2015 Cleveland Browns Preview

Isaiah Crowell will have one heck of an OL to create opportunities for him.

Isaiah Crowell will have one heck of an OL to create opportunities for him.

Cleveland Browns
Head Coach: Mike Pettine
2014 Record: 7-9
Postseason: N/A

Odds to win Division: +1125
Odds to win Conference: +5500
Odds to win Super Bowl: +20000
Season Wins: Over 6 (-115); Under 6 (-115)

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Johnny Manziel started finally in his rookie season, and the realists were right about his NFL prospects. Does year two change that?

The Cleveland Browns accomplished its primary goal by drafting Johnny Manziel: excitement was generated in its fanbase, one which has consistently endured a train of disappointment. Initial reactions to Manziel’s first disastrous NFL start were just that, however, disappointment—even a degree of shock.

But the jury is still very much out on the often cocky young QB whose set of intangibles may speak louder than any analytical analysis of his potential. Manziel is capable of jaw dropping big plays, but that isn’t what makes a football team good. Showing he can be a capable leader and that he can play within a system are paramount for Manziel.

There’s not even the certainty that Manziel is the starter, of course. No one is really certain who will start necessarily, but even after Manziel’s initial struggles he is probably a more attractive option than Josh McCown. Whether McCown or Manziel starts, it will be the 12th starting QB in 14 years. The Browns have not found answers in the pocket, and Manziel only has the talent to be the QB, not the proven NFL resume.

Manziel led the Browns to a 0-30 defeat in his start last year and it knocked the Browns clear out of contention. The next week he went down in the first quarter, leaving nothing but question marks about fulfillment of his promise. He also had to spend two months in a treatment center for alcohol abuse. It’s not a pretty picture, even if one remembers the juiciest of college highlight reels. Even so, the Browns are hoping Manziel simply grows up, triumphs over any drinking problems, and cashes in on what still has to be deemed is an NFL skill set.

“Johnny Football’s” mechanics are awkward and not fundamentally sound, but he thrived in spite of it at the collegiate level.

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McCown meanwhile brings size at 6’4” and he’s experienced, but he was 1-10 with the Tampa Bay Bucs as a starter in 2013, and in his five starts with the Bears he put up a 109.0 passer rating. It’s either start Manziel and pray his potential equates to something or go with a very mediocre veteran.  The Browns felt that a three-year, $14 million contract was enough to see if McCown can still develop into the talent some think he is.

Either way, the result is losing football probably, unless Manziel becomes a miracle worker on a team that is desperately in need of stability, something not synonymous with Manziel’s reputation thus far, necessarily.  More optimistic fans hope McCown cashes in on untapped potential, another QB who once had top-billing coming into the NFL, and the hope isn’t altogether too unrealistic.  It is just something of a long shot, to the impartial at least.

In the backfield, the RB position continues to cycle and is on to the next set of options: Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson.

West is a good all-around back, but has lacked consistency in the past. Head coach Mike Pettine believes he has a lot of potential, but he’s backed up by Johnson, a very interesting option as a rookie.

Duke Johnson carried the Miami Hurricanes right back to respectability as a program and is now the all-time rushing leader from a school no stranger to producing NFL caliber backs. He’s not overly imposing at 5’9” 210 pounds, but his talent supersedes the lacking in size (comparative to West, who is 5’10” 225).  Johnson is dealing with hamstring issues right now, however, as one of many Browns facing nagging injuries.

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Crowell is a good third-down and end zone back with very good size at 5’11” 225. He started the season productively and has the talent to average five yards per carry for a full season.

It will require some help from the OL, but the Browns are actually well stocked there, much to its benefit. It was one of the best OL’s in the NFL last year prior to Alex Mack’s injury, and while it is a bit much to lie the later struggles squarely on that, it did have an undeniable immediate aftereffect.

The Browns spent its No. 19 overall pick on OL Cameron Erving, and he’s going to be an immediate help at RG or RT, eventually becoming a C at some point down the line. He played LT on Florida State’s 2013 championship team and is rated as a top prospect at C.

LT Joe Thomas is an eight-time Pro Bowler in his prime and LG Joel Bitonio could become a very good NFL player, even a Pro Bowl selection in his own right. Mack is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and the Browns will have to work to retain him as a free agent after this season. If it can’t, Erving becomes the center and possibly makes the OL better still.

The Browns will give Manziel or McCown time. It will also create holes for the backs. How much that means in terms of overall success is tough to say, but the Browns have the foundation to create a potent offensive attack if Manziel becomes what his biggest fans dream he is. Overall, it’s a team cycling through running backs in search of a quarterback, and that’s not too harsh of a statement given its veracity.

Defensively, the Browns are in a very good position with four Super Bowl talents positioned in its defense and four very strong secondary players. It also sports three projected starters who were top-21 picks in their respective draft classes. The Browns ‘D’ is not short of talent. The DL is top notch, featuring Danny Shelton, Desmond Bryant and Randy Starks.

Shelton was taken No. 12 overall and at 6’2” 339 he is an absolute sea monster of a player, a NT capable of drawing double teams, or else destroying opposing OLs. It’s hard to cover a player of his size with a single player. The Browns also have depth on the DL.

The LB corp is good, though not quite on the level of the DL. The OLB rotation could be the strength, but Paul Kruger alone makes it good. He had 11 sacks last year and was a pest to opposing QBs. Barkevious Mingo is a good pass cover, too, while Jabaal Sheard is replaced by second-round pick Nate Orchard. He led NCAA D-1 in sacks with 18.5 last year at Utah. He’s going to get time because he’s a good pass rusher and the Browns will keep the pressure high this season.

Having its best ILB Karlos Dansby back should be enough to raise hope, too, given how strong the team was prior to him departing with a late-Nov. knee injury.

Lastly, the secondary is also top-notch, completing the picture on a great defense. At CB the Browns will start Joe Haden (hamstring issues) and Justin Gilbert (note: sustained hip injury), with K’Waun Williams and Trammon Williams waiting in the wings. The secondary will feature Deonte Whitner and Trashaun Gipson at SS and FS, with Ibraheim Campbell and Jordan Poyer filling out a strong, deep rotation.

K’Waun is an exceptional talent who is so quick and so instinctive. He’ll be a big playmaker and could work his way into quite a few starts.  He’s struggling with an abdominal injury.

Garrett Hartley went to camp as the front-runner for place kicking duties, and he is 6 of 8 FG attempts at 50-plus yards. Travis Benjamin will look to get his return mojo back after sustaining a knee injury in 2013. Spencer Lanning averaged 39.2 yards per net punt last season, which was a bright spot for the Browns. He can help a lot with the critical aspect of field positioning, given that the Browns need every advantage it can eke out, especially offensively.

It’s tough to imagine McCown leading this team to much more than a .500 season. Imagination meanwhile can do a lot for Manziel, but reality is much colder and harsher. And that’s become something Browns fans have grown to live with, no matter the lack of contention.

This team could be an absolute terror defensively, but there’s not enough hope in looking at the collection of offensive talent to believe this team does much more than scratch out a .500 season. Even that would render the Browns with two wins more than projected by 5dimes oddsmakers. We agree with Vegas here, and expect the same. This team isn’t proven enough offensively to even sniff a .500 year.

Lastly, the barrage of early season nagging injuries on the roster is hardly a good omen.

Prediction: 6 wins

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Posted by on Aug 19 2015. Filed under Headlines, NFL. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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