With the Cleveland Browns pulling off a slight surprise away win on Monday arvo, many are wondering if they could go all the way to Tampa Bay. And it is very possible.
Cleveland have had their downs, especially more recently.
The Browns’ highest number of wins in a season last decade was only seven in 2014 and they only had one win combined in 2016 and 2017.
However, hope came in 2018, drafting Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb, after drafting Myles Garrett the previous year, and trading for Damarious Randall and Jarvis Landry.
In 2019 they traded for Odell Beckham Jr and Olivier Vernon and signed Kareem Hunt and Sheldon Richardson, with the Beckham trade hyping the Dawg Pound.
But despite the hype leading into 2019, they came tumbling right back down to earth, finishing third in the AFC North with a 6-10 record.
Nevertheless that was then and a new horizon is around the corner. And with some robust new signings and some resilient rookies, the Browns could turn a new corner this year.
When fans and pundits think back on problems in 2019 for the Browns, they mainly think offence. In 2019 the Browns had the 16th most sacks conceded in 2019 with four, only 17 ahead of the worst (Miami) and 19 behind the best (LA Rams). And despite signing Beckham, they had the third worst passes completed percentage, completing only 59 per cent of their passes.
They also had the equal second most passes intercepted with 21 (although Tampa did have 30 passes intercepted). Baker Mayfield also had the second worst quarterback rating in 2019, dropping down from 19th in his rookie season. They also had the fourth most penalties and penalty yards conceded.
But that was only because they only had the one all-pro player on their offensive line (Joel Bitonio) and still a very young rookie in Baker Mayfield, who was under a heap of pressure heading into the season.
However, they did manage to improve on their offensive life by signing former all-pro tackle Jack Conklin, drafting second team All American tackle Jedrick Wills Jr, and even adding Austin Hooper at tight end, adding to the depth at tight end.
Conklin started 94 per cent of Tennessee’s snaps last season, while starting in 100 per cent of their snaps in his first two years. Despite only being 48th among pass blocking over the last two seasons, he ranked in the 91st percentile in run-blocking.
Wills also posted the second-best vertical jump for a RT at 34.5 inches, along with the sixth best 40-yard dash time at 5.05 seconds. He also allowed only one sack, 3.5 hurries and missed just seven assignments in 771 snaps last season.
And with Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter and Wyatt Teller coming of solid seasons, Baker Mayfield could finally start getting better passes downfield to his two former all-pro wide receivers Beckham and Jarvis Landry, along with new all-pro tight end Austin Hooper, who had the fifth most receiving yards per game along with the fifth most receptions.
Their defence also wasn’t that great, with some pundits pointing that out too. Yet despite losing two of their best defensive players in Joe Schobert and Damarious Randall, they did draft some talented youngsters and signed some solid veterans.
Signing safety Karl Joseph – who had 87 tackles, four of those for loss, last year – is a handy starter or back-up safety. But Andrew Sendejo is the better signing at safety, playing 15 games last year (starting only three), intercepting three passes and defending four passes. He had one sack and 81 tackles, including two tackles for losses.
They also drafted Grant Delpit, who during his three years at LSU had 199 tackles (120 solo), 17.5 tackles for loss (loss of 80 yards), as well as seven sacks (63 yards lost), eight interceptions, 32 passes defended, two fumbles forced and two fumbles recovered. He was also a part of the 2018 and 2019 college football All American team.
Andrew Billings signed for them as well, starting 14 games last season, recording 35 tackles, only the one sack and four tackles for loss, and was a part of 61 per cent of Cincinnati’s snaps.
They also signed Adrian Clayborn, who adds experience to an already strong defensive line, and who’s had 36.5 sacks, 196 tackles, 52 tackles for loss, ten forced fumbles, and four fumbles recovered over his nine-year career.
They might need a better middle linebacker after losing Joe Schobert, but with former number-one pick Myles Garrett, former number-four pick Denzel Ward, as well as Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson, plus with Mack Wilson, Greedy Williams (a member of the 2018 All American team along with LSU teammate Grant Delpit) and Sione Takitaki potentially breaking through this year, the defence could surprise a few.
Despite playing five times against playoff teams (including a first day match-up in Baltimore), they still might have challenges. Yet with their new signings, Beckham and Mayfield potentially bouncing back, and playing against nine .500 and less teams from 2019, the Cleveland Browns could finally get that playoff berth they’ve desperately wanted.