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2020 Team Report: Cleveland Browns

Last updated: Sun, May 10

Offensive Philosophy

The 2019 Browns brought in pass-loving offensive coordinator Todd Monken, previously of the Buccaneers, and promised to create one of the highest-flying aerial attacks in the league. Instead they failed to achieve liftoff and parted with their coaching staff after a single season. They replaced their head coach with Kevin Stefanski, who was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Vikings toward the end of the 2018 season. At the time of Stefanski's promotion, the Vikings ranked 3rd in pass attempts and 31st in rushes. His promotion flipped an immediate switch, and the rest of the way Minnesota ranked 13th in rush attempts but just 25th in passes. Last year exacerbated the split even more, as Minnesota ranked 30th in passes and 4th in rushes. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, Minnesota's two star receivers, ranked 11th and 3rd (respectively) in PPR fantasy points until Stefanski took the reins, but fell to 20th and 41st over the end of 2018 and, while both missed a bit of time in 2019, ranked just 25th and 41st in points per game among receivers with at least 10 games played. At the same time that Minnesota's receivers were cratering, its running backs were flourishing; only four teams saw their running backs score more fantasy points than Minnesota's last year. Cleveland's commitment to Stefanski should be seen as a commitment to a much more heavily ground-based approach centered around limiting mistakes and sustaining drives.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Baker Mayfield
Backup(s): Case Keenum, Garrett Gilbert

Starting QB: A new coach, a new WR1, and a full-speed-ahead hype train entering the season didn't help Mayfield turn 2019 into a successful season. With Freddie Kitchens gone after one season and Odell Beckham Jr continuing to be a malcontent, predicting what Mayfield will do this season seems as difficult as ever. Perhaps the most promising thing about last season is that Mayfield played in all 16 games. But he'll need to dramatically improve upon a nearly 1-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio to fulfill the expectations that a high-potential group of skill position players brings. With a deep running back corps, two Pro Bowl-caliber wideouts, and a new weapon at tight end in Austin Hooper, the infrastructure is there. But it was Mayfield's offensive line that often let him down last season. The team addressed the line by signing Jack Conlin in free agency and drafting Jedrick Wills in the first round. Ideally, more time will give Mayfield the ability to utilize the exceptional talent around him.

Backup QB: Keenum was brought in and given $10 million guaranteed to be Mayfield's backup. Keenum not only offers security in case Mayfield is hurt but also offers some proven competition. Ideally, this motivates Mayfield rather than turns him disgruntled. Gilbert should stay in the fold for his second year in Cleveland, but he's nothing more than a low-end backup.

Running Backs

Starter: Nick Chubb
Backup(s): Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Chubb has been a bright spot for Cleveland in his two years. On top of not missing a game in his young career, he has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in each season. Chubb can break long plays (a 92-yard long in 2018 and an 88-yard long last season) but can also handle a high volume of carries (298 last year in his first full season as the top back). Chubb should continue to be the top ball-carrier in Cleveland, but he'll have more high-quality company in the backfield this year with Hunt not serving an eight-game suspension as he did in 2019. If Chubb has a limitation, it's as a pass-catcher. He has 56 receptions in two seasons, but his 36 last year were surpassed by Hunt's 37 despite the latter playing half as many games.

Backup RBs: Hunt offers a highly capable backup and more versatility than Chubb in the passing game. Hunt's 37 receptions in 2019 beat Chubb by one despite playing in half as many games due to suspension. Expect the duo to be more "1a and 1b" this season rather than a clear starter and backup. Behind Chubb and Hunt, Hilliard and Johnson return after combining for only 17 rushing attempts in 2019. Neither is a player that Cleveland intends to include in many offensive game plans when the players ahead of them are healthy.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry
Backups: Donovan Peoples-Jones [R], Damion Ratley, KhaDarel Hodge, Taywan Taylor

Starting WRs: In Beckham's first year with the team, it was Landry who was the more productive player. Beckham's disappointing year has led to speculation that Cleveland may look to trade him, which would send him to this third team in as many years. But as it stands, Cleveland still has one of the more dynamic receiving tandems in the league (if Beckham can control his emotions and add more value than he takes away). Landry once again played all 16 games in 2019 (he has never missed one in six seasons) and put up a career-high in receiving yards and in yards per reception (14.1). After being pegged mostly as a possession receiver that excels out of the slot, Landry showed an ability to produce on the perimeter, something that he'll look to continue in 2020, especially given Cleveland's lack of depth behind the starting pair.

Backup WRs: Most teams aren't likely to find a potential third receiver deep in the sixth round, but Cleveland's lack of receiver depth makes Peoples-Jones a candidate. Once a five-star recruit, the measurables and raw talent exist, but Peoples-Jones never put it together at Michigan. Peoples-Jones lacks the speed and suddenness to play outside, but with Landry's emergence as a perimeter threat last season, Peoples-Jones could add value as a big slot. Cleveland's acquisition of Austin Hooper at tight end means they'll likely use two tight ends at a rate higher than the majority of the league. Even without Hooper last season, Cleveland used multiple tight ends often. Their personnel at wide receiver behind Beckham and Landry also suggest plenty of two-tight end usage, as this group has accomplished very little collectively. Ratley was emerging as the team's third receiver last year, but that role was small given the aforementioned usage of multiple tight ends. Hodge is mostly a special teams contributor, and Taylor, once thought of as a high-potential player, fizzled out in Tennessee and has a lot to prove to get on the field consistently.

Tight Ends

Starters: Austin Hooper
Backups: David Njoku, Harrison Bryant [R], Pharoah Brown

Hooper's acquisition in free agency was among the most high-profile moves involving an offensive skill position player this offseason. Only the DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs trades rank higher in teams of "importance" according to our Footballguys Player Movement Tracker. Despite having two tight ends, Cleveland drafted 2020's Mackey Award winner in Bryant to further bolster the group. Perhaps this highlights the team's frustration with Njoku, who upon his return from injury last season, appeared to lack discipline and knowledge of the playbook. Whether it's Njoku or Bryant joining Hooper, Cleveland's tight end and wide receiver personnel suggest plenty of two-tight end sets.

Place Kicker

Austin Seibert: Seibert wasn't a bust of a fifth round pick last year, edging out Greg Joseph in camp for the job and making 25 of 29 field goal attempts, missing none from under 40 yards. He also missed five extra point attempts, and it wouldn't be shocking if the Browns brought in a kicker to push him. He is cheap, playing on a rookie deal that has three years left, but the regime that selected him is gone. Seibert is one of the last kickers selected for good reason, although the Browns offense could be improved and push him into bye week fill-in consideration.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Dontrell Hilliard, JoJo Natson

The Browns bring back 2019 return specialist Dontrell Hilliard, but also signed former Ram JoJo Natson this offseason to provide competition for the job.

Punt Returners: Dontrell Hilliard, JoJo Natson

The Browns bring back 2019 return specialist Dontrell Hilliard, but also signed former Ram JoJo Natson this offseason to provide competition for the job.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: OT Jedrick Wills [R], OG Joel Bitonio, C J.C. Tretter, OG Wyatt Teller, OT Jack Conklin
Key Backups: OL Chris Hubbard, OL Drew Forbes, OL Kendall Lamm, C Nick Harris [R]

Left guard Joel Bitonio is the leader of this line, making All-Pro honors for the second straight year. The team invested huge resources in their two new tackles: rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills from Alabama and free agent right tackle Jack Conklin from the Tennessee Titans. The moves put Chris Hubbard as the swing tackle. The grade on this line will increase as the new arrivals settle into their roles.

Team Defense

The Browns defense didn't come together as hoped in 2019. 38 sacks, 20 takeaways and one defensive score is a bit underwhelming after the team traded their best offensive lineman for Olivier Vernon. They were 21st in yards and 20th in points allowed, staying in the middle of the pack in quality no matter the fantasy scoring system. 2020 will see another new system installed under Joe Woods, and the return of Myles Garrett who was reinstated from his indefinite suspension. Joe Schobert is gone, leaving a huge hole in the linebacker group and the team will be hoping for second round pick Grant Delpit to shore up a safety group full of unknowns. The team should get some positive momentum going eventually, but without a full offseason to lay groundwork for a new regime, the Browns defense isnt worth their ADP around the 15th unit off of the board in drafts.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Sheldon Richardson, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DE Myles Garrett, DE Olivier Vernon
Backups: DT Andrew Billings, DT Jordan Elliott [R], DT Daniel Ekuale, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Chad Thomas, DE Bryan Cox Jr.

Starting DL: After all the hype, there was not a more disappointing team in the league last year than the Browns. There were many contributing factors to their underachieving performance. Injuries and suspensions along the defensive front were among them. Tackle Sheldon Richardson is a former first-round selection and is among the league's exceptional interior linemen. A combination of power and athleticism make him a three-down player with the ability to make plays versus the run and get after the passer with equal success. In many ways, Larry Ogunjobi is a clone of Richardson. His production was down in 2019, largely due to an ankle injury that bothered him over much of the season. When healthy Ogunjobi is both an excellent run stopper and a strong pass rusher. He had 11 sacks between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. In Myles Garrett, the Browns have one of the best three-down defensive ends in the game. He was well on the way to double-digit sacks for a third consecutive season when he was suspended for the final five games. The organization paired Olivier Vernon with Garrett to begin the 2019 season but like so many other things that went wrong, Vernon missed the second half of the season with a knee sprain. If the Browns can keep all four starters on the field this season, they have a championship-caliber defensive line.

Backup DL: If the Browns learned anything from last season, it is that they cannot have too much quality depth along the line. Thus the addition of free agent Andrew Billings and the choice of Jordan Elliot in round three of the draft. Billings was a starter for the rival Bengals last season. He is not a threat to unseat either of Cleveland's starters but provides both solid play and experience. With Ogunjobi in the final year of his contract, Billings and Elliot may be competing not only for a spot in the rotation this year, but a starting job next season. Chad Thomas did an adequate job when called upon last season. He and veteran free-agent addition Adrian Clayborn, who has plenty of starting experience, will compete for the top backup job at end. Both players are likely to see a fair amount of action in relief.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Sione Takitaki, WLB Jacob Phillips [R], SLB Mack Wilson
Backups: MLB/OLB B.J. Goodson, MLB Tae Davis, WLB Jermaine Grace

Starting LBs: Solid as they are on the front line, the Browns are just as questionable at linebacker. Previous starters Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey are both playing elsewhere, leaving last year's fifth-round pick Mack Wilson and journeyman free-agent addition B.J. Goodson as the only linebackers on the team with and significant starting game experience. After filling in when Kirksey was injured early last season, Wilson is expected to man of the starting spots in 2020. Many expect he will start in the middle but that job may go to last year's third-round pick Sione Takitaki who impressed during the preseason and saw action there late in the regular season. Rookie third-round pick Jacob Phillips could also be in the mix for a starting spot, as could Goodson. We are not likely to know what this group looks like or where anyone will line up until at least the preseason. Even then there is no way to know what to expect from them.

Backup LBs: One thing we do know at this point, Cleveland will be thin and inexperienced at the linebacker positions. B.J. Goodson has seen time as a starter. More than enough time, in fact, to prove he is a marginal option at best in such a role. One plus with Goodson is the versatility to line up at any of the second level positions. Tae Davis got a shot at starting for the Giants in 2018 and did not fare so well. Jermaine Grace is a former undrafted free agent, playing with his fourth team in four years as a pro.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Grant Delpit [R], FS Karl Joseph, CB Denzel Ward, CB Greedy Williams, CB Terrance Mitchell
Backups: SS Andrew Sendejo, FS Sheldrick Redwine, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Robert Jackson, CB Tavierre Thompson

Starting DBs: The Cleveland secondary is loaded with talent or at least players drafted in the first two rounds. The team was right on target with 2018 fourth overall pick Denzel Ward. In two seasons with the team, he has been both an outstanding cover man and a playmaker with eight takeaways. The jury is still out on last year's second-round selection Greedy Williams, who did little as a rookie but is set to return as a starter. Former Texans first-round pick Kevin Johnson will compete with Terrence Mitchell for the nickel corner job. Mitchell is a proven playmaker but both players have battled injuries in recent years. Rookie second-round pick Grant Delpit expected to emerge as the starting strong safety, with his big-play potential giving him the edge over an experienced Andrew Sendejo. Former Raiders first-round pick Karl Joseph should get the call at free safety. Joseph was not exactly a bust with Oakland, but he clearly under performed considering the draft status. The Browns are counting on the change of scenery making a difference. In short, the Browns have a lot of high potential players in the fold, but it remains to be seen if they can build some chemistry and perform up to that potential.

Backup DBs: Andrew Sendejo may not win the starting job at strong safety but he has enough talent and experience to be a solid contributor as the third man at the position. Sheldrick Redwine gained a good deal of experience last season due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. That experience and his more than adequate play help make safety a deep position for the team. With Terrence Mitchell and Kevin Johnson competing for the slot corner job, the team has four players at corner with starter-level potential. So long as they do not suffer multiple injuries, the third level should be solid top to bottom.