Since there isn’t really a Cleveland Browns bandwagon for me to jump on, I would like to build one. LeBron James may have brought glory to Cleveland in the NBA, and the Indians brought pride to Cleveland when they made it to the World Series last year (even though they blew a 3-1 lead over the Cubs), but the Cleveland Browns have brought nothing but shame and mockery for the past 15 plus years. It has been 15 years since Cleveland made it to the NFL playoffs, 28 years since they won their division, and 53 years since they won an NFL championship. While they certainly are not a championship-caliber team yet (especially with the Patriots and the Raiders in their conference), the Cleveland Browns are on the verge of breaking their decade and a half long playoff drought. I give them two years tops before Browns fans are watching football in January, and here is why:
The Offensive Line
I have been expressing my love for this Cleveland offensive line since before finals week, and nobody believes me how good it is. I have stated that the Cleveland Browns have a top five offensive line, and I will stick by that statement until they prove me wrong. As of this past June, Pro Football Focus has joined in on rating the Browns offensive line as being elite. Offensive tackle Joe Thomas has long been regarded as one of the top players at his position. Offensive guard Joel Bitonio was also an elite guard the past couple years. This past off-season, the Browns added former Green Bay Packers center J.C. Tretter and former Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler to boost their offensive line. As a Packers fan, I strongly believe we made a mistake letting him leave – he should be a really solid center for the Browns line. Zeitler has been a solid guard since his rookie year (2012) when he started all sixteen games for the Bengals. The only position on this line that is still questionable is right tackle, but the Browns have plenty of viable options to toy around with at the position. The offensive line is so good that they will give their running backs big enough holes that even Trent Richardson *might* be able to find them, and any decent running back will be able to convert them into large chunks of yardage.
The Defensive Line
Ignoring the obvious fact that #1 overall pick Myles Garrett is somewhat reminiscent of fellow Texas A&M alum Von Miller, the Browns defensive line looks almost as good as their offensive line. Also looking at their 2017 draft class, this defensive line features a player who I have said all along was a massive steal – and I was proven right in May. University of Florida defensive lineman Caleb Brantley fell all the way to the sixth round of the draft after being accused of knocking a woman out, and those charges were dismissed in three weeks after the Browns selected him. He had originally been projected as a first or second round talent, and the Browns got him in the sixth. Emmanuel Ogbah is a talented pass rusher who ran a 4.63 40-yard dash at the 2016 NFL Combine and recorded 5.5 sacks his first year in the league. Danny Shelton is a solid run-stuffer who has shown he can get after the quarterback at times. As talented of a defensive line that those four men could make, it is important to note that they have a combined three years of NFL experience – which means there is room for them to learn and become even better. Watch out for this defensive line, they are young, talented, and will be playing with a huge chip on their shoulders since the Browns only managed to win one game last year.
SIDENOTE: Just because of Kurt Warner and David Johnson, it is important to recognize any player from the University of Northern Iowa who is on a roster. Defensive lineman Karter Schult was recognized as the top defensive player in the Missouri Valley Conference and in the entire FCS last year, perhaps he will find a way to fit in in Cleveland.
The Defensive Backs
Okay so maybe Joe Haden isn’t quite the defensive back he once was, but maybe he is. Even if he isn’t, the Browns suddenly have a loaded secondary. As a former citizen of Wyoming, I thought it was a mistake to let former University of Wyoming defensive back Tashaun Gipson walk after the 2015 season. While I believe Gipson could make this one of the top secondaries in the league, I don’t think the lack of his presence dooms them (but it would certainly help). What Cleveland does have though is another former Mountain West Conference defensive back in Boise State alum Jamar Taylor, a vicious back in Calvin Pryor III, a seasoned veteran in Jason McCourty, a promising young player in Briean Boddy-Calhoun, and arguably the most talented player from this year’s draft in Jabrill Peppers.
Between Alabama tight end OJ Howard and Miami tight end David Njoku, this year’s draft featured two of the best tight end prospects since Rob Gronkowski himself. Njoku will add explosiveness to the offense, as well as a security blanket for whichever quarterback the Browns go with.