So how good are the Cleveland Browns? I think this is the best team we have had since the Browns were re-formed in 1999. Wins and losses are notoriously hard to predict, but my guess is that we will enjoy a winning season. Why?
First we have a defensive backfield made up of four Pro-Bowlers in Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson. Plus they have great backups in K'Waun Williams and Pierre Desir. The worst guy is former first round pick Justin Gilbert who did great at the combine but can not play football.
Second, the defensive line is significantly improved. The Browns were a top 10 defense despite being the worst against the run. They have added Danny Shelton, and former pro bowler Randy Starks, a great veteran who was let go by the Dolphins to make room for N'Damukong Suh. On top of this, the Browns are getting back players who were injured last year (John Hughes, Armonty Bryant) and rookie Xavier Cooper was outstanding in pre-season. The Browns now have excellent depth at DL.
Linebackers include former Pro Bowler Karlos Dansby, sack man Paul Kruger and up and coming Chris Kirksey. Scott Solomon is the weakest starter on the right side, but they have quality backups in Barkevious Mingo (sixth overall pick in 2013), Craig Robertson and rookie Nate Orchard. Again, this is an above average unit with outstanding depth.
This is likely a top 5 NFL defense.
As for offense, Browns fans are among the most quarterback-fixated fan base in the NFL. Veteran knockabout Josh McCown was the 31st best qb in the NFL in 2014 after performing at a high level in limited action in 2013 with the Bears. The story of McCown is that he is a pretty good pocket passer if the line can protect him, but he is not exactly Josh Football when forced out of the pocket. I think the Browns keep him upright with three Pro Bowl talents on the OL (Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio and Alex Mack) and two established veterans (John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz) with first round pick Cameron Erving not yet able to make the starting lineup. They still need to add a few more fat kids to the roster, however.
Joe Thomas, Donte Whitner.
At wide receiver, the Browns do not have star talent, but they do have depth with Dwayne Bowe, Andrew Hawkins, Brian Hartline, Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin and wild card Terrelle Pryor.
Similarly they have four good but non-glorious tight ends in Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray and Rob Housler and E. J. Bibbs. Let's try some two and three tight end formations this year, shall we?
Running back appears to be weak, with Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson. Grouchy sophomore Terrance West appears to be on the trading block. Malcolm Johnson made the team as a fullback but was not particularly outstanding in pre-season.
Special teams played surprisingly well after adding Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee. Returner Travis Benjamin fielded punts much better than last year, and so perhaps he will be better able to use his returning skills in 2015. Several players returned kickoffs well in pre season, including incumbent returner Marlon Moore, who is also a great coverage guy. Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Poyer also made it. Both are outstanding in special teams but below average performers in the defensive backfield.
If there is a downside, it is definitely playing in the AFC North, which I believe is the Pro equivalent of the SEC. Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh are very tough teams and in fact I think there is a chance that the entire division finishes over .500 this year. So even though I like the Browns this year, I also like Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Steelers' defense is most un-Steeler like this year and for that reason I'm predicting that the Browns will finish ahead of Pittsburgh, but that may not be good enough make the playoffs.