Five Questions Heading into Cleveland Browns Training Camp
The first chapter in Hugh Jackson’s era as the Cleveland Browns’ head coach had no shortage of bumps and bruises. The second youngest team in the league finished 2016 with a 1-15 record and landed the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. With all of these youngsters and an abysmal record last season, one thing is for sure — there are a lot of questions heading into Cleveland Browns training camp.
1. Who Is Going to Open the Season at Quarterback?
Probably the biggest burning question in Berea, OH is who is going to start at quarterback. HC Hugh Jackson has been quoted as saying that he would like to name a starter before the first preseason game. Last year’s third-round pick Cody Kessler is the only returning quarterback to have started a game last season, compiling an 0-8 record in his time as the lead man. Inserted into the lineup because of injuries to Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown, Kessler showed flashes of being a competent game manager. Ranking No. 11 in the league with a 65.6% completion percentage, Kessler displayed above average efficiency in the short game but only attempted 20 deep balls in his nine games played. Kessler’s inability to connect with his downfield receivers could prove costly to his current No. 1 position on the depth chart.
DeShone Kizer enters fall camp as a second-round selection out of Notre Dame. Standing at 6’4” and weighing 233 pounds, his stature resembles that of fellow AFC North QB, Ben Roethlisberger. Kizer fits the “ideal” size of a Hugh Jackson quarterback, which Jackson believes should be no shorter than 6’2”. Early reports out of Berea are that Kizer is absorbing the playbook quickly and is cutting into some of Kessler’s first team reps. Cleveland’s coaches love Kizer’s arm talent and quickness, and are working with him on shortening his release time. With two first round picks in next year’s draft, the Browns likely want to press DeShone Kizer into the starting lineup to see if they need to spend one of those picks on a quarterback for 2018.
One of the more puzzling situations this offseason has been the Brock Osweiler saga. Osweiler was sent to the Browns along with a second round pick in exchange for essentially $10 million and the opportunity to dump his four-year, $72 million contract. In 2016, Osweiler was ranked near or dead last in nearly every relevant efficiency metric. He did not play well, but you also can’t his 13-8 record as a starter. If Osweiler gets the Week 1 start, it will be because of his experience leading an NFL offense.
2. Can Kenny Britt Step into Terrelle Pryor’s Shoes? How is Corey Coleman Fairing?
Terrelle Pryor burst onto the scene last year in his first year playing as a wide receiver. Pryor finished 2016 with 77 receptions, 1,007 yards, and four TDs en route to a WR21 finish as a fantasy asset. He has since moved on to Washington, and Cleveland signed another veteran in a similar mold, Kenny Britt.
Britt, a more polished receiver, put up a respectable 68/1,002/5 line despite playing for the Rams last year and finished as the fantasy WR26. Though he was held down by the 31st ranked passing offense, Britt flourished last season while facing the No. 1 corner on every opposing defense. He will see a similar target share this season as Terrelle Pryor, who received a 25.3% target share in 2016 and ranked 12th overall in receiving targets. Britt should once again flirt with low WR2 status by seasons end.
Corey Coleman has the chance to redeem his disappointing rookie campaign where he finished with a 33/413/3 line. After missing six weeks because of injury between Weeks 3-8, the starting X receiver never blossomed into a serviceable fantasy asset and Pryor emerged as the No. 1 receiving weapon on the team. To make things a little worse, Coleman has been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury so far in mini camps. If Coleman doesn’t fully recover and can’t use his speed to go deep, he may have to reinvent his receiving prowess, and that could hamper his immediate dynasty value.
3. A Running Back Lining Up in the Slot?
A recent surprise out of Browns camp has been the addition of Duke Johnson to the receiving corps. With Andrew Hawkins leaving in free agency, a void was left in the slot position and the job may be Johnson’s to lose. Johnson has been an adequate pass catcher, hauling in over 50 passes the last two seasons, and has seen his running load drop off from 104 carries to 74 in 2016. No WR3 of Hugh Jackson has hauled in more than 33 passes the last three seasons, potentially putting a hold on any of Johnson’s fantasy relevance.
As for the other players on the depth chart (Louis, Higgins, Payton, and Alford), Duke Johnson winning the slot job would be the worst possible scenario. Not only will they not see much playing time, the WR3 position on a Hugh Jackson coached team has proved to just not offer many opportunities.
4. David Njoku and Log Out? Not So Fast.
David Njoku comes into Cleveland with a first round tag and a lot of hype, deservedly so. Njoku tested off the charts, finishing in the 80th percentile and above in four major categories: 40-yard dash, burst score, agility score, and catch radius, per playerprofiler.com. Njoku also posted a 24.6% College Dominator score (75th percentile) which measures a players percentage of total team receiving yards and touchdowns in college.
Enter second-year player Seth DeValve, who played sparingly in his first season but also tested extremely well in his workout metrics, even beating out Njoku in agility and burst Score. Tight end coach Greg Seamon expects DeValve to have a significant role this season, and HC Hugh Jackson views him as an important player to emerge this year. Some beat writers for the Browns are predicting DeValve to be the teams most improved player.
Even though the Browns are planning on using more dual TE sets, the primary TE is in line to see a lot of receiving opportunities. The recent Hugh Jackson primary receiving TE lines:
- 2016 Gary Barnidge 55/612/2
- 2015 Tyler Eifert 64/757/16
- 2014 Jermaine Gresham 66/491/5
While David Njoku is the clear future at the position, Seth DeValve looks to be on the fast track to possibly steal some targets or maybe even the No. 1 job during Njoku’s rookie campaign.
5. With the Improved Offensive Line, Can Cleveland Run the Ball Effectively?
Perhaps the biggest move of the Browns’ offseason has been how they addressed their offensive line. With the additions of J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler, the Browns are projected to have the second best offensive line, per Pro Football Focus.
A staple of a Hugh Jackson offense has been his team’s ability to run the football. In his four seasons running an offense prior to Cleveland (’10-’11 in Oakland and ’14-’15 in Cincinnati), Jackson’s teams averaged 30 rushing attempts for 134 yards per game. Even though they were mostly playing from behind, and with far less talent than Jackson’s teams in Cincinnati, the Browns still averaged 22 rushes per game for 107 yards.
Could this be a sign of things to come in Cleveland? They already have an established starter (Isaiah Crowell) and a top five offensive line. With the added possibility of a rookie starting quarterback, all signs point to Cleveland trying to get more of a ground game established in 2017. That’s another big bump up on Crowell’s value considering Duke Johnson could be playing the slot. Oh yeah, and Crowell is playing in a contract season. He wants to prove that he should be paid and Hugh Jackson has promised to give the Crow more opportunities, another bump up.
For more updated news, notes and analysis on the Browns training camp, check out ClevelandBrowns.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others.