Even though the Browns have named Rob Chudzinski their new head coach, it is hard to predict what direction they will go in their offensive and defensive philosophies until the staff is completed. However, we’re going to evaluate the current roster of players and rank them in our view of their contribution to the Browns going forward. We’re breaking it down into offensive players and defensive players.
The Browns are in great shape in terms of the salary cap with reports of them being around $48 million under. There are 18 players who are set to become free agents with the most notable offensive players being Phil Dawson, Josh Cribbs and Ben Watson. We’ve denoted the soon-to-be free agents with an asterisk.
Part one will be the offensive side of the ball. We’ve included the specialists on the offense.
Here is an assessment of the current players on the team.
Quarterback—Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Thad Lewis & Josh Johnson*
The most important position on the team is still a question mark. Weeden played all but the season finale and was very underwhelming. He threw for 3,385 yards, but completed just 57.4 percent of his passes. He had 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and his rating of 72.6 was near the bottom of the NFL. Weeden’s statistics were less than what McCoy put up in his season as the starter.
McCoy didn’t get off the bench until Weeden was dinged up near the end of the Broncos game and threw just 17 passes for the season in the one appearance. In 2011, McCoy had slightly better numbers than Weeden did in his season, and arguably McCoy didn’t have a runner like Trent Richardson, a receiver like Josh Gordon and right tackle like Mitchell Schwartz. McCoy’s chance to start a game was lost when he suffered a shoulder sprain in the Bronco game, the same game that Weeden was injured.
Lewis played in his first NFL game against the Steelers in the season finale and fared reasonably well. He was 22-of-32 for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Johnson was a last week pickup, who got in for one play when Lewis was shaken up and fumbled as he was sacked.
Summary: The future of the current quarterback group is unclear because the range is broad. However, Chudzinski was able to help Derek Anderson get to the Pro Bowl in 2007 when he threw 29 touchdowns. Weeden would be similar to Anderson because of his big arm and in Chudzinski’s vertical offense, he should be effective. Obviously, Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner were ready to go after Chip Kelly, who runs an offense not conducive to Weeden’s skills, thus meaning they weren’t completely sold on Weeden.
Running Back—Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya* & Brandon Jackson*
Richardson clearly played the season at less than 100 percent as he disclosed he played the majority of the season with broken ribs, yet still broke two franchise rookie records previously held by Jim Brown set in 1957. Richardson has a nose for the goal line as he scored 12 touchdowns, including 11 on the ground.
Hardesty showed a good burst in a limited role and he averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He showed flashes of having the burst needed to be a successful NFL running back.
Jackson rarely played until the season finale and his 54 yards on 8 carries caused many to wonder why he wasn’t used more during the season.
Ogbonnaya started the season as the third-down back and caught 24 passes. He was effective in that role but his role was diminished as the season went on.
Summary: The running back position should be solid moving forward as Richardson vowed to return healthy and Hardesty played well. Jamal Lewis flourished under Chudzinski rushing for 1,300 yards. Either Jackson or Ogbonnaya would be a solid third running back if they choose to re-sign one of them. Most likely, both won’t return.
Fullback—Alex Smith, Owen Marecic, Brad Smelley & Eddie Williams*
Smith was moved from tight end to fullback to replace Marecic early in the season. He made the adjustment and caught 13 passes for 47 yards.
Marecic was one of the biggest disappointments from Heckert’s 2011 draft. He contributed very little and dropped several passes early in the season. He spent most of the season inactive and was replaced at fullback by Smith, who is a tight end.
Smelley spent the majority of the season on the practice squad, but was promoted and showed in the preseason he has good hands. He caught one pass in his only game against the Steelers, which was one more than Marecic did all season.
Williams missed the season on injured reserve.
Summary: Depending on what the new offensive system the Browns employ, the Browns might need to address the fullback position. Smith did a decent job, but isn’t the prototypical fullback employed by most teams in the NFL today. Lawrence Vickers was the fullback when Chudzinski was here.
Wide Receivers—Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi*, Jordan Norwood, Josh Cooper, Travis Benjamin & Josh Cribbs*
Gordon was the most pleasant surprise for the receiving corps. Heckert rolled the dice using the team’s second-round pick in the supplemental draft to select a player who hadn’t played college football in a couple seasons. He responded with 50 receptions for 805 yards (16.1 avg.) with five touchdowns.
Little made strides in his second season and improved his ability to hang on to the ball immensely. He caught a team-leading 53 passes for 647 yards, including four touchdowns.
Massaquoi had another disappointing season as he was injured often and caught just 17 passes and no touchdowns.
Benjamin showed the big play ability with his speed and ability to hit the home run. He caught 18 passes for 298 yards, including two touchdowns. He had a 69-yard touchdown against the Redskins. Benjamin also averaged 11 yards a carry on reverses.
Cribbs caught just seven passes in 2012 after catching 40 in 2011. Most of his production came on punt and kickoff returns. He did carry the ball six times from the wildcat.
Norwood had 13 receptions for 137 yards, but spent the bulk of the season on injured reserve with a foot injury.
Cooper spent a good portion of the season on the practice squad, but made the most of his opportunities and caught eight passes for 108 yards, including a 28 yard reception.
Summary: The emergence of Gordon gives the Browns the confidence that he and Little can be a productive one-two punch. Massaquoi is a free agent and is likely not going to be back with the team. It is doubtful Cribbs will be any more involved in the passing game, if he returns. The young corps of Norwood, Cooper and Benjamin should be able to step up. Braylon Edwards had his best NFL season with Chudzinski running the offense.
Tight End—Ben Watson*& Jordan Cameron
Watson is a free agent and it took the Weeden most of the season to find him. He finished with 49 receptions for 501 yards and three touchdowns. Depending on how the new coaching staff views Watson, it will be unclear if he returns. He has said he wants to return and he’s clearly a viable tight end.
Cameron was brought in by Heckert and Pat Shurmur to be the new hybrid NFL tight end. He had 20 receptions for 226 yards and one touchdown. Cameron showed signs of being able to be a solid blocker and he is being counted upon to continue to improve. Smith showed his versatility when he was the blocking tight end and then stepped in as the fullback. A new coaching staff should appreciate the different skills he brings to the offense.
Summary: Watson is an older tight end, but the decision needs to be made if Cameron is able to be the starting tight end. If Watson finds a market for his services, he will most likely leave as a free agent. Chudzinski brought the best out of Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow and Cameron could flourish.
Offensive Linemen—Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz, Shawn Lauvao, Todd Pinkston, John Greco, Alex Mack, Ryan Miller, Oniel Cousins & Jarrod Shaw*
Thomas made it to the Pro Bowl for his sixth-straight season. Enough said.
Schwartz played well as a rookie and showed that he can be a bookend to Thomas on the right side. He should get better with time.
Mack has been a steady performer giving the Browns three very good offensive linemen moving forward.
Lauvao has played right guard the past two seasons but has been up and down. The new coaching staff will have to decide if Lauvao is good enough to continue as the starter.
Pinkston was solid at left guard until a blood clot was found in his lung forcing him to miss the majority of the season. Similar to Lauvao, the new coaching staff will need to decide if the two guards moving forward are sufficient or if an upgrade is needed.
Greco stepped in when Pinkston was lost for the season and shows his versatility and did a solid job.
Miller didn’t played much, but his size should allow him to be developed into a backup at guard or tackle and he could end up developing into a starter down the road.
Cousins filled a role as a backup tackle and in short-yardage situations.
Shaw didn’t play and is a developmental player.
Specialists—Phil Dawson*, Reggie Hodges* & Christian Yount*
Dawson’s accomplishments are impeccable and the 14-year veteran was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Dawson is a free agent and the franchise tag will not be used due to the new rules of the CBA. Dawson needs one season with the Browns to break Lou Groza’s record and that is the leverage the Browns have with him. However, if they don’t sign him to a multi-year deal, he will be sought after highly in free agency, even at the age of 37.
Hodges is a free agent and didn’t have a very good season coming off the Achilles injury. It is unlikely he will be re-signed.
Yount filled a role when Ryan Pontbriand melted down in 2011 and it is unknown if they will try to retain Yount.
Summary: With all three specialists being free agents, there’s a good chance that at least two of three will not return. Hopefully, the Browns will be able to work out an agreement to allow Dawson to finish his career with the Browns.
Here is our subjective ranking of the offensive players.
1-Joe Thomas;2-Trent Richardson;3-Phil Dawson;4-Josh Gordon;5-Greg Little;6-Alex Mack;7-Josh Cribbs;8- Mitchell Schwartz; 9-Travis Benjamin;10-Ben Watson; 11-Brandon Weeden;12-Jordan Cameron;13-Mohamed Massaquoi; 14-Todd Pinkston;15-Shawn Lauvao;16-John Greco;17-Colt McCoy;18- Montario Hardesty;19-Alex Smith;20-Jordan Norwood;21- Brandon Jackson;22-Chris Ogbonnaya; 23-Josh Cooper; 24-Thad Lewis;25- Brad Smelley;26- Reggie Hodges; 27-Oniel Cousins;28-Owen Marecic;29-Christian Yount;30-Ryan Miller;31-Josh Johnson;32-Jarrod Shaw;33-Eddie Williams.