Preseason Power Rankings No. 31: Cleveland Browns

AP

Happier times could be coming to the Factory of Sadness.  For now, however, the optimism that comes from every team being 0-0 must yield to the reality that there are 32 teams.  One is currently the best, one is currently the worst, and there are 30 others in between.

Our six-man crew voted, and the Browns landed one spot above the worst team, for now.  It’s not a prediction as to where the Browns will finish, but an assessment of where they are right now.

And the Browns are what they are:  A chronically mediocre-at-best team that has been to the playoffs once since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999.

The good news (if there is any) is that the Browns have moved up a spot from their 2012 preseason ranking.  The far better news is that the Browns are in position to climb even higher come 2014.

Strengths.

In recent years, change has been the one constant in Cleveland.  In the past year, pretty much everything has changed.

New owner.  New CEO.  New General Manager.  New coach.  New offensive coordinator.  New defensive coordinator.

But the changes should be fewer going forward.  Joe Banner, who’s running the football operations, hopes to have continuity.  Though ongoing losing could alter that approach, the best way to become a consistent contender is to establish true consistency within the organization.

It could be hard to remain consistent at one of the coordinator positions.  Ray Horton, who now runs the defense, could vault himself to a head-coaching gig elsewhere if the Browns’ thrive in his 3-4 system.  Norv Turner, who has coached three NFL teams (Redskins, Raiders, Chargers), likely has run out of chances to run a team, barring a Super Bowl run with the Browns or something close to it.

The new regime inherits a fairly talented corps of young players, including an underrated offensive line (anchored by left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack), a potentially potent front seven on defense (led by former Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger), and a secondary that features Joe Haden, one of the best cover corners in the NFL.

Second-year running back Trent Richardson could be a major strength, if he can stay healthy.  Ditto for receiver Josh Gordon, if he can stay eligible.

Weaknesses.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden is a potential strength, and also a potential weakness.  But with two types of teams in the NFL — teams with franchise quarterbacks and teams trying to find franchise quarterbacks — the Browns remain firmly in the latter category.  And so, in this quarterback-driven league, the position remains a weakness, until a Browns quarterback proves otherwise.

The tight end position isn’t necessarily a weakness; unproven is perhaps the better term.  But with coach Rob Chudzinski having a reputation for incorporating tight ends into the attack, Jordan Cameron will get a chance to step up and become a star.  Newcomer Kellen Davis is poised to be the fallback, if the balls don’t continue to fall out of his hands.

There really aren’t many/any other glaring weaknesses on the roster.  Which makes me wonder why they’re at No. 31.  Which in turn makes me think they’re poised to climb.

Still, they’ll climb only as far as their quarterbacks can take them.  Whether it’s Weeden or veteran Jason Campbell or late arrival Brian Hoyer, good quarterback play will be the key to transforming a team that has seen precious little of it in recent years.

Changes.

Change remains the only constant in Cleveland.  Off the field, pretty much everything is new (with the exception of special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor).  On the field, the Browns spent nearly $90 million on free agents, pumping up the defense with players like linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant.

They somehow got value from the 49ers for odd-man-out Colt McCoy, who will be replaced by proven veteran Jason Campbell.

Receiver Davone Bess, who has averaged 64.2 receptions per year over his first five seasons with a revolving door of quarterbacks in Miami, somehow was gotten for the draft equivalent of a bag of day-old popcorn.

Rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo could become a potent bookend for Kruger; if Mingo plays the way his LSU teammates think he can, the Browns could see their defense undergo a significant upgrade.

The departures primarily will impact special teams, with kick/punt returner Josh Cribbs leaving for Oakland after eight NFL seasons in Cleveland and kicker Phil Dawson joining Cribbs in the Bay Area (the 49ers) after spending every single season with the franchise since it returned to the NFL in 199.  Also gone are tight end Benjamin Watson, tight end Alex Smith, receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, defensive end Frostee Rucker, linebacker Chris Gocong, safety Usama Young, and cornerback Sheldon Brown.

Camp battles.

The biggest fight comes at quarterback, where 2012 starter Brandon Weeden must fend off Campbell and Hoyer.  Indications point to Weeden keeping the job.  The real question is whether the Browns would sit him down if the team struggles early.  Regardless of who gets the bulk of the snaps in 2013, it’s hard to envision any of the three quarterbacks becoming the long-term answer at the position.

The tailback depth chart behind Trent Richardson is to be determined, with Dion Lewis joining holdovers Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson, and Chris Ogbonnaya.  Undrafted free agent Miguel Maysonet, who was waived quickly by the Eagles, provides intrigue, but the only way he sticks around is by showing he can contribute on special teams.

With Josh Gordon suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season, the starting job across from Greg Little is open, at least initially.  Bess likely will play the slot position in three-receiver sets, but he could be one of the two starting receivers when two are used.

At guard, the Browns have three potential starters for two spots.  John Greco, Shawn Lauvao, and Jason Pinkston will battle it out in Berea.

With Cribbs gone, the Browns need a punt and kick returner.  Last year, Travis Benjamin was the primary understudy to Cribbs.  Look for Benjamin to serve as the punt returner.  The kick returner likely will be Johnson Bademosi or Dion Lewis.

At kicker, Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay could be competing for one roster spot.  Or not.

On defense, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo will vie for reps at outside linebacker.  If Mingo makes a quick adjustment to the pro game, Sheard could (could, not will or should) end up being available via trade, if/when the inevitable injury bug strikes in other camps.

At corner, some have suggested Buster Skrine will replace Sheldon Brown at starting cornerback.  It’s more likely that Skrine will remain at the nickel position, with rookie Leon McFadden and Chris Owens fighting for the spot across from Joe Haden.

Prospects.

The Browns have plenty of talent, on both sides of the ball.  But they play in one of the toughest divisions in football, featuring the defending Super Bowl champions in Baltimore, the up-and-coming Bengals, and the always-dangerous Steelers.

To compete in the AFC North, the Browns need Richardson to get and stay healthy.  And the Browns need to develop a passing game that can move the chains and score the points.

Each year, the quarterback becomes more important in the NFL.  The Browns’ ability to become competitive depends largely on their quarterback play.

Over the long haul, the team’s ability to become and to stay competitive also depends on stability.  With the arrival of Jimmy Haslam as the team’s owner in 2012, fans believed that the next set of changes would lay the foundation for the kind of continuity that successful franchises enjoy.  Now, with Haslam’s ownership threatened by a federal investigation of the billion-dollar truck-stop company he runs in Tennessee, Browns fans have to worry that a new set of changes will be made if/when someone else takes over the franchise.

It’s a potential distraction that shouldn’t affect the players in 2013.  Even if Haslam were to step down today, it would be too late for a new owner to make any significant changes.

Unless the Browns can make a strong move toward contention for a playoff berth, it’s safe to say that, come 2014, Haslam or whoever is running the show will continue to be in the group of NFL teams that is looking for a franchise quarterback.

Until the Browns find a franchise quarterback, it will be difficult for them to compete for the first Super Bowl berth in franchise history.

71 responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 31: Cleveland Browns

  1. As the man’s obituary last week states, “He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time.” Could be worse…could be a Raiders’ fan!

  2. LOL, the Grieveland Frowns are preparing to move. First Modell, then LeBron, now the Browns — for good. Sorry Grieveland.

  3. I could live for a thousand more years and believe I’d never see the Browns make a Super Bowl run. Feel sorry for this fan base, they are die-hards, and their team never produces.

  4. Wow… That’s harsh. Does anyone really think the Browns are worse than say, the Jags ? Jets ? Cards ?
    I’ll admit to being a bit of a homer, but …

  5. LOL< wait a second if you think the Browns are a stable organization. Then your either clueless or just plain stupid. I mean we have an owner who is about to be indited, We have an owner who bought thew Team with stolen money, That in it self is a problem. Them you have the fraud that was committed by said owner on the NFL< Then Learner receiving stolen funds from said owner in thew purchase of the Team. Then we have the Cleveland media and National media covering up all of this from fans, Then you have a puppet GM and Head Coach, Fact is GM and Head coach do not speak. Only the President and the coordinators, we know who is running things and who is doing the coaching, Until all the media sees the truth in Cleveland, a cover up will continue on, There is so much more, But I believe this is enough to start people thinking about what is the truth, The rest will come out in the aftermath that I haven't even mentioned.

  6. A team to look out for in my opinion. Defense improved greatly, coaching staff improved, and guys like Weeden, Richardson, and Gordon are heading into their 2nd season… Remember, this team quietly had a 5 game winning streak last year so it’ll be interesting what their capable of this year (Not a Browns fan)…

  7. With respect to the noted disclaimer, I can’t see Sheard being offered in a trade regardless of how well Mingo does. Even if they both thrive under Horton, that rotational flexibility is something the Browns sorely lacked in their last attempt at the 3-4.

    I’m still concerned about the receivers and guys in the secondary not named Joe Haden.

  8. Poor Paul Kruger. He’s getting a huge payday from the Browns.

    But it’s like making $200k, and having to flip burgers at McDonalds to get it.

  9. I am assuming that this ranking does not take into account the addition of weiner dog races for next year.

  10. A collective cheer was heard from OH, upon hearing the news they weren’t #32.

  11. Jet’s not in bottom two? Your list is bunk. Unless you’re going to put them at number one so everyone gets a big laugh. If that’s the case, well played.

  12. When they move to Los Angeles in the next 2-3 years, they should rename the team to remove the last bits of fail from the organization.

    The Los Angeles Not Browns!

  13. Bess is a nice chain mover but won’t make big plays or score lots of touchdowns.

    I’d still list them higher than the woebegotten jets circus.

  14. How much did that jersey cost that they donated to that poor fan Scott E. Entsminger???

  15. They can’t be 31 if “Quarterback Brandon Weeden is a potential strength” and an improved Defence. Other teams Jags, Jets, Cards can’t say that.

  16. A team to look out for in my opinion. Defense improved greatly, coaching staff improved, and guys like Weeden, Richardson, and Gordon are heading into their 2nd season… Remember, this team quietly had a 5 game winning streak last year so it’ll be interesting what their capable of this year (Not a Browns fan)…

    I would love to see where this 5 game winning streak came.. considering they only won 5 games.. lol.. get a clue before you post something like that

  17. This team could win the AFC. I also predicted the Rams to win the Super Bowl coming off 4 wins. I cleaned up in Vegas on that on and will do so with the Browns this year. Trust me.

    BTW I am from Denver

  18. As a Ravens fan, I’m rooting for The Browns. Good teams aren’t great forever and bad teams have hope.

  19. Not sure why but I think the Browns may surprise people this season. Or at the very least improve enough that they won’t be in the low 20’s to 32 next season.

  20. This article is correct; there’s a lot of young, raw talent in Cleveland, especially on defence. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

    There’s a difference between losing (without hope), and losing (with hope). I think the Browns will end with a losing record, but at least they’ll look like they’re getting better.

  21. ravensbob says:
    Jul 9, 2013 2:48 PM
    Ahhhh, the afc north bye week for Balt, cincy and Pitt.
    ==============================
    Funny, I seem to remember the Browns splitting with cincy and pitt, and balt pulling off a win in the last 4 minutes of the 2nd game. Not such a bye in my opinion.

  22. this team is way better than 31st. Their defense has the ability to be in the top half of the league.
    They are in a tough division, but 8-8 isn’t unrealistic for this team if the QB and WR play improves.

    I am not a Browns fan either.

  23. I don’t agree with this at all – and I am not a Browns fan in the slightest.

    I really think Browns are on the verge of being a playoff team. Pitt is on the decline in a bad way, and who knows what Ravens have in a team.

    If Weeden makes a step forward – Browns are in playoffs. If not, they are still 6-8 wins…far from a 0-2 win team which is what this ranking suggests.

  24. I can’t wait to see Coach Horton’s D. I hope my Browns can be worth watching this year – at least being competitive. If they can’t be that then it is going to be a long season. Hopefully they can provide a spark to keep the fans interested.

  25. not as bad as most think.would not be surprised at 7-9. played some tough games last year…

  26. One note: (the polls means nothing in July) – but on the “Sheard and Mingo” competition…regardless how Mingo does – they better keep Sheard, he’s a true player (gamer)!!

  27. They should rename them the bye-bye browns. They r the bye week for teams and when they move he franchise to L.A., they will be 2 time losers.

  28. 5 wins last year with a below average coaching staff, a roster which was 33% 1st and 2nd year players and the 3rd toughest schedule in 2012.

    Logic would dictate should improve to either 7 or 8 wins with player additions, year more of experience for younger players and HUGE improvement in coaching staff.

    That would seem to put them in the middle of the pack and a far cry from #31

  29. Most of the Browns’ 2012 losses were very close and they’re bringing back most of the same key players. I highly doubt they’ll land a playoff berth, but I think they’ll win some respect in 2013.

  30. Happy to see “some” posters at least know how to spell DEFENSE. Defence it is NOT.

    I wouldn’t bet the farm just yet on Paul Kruger making the Brown defense “much” improved. Last time I looked I didn’t see the Browns having Haloti and Suggs getting double teamed on each play.

  31. Quick, if the Browns and Raiders played today on a neutral field, who would you pick to win? Anyone, in any NFL town outside Cleveland, would say “Raiders” with out even thinking about it.

    So why are their rankings reversed?

  32. A lifelong Browns fan, who recently died, requested in his obit 6 Browns players as his pallbearers; so the Browns could let him down one last time. True story.

  33. The Browns- Another team with all of the right players, they’re just not coached into the right direction they need to be. Kind of reminds me of my team (Buffalo). There is much reason to be excited though, both teams have new coaching staff’s that look poised to make their mark this season and for many more to come.

    Both teams are questionable at QB, strong on the Offensive-line, great at the running back position and have some awesome potential at both the receiving and tight end position.

    On Defense, solid front for Cleveland, solid front for Buffalo minus the Questionable LB position. Both teams have a good to possibly great Defensive backfield.

    Both have a good Kicker, questions at Punter and good long snappers. Buffalo has the edge on the kick and punt return game, especially since Cleveland lost their star return-man Josh Cribbs.

    Anyway, Cleveland Fans have an exciting year to look forward to, I know we are here in Buffalo!

  34. noone wants to hear excuses of bad teams, especially when your not a fan of that said team… but us fans will do it anyways. so with me excusing my jaguars, let me say that jacksonville is now on their 2nd GM and 3rd HC since blaine gabbert was drafted, all 5 are big on him based on what they see in practice. of course theres no rush in practice, but they see he has all the tools to be a great QB. doing analystics has also shown that he is in the top 3rd of the league when having at least 2.6 seconds to throw, big reason they drafted luke joeckel 2nd overall to play RT. they want blaine to have more time and to not be 2nd most sacked QB for 3rd year in a row. if blaine doesnt show anything this year hew will be gone, he’s getting this last chance because like i said, these new guys like what theyve seen but there was also no QB worth drafting this year either

  35. Even as an assessment of where teams are now, Browns at #31 is complete nonsense. I’m not saying they are in the top 10 or 15 even, but definitely ahead of the Cardinals, Jets, Jags, Raiders. A good argument could be made to be ahead of several other teams.

  36. tedmurph says:
    Jul 9, 2013 4:48 PM
    A lifelong Browns fan, who recently died, requested in his obit 6 Browns players as his pallbearers; so the Browns could let him down one last time. True story.
    ———————————–

    Wow really? Where do you get this breaking news? No one has heard this one about 50 times already! Tell us more!

    #sarcasm

  37. I actually think this is waaay too low for the Browns. They’ve got a dynamic running back and potentially top 5 defense, IMO. Not to mention a pair of extrmely well-regarded coordinators on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I wouldn’t be shocked if they vie for a playoff spot.

    Of course, it’s a QB-heavy league so a lot will depend on how Weeden fares in year 2. At minimum I’m grabbing their defense for my FFL team.

  38. Hey expert and jack, this story was printed on Sunday, in a Columbus paper(which is wrapped around my fish), and didn’t hit the nat’l news cycle untill today. Take it easy, bloodthursty shut-ins. Although, being Browns fans, I can understand your mood.

  39. “There really aren’t many/any other glaring weaknesses on the roster. Which makes me wonder why they’re at No. 31. Which in turn makes me think they’re poised to climb.”

    This made me quit reading. Clearly you have no back bone to go out on a limb. Are the Browns a top 10 team clearly no but are they 31st even now? No way.

  40. Starting to get the vibe this list was compiled just to get a rise out of fans. When Jacksonville wasn’t #32 I was like “Can the Raiders really be worse than the Jags?” And now I see there’s still another team supposedly worse than the Jags. I’d take Cleveland’s roster in a heartbeat over what Jacksonville has. (Faint praise, I know.)

  41. I have to laugh at “preseason rankings”, power rankings etc. before the current team even takes the field. Calm down people this ranking is not put together by psychics or rocket scientists, simply opinions of a group of nerds who, try to sell themselves as “experts” or “insiders”. Make up your own “rankings” they will be just as accurate as whatever pencilnecks concocted this list. by week 5 or 6 of the season is when you can start making legitimate rankings. I have a good feeling the brwosn wil finish ahead of the steelers by season end, and both will miss the playoffs.

  42. clearly sir you are not a rocket scientist, and probably a browns fan based on your spelling (brwosn, wil) ???

  43. Probably should have mentioned free safety under “weaknesses”, otherwise very well written and a good read.

    Some of the people commenting tho… My word. The Browns are like the nerdy kid in school. Everyone makes fun of him, but he’ll be rich in a few years. The people in charge now are doing things the right way, as was Tom Heckert before he was fired (would still so much rather have him here than Lombardi, but still). The main difference between this Browns roster and that of previous years is that there is young talent EVERYWHERE. A solid CB2, a free safety and a quarterback (assuming Weeden plays similar to last year) and this team will be in the playoffs.

  44. Way too harsh. Don’t get me wrong, the Browns have been pathetic since 99′ and I don’t see a playoff team here, but even last year they weren’t the second worst team. They have since upgraded several positions without losing anyone of significance(sorry Colt). Most importantly they no longer have the worst HC in NFL history. I would like see what Weeden can do with a HC and coordinator who can play to his strengths rather than his weaknesses.

  45. Raiders, Jags, Chiefs, Bills, Jets, Cardinals, and surprise team TBD. All will be worse than my Brownies.

    But feel free to hate. Water off a duck’s back at this point…

  46. Now I’m really confused as to why you ranked the Browns below the Jags. The Jags’ strategy for this year, if you’re right, is essentially to use 2013 to decide once and for all if Blaine Gabbert can play, to weed out the guys who aren’t worth building around, and to wait for 2014. All well and good for the Jags, but how does that put them ahead of a team that already has most of its guys to build around?

    The Browns right now look like what PFT’s analysis thinks the Jags could look like in next year’s offseason: a team that still has holes, but also has talented players who can form the core of a competitive team, and now have a season or two of experience under their belts. So, uh, wtf.

  47. So since they were ranked 32 by PFT last year that means they’ll be in playoff contention up to December.

    How you can look at the Browns roster and the way they played under Shurmur and still have them ranked lower then any of the bottom feading teams in the AFC South and East is beyond me. They actually got wins against the other teams in their impossible division with THAT coach.

  48. I was shocked when the Steelers weren’t No. 32, but then I took a deep breath and said,
    “Relax, I’m sure they will be No. 31.” Well, this is outrageious! It goes without saying that the Browns will surpass the Steelers this year (everyone in the AFCN will surpass the Steelers) so how do the Browns come in lower than the soon-to-be-basement-dwelling Steelers of 2013? SMH.

  49. Vegas odds say Browns win 6 games this season. 15 other teams within 2 games od the Browns including 5 tied or below. Thus Power rankings are purely emotional BS. BTW – this is the most projected Browns wins have had in 10 years. Vegas knows all

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