018.
The Browns drafted Deshone Kizer in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft in hopes that he could be the teams franchise quarterback. In 15 starts Kizer was 255-476 (53.6%) with 11 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and nine fumbles. Kizer was inaccurate and ineffective all season. He failed to show any progress as the season went on and does not appear to be in the plans to be the starting quarterback in 2018. Kevin Hogan made an impressive relief appearance in October against the New York Jets. He started the following week against the Houston Texans and threw three interceptions and did not see the field again the rest of the season. Cody Kessler made three appearances and was ineffective.
The Browns are expected to draft a quarterback with either the first of fourth pick in the 2018 draft. They are also expected to bring in a veteran quarterback either via trade or free agency. There is a strong possibility that John Dorsey will pursue a trade for his former Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith as it is rumored that he will be on the trade block.
Running Backs: C-
Isaiah Crowell did a decent job as the starting running back in 2017 as he rushed for 853 yards averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He was only able to eclipse 100 yards in one game this season. Coach Hue Jackson abandoned the running game for most of the season as Crowell only averaged 12.8 carries per game. This was a big factor in the lack of 100 yard games for Crowell. He is an unrestricted free agent and is not expected to return to the team in 2018. Duke Johnson had an impressive 2017 season as he rushed for 348 yards and tallied 693 yards receiving scoring seven touchdowns. Johnson is one of the Browns top offensive weapons. He will be an intregal part of the 2018 offense. Matthew Dayes showed some potential in the preseason and a few brief appearances this season.
If Crowell is not re-signed there is a possibility the Browns will draft Penn State’s Saquon Barkley at either one or four in the first round of the 2018 draft as he is the best play maker in the draft. The 2018 draft is deep at the running back position so expect the Browns to take one at some point whether it is Barkley or someone else.
Wide Receivers: D+
This position was was an F before the return of Josh Gordon. He showed in his return from his 2+ year suspension that he can be the elite receiver that he was in 2013. If he can stay out of trouble and stay 100% committed to football Gordon will be the number one receiver next season. 2016 first round pick Corey Coleman has had an injury riddled and inconsistent two seasons with the Browns. He has only played in 19 of a possible 32 games in two seasons averaging only 37 yards per game. John Dorsey could look to move Coleman as it appears he is not a fit in Hue Jackson’s offense. Rashard Higgins showed some nice flashes in 2017 and should be in the mix in 2018. Ricardo Louis did not develop as expected and was plagued by dropped passes this season. I would expect the Browns to move on from him in 2018. Sammie Coates didn’t receive much playing time after being acquired from Pittsburgh.
The Browns will most likely add one or two receivers either thru the draft or free agency. It is rumored that former Brown Terrell Pryor will look to return to the team in 2018.
Tight Ends: C
David Njoku was drafted by Cleveland in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. He had an up and down rookie season accumulating 386 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Njoku showed enormous potential and should be the Browns starting tight end for many years. Seth DeValve is another young tight end with good potential. He made 33 catches for 395 yards in part time duty in 2017. DeValve should be in the Browns plans going forward. Randall Telfer was used mainly as a blocking tight end and did a nice job in that role.
The tight end position is in pretty good shape going forward with two high potential young players in Njoku and DeValve.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line was one of the strengths of the 2017 Browns. Left tackle Joe Thomas unfortunately suffered a torn tricep injury on October 22nd and missed the rest of the season. At 33 years old Thomas in unsure as to whether or not he will continue playing next season. Although he is on the downside of his career Thomas is still one of the top left tackles in the NFL. Joel Bitonio returned from a serious foot injury and had a solid 2017 season at left guard. J.C. Tretter was signed as a free agent in the offseason to solidify the center position and did just that. The Browns made Kevin Zeitler the highest paid offensive lineman in the league last offseason. Although he struggled early on Zeitler played well as the starting right guard. Shon Coleman won the right tackle spot in the preseason and had a solid first year as a starter. Spencer Drango stepped in at left tackle when Joe Thomas went down with the triceps injury and did an admirable job.
If Thomas decided to retire the Browns will most likely draft a tackle in the draft. Drango proved that he can hold down the position and start should they lose Thomas.
Defensive Line: C-
Myles Garrett was the number one pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He had an up and down first year but showed the potential to be a dominant force for years to come. Garrett accumulated seven sacks in his first season and faced a lot of double teams. Emmanuel Ogbah got off to a good start to his season before getting injured in week 10. He had four sacks on the season. Danny Shelton played in 14 games and had 34 tackles. He did a better job this season against the run. Trevon Coley had a solid first season as an undrafted free agent. He had 41 tackles and two sacks in 15 games. Caleb Brantley appeared in 12 games in his rookie season and had 18 tackled and two sacks. Larry Ogunjobi is another rookie tackle who had a solid season with 32 tackles and one sack. Defensive end Carl Nassib played in all 16 games and had 31 tackles and three sacks. Jamie Meder filled in at tackle in 10 games.
The Browns have a ton of young potential on the defensive line and they should only get better next season.
Another position of strength of the team is the linebacking core. Jamie Collins re-signed with the Browns last offseason and played well before suffering a season ending injury on November 12th against Detroit. Christian Kirksey was once again an anchor of the Cleveland defense and was fourth in the NFL with 138 tackles. Joe Schobert won the middle linebacker spot after a season ending injury to Tank Carder and was tied for first in the NFL with 144 tackles. He was selected as a pro bowl alternate. Undrafted rookie James Burgess played well in place of the injured Collins accumulating 76 tackles.
The starting linebackers should remain intact with the Browns likely adding depth via the draft and free agency.
Defensive backs: D+
Free agent acquisition Jason McCourty was the Browns best defensive back in 2017. He recorded 65 tackles and three interceptions while most times defending the oppositions top receiver. On the other side Jamar Taylor had a quiet season after breaking out in 2016 and earning a contract extension from Cleveland. Briean Boddy-Calhoun is a solid nickel back but he did not record an interception in 2017 after picking off three passes in 2016. First round pick Jabrill Peppers played out of position at free safety and was ineffective most of the season. He was moved to strong safety for the final two games and played well. Derrick Kindred started at strong safety for most of the season and was very strong against the run. Young undrafted players Kai Nacua, Justin Currie and Mike Jordan got a little playing time towards the end of the season. 2017 fourth found pick missed the whole season with a knee injury and should be in the mix in 2018.
The Browns will most certainly add a starting free safety either in the draft or free agency which will enable Peppers to stay at strong safety. Look for the Browns to also add a starting caliber cornerback to compete with Taylor and McCourty.
Special teams: D
The Browns drafted kicker Zane Gonzalez in the 7th round of the 2017 draft. On the season Gonzalez hit on 15/20 (75%) of his field goals and 25/26 extra points. He struggled early in the season but made eight of his last nine field goal attempts. Punter Britton Colquit had a solid season averaging 47.6 yards per punt which was 10th in the league. The Browns combined kick and punt return numbers were 26th in the league.
Expect the Browns to bring in another kicker next season to compete with Gonzalez. Colquitt should return as the punter. He kept this from being a failing grade.