The Cleveland Browns have had little to no success since rejoining the NFL in 1999. From the reincarnation of the franchise through the end of last season, Cleveland has posted a record of 77-163. In the same time frame, the Browns have had just two winning seasons, with only one playoff appearance and that was back in 2002.
The Browns have started 20 different quarterbacks since 1999, the most in the NFL. The New England Patriots have started just three different quarterbacks since ’99. This season, the Browns will more than likely start its 21st quarterback, but more on that later. Cleveland finished the 2013 campaign with a 4-12 record, finishing last in the AFC North. It ended the season losing 10 of the last 11 games, including losing the final seven.
Cleveland went out and signed Mike Pettine as the new head coach in the offseason. Pettine was the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills last season and was the defensive coordinator for the New York Jets from 2009-2012 under head coach Rex Ryan. Pettine is inheriting a pretty good defense. Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator in Washington, was signed by Cleveland to the same position. He worked with Robert Griffin III and be now gets to work with Johnny Manziel, there are similarities in their playing styles.
With the lack of success, Cleveland has picked high in the draft each season. More often than not, the Browns would make some questionable draft choices instead of making the obvious one. In the 2014 NFL Draft, there was a lot of hype about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. After trading down from fourth pick to eighth pick, it seemed like the Browns were poised to take Manziel. However, they passed on him and took cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State to help bolster the secondary. There was a lot of talk of the Dallas Cowboys taking Manziel with the 16th overall pick, but Jerry Jones did not go that route. When the Browns arrived at its other first round pick at number 22, Manziel was still on the board, making it an obvious selection for the Browns to make, which they did. For a team coming off a 4-12 season, the Browns have a lot of buzz around them due to Johnny Football. He is the guy who will no doubt be the 21st starting quarterback in Cleveland since 1999.
Manziel will be competing with Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback position. Many thought Hoyer would be the starter at first, but Johnny Football has made it a close competition. Hoyer played in just three games last season and had a respectable stat line. He threw for 615 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes and had a QBR of 82.6. Many thought he would lead the Browns to a respectable season, but he tore his ACL and was out for the rest of the season. Hoyer backed up Tom Brady in New England for his first three seasons. He is said to be a guy who is similar to Brady, not in the statistical category, but how he goes about preparing for games. The thing is, he played in only three games and that isn’t enough time, especially with Kyle Shanahan taking over the reigns as offensive coordinator. Johnny Football is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks we’ve seen over the last few years. He can create for himself if chased out of the pocket. The knock on Manziel is that he is a rookie this season. It looks like Hoyer will be the Cleveland signal-caller in week one, but there is still time for Manziel to close the gap and potentially beat out Hoyer. Manziel will be the starter at some point of the season, it’s just a matter of when.
Last season Josh Gordon had a coming out party and led the NFL in receiving yards as he caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. As good as that season was for Gordon, it will be short-lived, at least for now anyway. Gordon is facing a season-long suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, his second such offense. Gordon has appealed and is awaiting to see if Commissioner Roger Goodell will reduce the suspension. Until then, who steps up as the Browns’ receiving core? Tight end Jordan Cameron should be the focal point with Gordon out. Last season he had 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. His 80 receptions ranked third in the NFL amongst tight ends. Cameron is rising as one of the best tight ends in football and could be featured as such this season. Seasoned veterans Nate Burleson and Miles Austin are both looking to have injury-free seasons as injuries have plagued the two over the past couple of seasons. Burleson has played in just 15 games in the last two seasons with the Detroit Lions, but if healthy, could be a quality addition both on and off the field. Austin, who was once one of Tony Romo’s favorite targets, played in 11 games last season for the Cowboys and caught just 24 passes for 244 yards and zero touchdowns. Andrew Hawkins, who came to Cleveland via free agency after leaving division rival Cincinnati, will be looked upon to step up in Gordon’s absence.
The running game needs a huge upgrade and Cleveland will look to free agent signee Ben Tate. Last season the Cleveland run game ranked 27th, tied with another divisional rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tate was the backup for Arian Foster in Houston and finally gets a chance to prove he is an NFL starting running back. He rushed for 771 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games a season ago. The offensive line of the Browns is a solid group (led by left tackle Joe Thomas) and should provide Tate with a lot of holes and opportunities.
The defensive side of the football is extremely promising for the Browns. In 2013 the Browns were ranked ninth in yards allowed per game at 332.4. The secondary was what stood out most as it was ranked ninth in the league for fewest pass yards allowed per game. Cornerback Joe Haden is one of the elite at his position in league. Last season Haden had 43 tackles, four interceptions – one of which was returned for a touchdown – and 20 passes defensed, ranking him third in the NFL. Rookie Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State and Buster Shrine will split time at the other cornerback position; Skrine had 18 passes defensed, 6th best in the league in 2013. Free safety Tayshaun Gipson led the Browns with five interceptions last season. He will be joined by strong safety Donte Whitener, who is a seasoned nine-year veteran that signed in the offseason. The line backing unit will miss D’Qwell Jackson, a pretty good linebacker the Browns lost in free agency. In his place, Karlos Dansby comes to the Browns and is another seasoned veteran. Paul Kruger didn’t play bad last season contributing 5.5 sacks, but for the money the Browns signed him to last season, he should be playing a little better, which maybe he will under Pettine’s defensive schemes. Cleveland ranked 18th in sacks last season with 40. Last season Pettine had the Bills defense ranked second in sacks with 57. The defensive line of Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant should have more chances to get sacks this season with Pettine’s play calling.
The Cleveland Browns won’t be favored to win the Super Bowl this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a quality team. The division isn’t as strong as it usually is, which gives the Browns a decent opportunity to compete for the AFC North title. The football world is buzzing around the hype that surrounds Johnny Manziel, which has a team that is in a rebuild process, a pretty hot topic of conversation. If given the opportunity, could Manziel lead the Browns to the playoffs?
Prediction: The Browns will be much improved this season and will finish with a record of 8-8. This team will hang around in the division and wild card all season long. With the AFC not being strong as a whole, 8-8 might be a record of a playoff team. Johnny Football will be the starter in week 5, if not sooner, and when he is, expect him to excel.