The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we continue with the AFC North to provide a Cleveland Browns 2016 preview to discuss a team that is kicking the tires on a young quarterback who may or may not still have superstar potential.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Cleveland Browns 2016 Preview
Head coach: Hue Jackson (first season)
Key arrivals: QB Robert Griffin III, ILB Demario Davis, OG Alvin Bailey, FS Rahim Moore
Key departures: C Alex Mack, S Tashaun Gipson, RT Mitchell Schwartz, WR Travis Benjamin, ILB Craig Robertson, CB Johnson Bademosi, ILB Karlos Dansby
1. How will the RB3 reclamation project go?
In a vacuum, it’s easy to envision Hue Jackson and Robert Griffin III putting together a successful first season together. After all, Jackson has long desired to coach up a talented passer who can also run, and RG3 fits the bill.
The early returns in the offseason produced mixed results, with one beat writer making it clear there was plenty of inconsistency in Griffin’s game. However, Jackson has lauded his young quarterback more recently, especially as it pertains to his ability to lead — something he struggled with during his tenure in Washington.
It seems likely the Browns will attempt to replicate in some way the type of offense that Griffin succeeded at running during his rookie campaign — lots of stretch runs and play-action passes to soften up the back end of the defense for big plays over the top.
What remains to be seen if whether or not the Browns have the talent at running back to scare anyone. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson could potentially be a nice one-two punch, but neither was particularly effective rushing the ball last season, and Cleveland actually featured a top offensive line in 2015.
Not so much any more, with two of the top starters, Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack, gone via free agency. This leads us to our next big question, which could have everything to do with answering the first.
2. Do the Browns have the talent up front to protect him?
Losing both Mack and Schwartz to free agency appears to have been — on the surface — a huge blunder by the moneyball front-office of Cleveland. Both were high-level performers at the center and right tackle positions, and losing Mack will almost certainly hurt, at least in the short term.
At this point, it’s looking like Austin Pasztor will replace Schwartz at right tackle. He started four games at guard last year for Cleveland and has been a guard throughout his four-year career, so it could be a stretch to say he has a good shot at performing at a high level on the edge on passing downs.
The real question mark, though, is having second-year center Cameron Erving slide into the starting center spot. He was a veritable disaster at times last year in his rookie campaign out of Florida State and could make Browns fans nervous early on.
The talent across the line is questionable outside of Joe Thomas, who remains a stalwart left tackle and should keep RG3 clean more plays than not on the blind side.
3. How quickly can the young defensive front make an impact?
The Browns have invested heavily the past few drafts in their front seven, selecting Xavier Cooper, Danny Shelton, Carl Nassib, Christian Kirksey, Barkevious Mingo, Emmanuel Ogbah and Joe Schobert within the first four rounds.
But will they end up being any good together?
That’s the big question. The Browns have done what they could to build up the roster with top talent, and now it’s time for these young guns to perform.
In particular, Nassib and Ogbah has their work cut out to put in solid work as rookies. If they can stay on the field and produce, then the front seven will likely give the back end enough time to shine and produce turnovers.
Corey Coleman, wide receiver
The Browns have been touting Coleman’s virtues like crazy this summer.
So have other, perhaps more objective, people.
Out at #Browns practice. 1st round pick Corey Coleman has been impressive in live work. Physical and fast. Adjusts well on tough throws.
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) August 5, 2016
Last year at Baylor, Coleman caught 74 passes for 1,363 yards and a stunning 20 touchdowns. This was incredible because he was playing with backups for a good portion of the season. If Griffin III can get back to his rookie form, then Coleman should take off in a major way.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Hue Jackson is a good coach who has gotten the best out of his personnel in the past. This is excellent news for the Browns, who don’t exactly have the best roster right now. He also brings a positive attitude to an organization that needed a culture change, like, twenty years ago.
That RG3 has the talent to execute Jackson’s vision isn’t in question. Perhaps the offense will be good enough this year to hold its own against the brutal defenses of the AFC North.
REASON TO DOUBT
So many reasons, really. Jackson doesn’t have enough offensive players to keep defenses off-balance. The defense is still very young up front. The AFC North is absolutely brutal. There is a chance RG3 is ruined for life because of what happened to him in Washington.
The Browns have sucked for decades and are under a curse.
So many reasons.
Prediction: 5-11, fourth place in AFC North