Cleveland Browns 2014-2015 Season Preview

Offseason Storylines

The only team that may have received more attention than the Browns this offseason is a fellow team from Cleveland, the Cavaliers. As anyone who is connected to the internet or watches TV would know, the Browns selected Johnny Manziel, “Johnny Football”, in the first round of the 2014 draft. Manziel is similar to former SEC and Heisman winner Tim Tebow because he is bigger than the team. However, Manziel is different than Tebow because he has a higher ceiling and better skills inside the pocket. During the preseason, Manziel proved that he is not ready to play starting quarterback at the NFL level. At this point in time, Johnny does not have the instincts, discipline, or technique to lead the Browns to more than 6 wins. Manziel’s and  Brian Hoyer, current starting quarterback’s, jobs was made even harder this week when Josh Gordon was suspended for the season. Last season, Gordon posted the best numbers for a wide receiver even though he had horrible quarterbacks and played 14 games. In order to replace Gordon’s production, the Browns signed a few veteran wide outs, Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, and Nate Burleson.  Although the three receivers have experienced success in the past, they are over the hill. Along with the additions of wide receivers, the Browns signed running back, Ben Tate, from the Houston Texans. Tate is set to replace former first round pick, Trent Richardson, who was traded for a first round pick to the Colts. Tate has a lot of talent and should help the lackluster Browns’ offense, if he is able to stay on the field. The signing of Tate and the selection of Terrence West in the third round will help ease the progress of Manziel or Hoyer.

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On defense, the Browns are hoping to improve a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league, 23rd. The Browns continued to build their solid secondary when they signed safety Donte Whitner and drafted cornerback Justin Gilbert. Donte Whitner is coming from the 49ers and should bring a veteran and physical presence that the Browns have been lacking. Whitner can help teach the young Browns’ defense how to win. While Donte is a proven veteran, they took a risk when they used the eighth overall pick on Justin Gilbert. Although Gilbert has a lot of talent and ball skills, he is not a great tackler and he is incredibly raw. Gilbert’s progress into the league will be facilitated by Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. Haden is one of the best corners in the league, which will allow Gilbert to cover the opposing team’s number two option.

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Offensive X-Factor

The Browns are like most teams as their offensive productivity will be determined by the play of their quarterback or quarterbacks. The only chance for the Browns to win 8 games this season will be if Brian Hoyer plays well and plays most of the games. Last season, Hoyer was held to only two and a half games, but played valiantly during those games. In the three games he played, he threw for 615 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. However, most importantly the Browns won the three games, including a game against the division champion Cincinnati Bengals. Although Hoyer is not suppose to be the quarterback of the future, he has the talent to succeed and lead the Browns to 6 wins, if they do not switch to Manziel. Even though Hoyer does not have the same talent without Gordon, he has one of the best offensive lines in the league and the running game should free the wide receivers with a play action pass. Hoyer will likely never become an above average quarterback for the Browns. If he can limit his turnovers and be a game manager, the Browns have a chance to win games as they have a decent defense and solid running game.

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Defensive X-Factor

The Browns need to have a big season from Paul Kruger, if the entire defense is going to succeed. Last offseason, the Browns lured Kruger away from the World Champion Ravens because of the pass rushing ability he demonstrated during their Super Bowl run. However, Kruger was a major bust during his first season in Cleveland as he recorded 4.5 sacks and did not apply enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Outside of Kruger, the Browns do not have any pass rushers that have the potential to post double digit sacks. During his last year in Baltimore, Kurger was able to total 9 sacks during the regular season and an additional 4.5 during the postseason. If Kruger can return to becoming a dominant pass rusher, the Browns’ defense will significantly fly up the rankings. More pressure on quarterbacks will force more errant passes and more turnovers for their ball hawking corners. Along with applying pressure from the outside, Kruger can enhance the Browns’ rush defense, which was only an average unit last season.

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Projections

The Browns have finished last over the past few seasons in the AFC North because they are not a stable organization. This season, the Browns are set to finish last in the division, especially if they decide to start Manziel more than 8 games. The Browns’ offense is destined to be one of the worst in the leagues, unless every thing falls right for the team. The Browns do not have any weapons on the outside, which will forced Cleveland to face 8 men in the box. Ben Tate should have a solid year in Cleveland, which will minimally ease the quarterbacks’ pressure. On defense, the Browns will be built around their secondary. The Browns’ corners and safeties should be one of the units that records the most interceptions in the league. If Sheard and Kruger can meet their expectations, the Browns’ defense could become a top ten defense and help their mediocre offense.

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Record: 4-12

4th in AFC North

Fantasy Pick

The player with the most potential on the Browns will be Ben Tate. Tate has a perfect situation in Cleveland because he is the only running back, catches the ball out of the backfield, and will take a majority of the red zone touches. Although Tate will not be a top 15 running back because of his injury concerns, he should be a consistent option when he is in the lineup. Tate is a great number 2 or flex player, but fantasy owners should have a decent fantasy running back when Tate is off the field.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com