- With the addition of receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns offense will be scary, and with talents such as Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward on defense, this team deserves its pre-season hype.
The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he examines the Cleveland Browns, who finished 7-8-1 and third in the AFC North last year.
The offense lives up to the hype. Cleveland’s weapons fit well together. Odell Beckham Jr. is dangerous in many ways, but especially at the deep-intermediate levels, which expands the passing game of coach Freddie Kitchens. Wideout Rashard Higgins also has sound chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield, particularly on dig and corner routes. Jarvis Landry is unpolished but tenacious underneath. And second-year burner Antonio Callaway presents a terrifying vertical dimension. Aligning Callaway opposite Beckham occupies both safeties, helping the entire offense, including third-year tight end David Njoku and deceptively fast and elusive tailback Nick Chubb.
Baker Mayfield is an MVP candidate. The second-year QB extends plays with his feet, but only when necessary, relying first on his outstanding timing and accuracy, especially on seam balls and underneath throws from spread formations. More impressive are the throws Mayfield does not make; he has a veteran’s sense for getting off of bad reads. And when he does get fooled into the occasional turnover, he continues to be aggressive.
Greg Robinson is a weak link. In the moments when this offense struggles, it will be because of their left tackle. Yes, the 2014 second overall pick was surprisingly reliable late last season, but as had happened at his previous stops with the Lions and the Rams, Robinson ultimately proves to be a slow-twitch, mentally unreliable pass-blocker. In general, Cleveland’s line is solid but not spectacular.
Cleveland has a top-10 defense. This is a big improvement from the NFL’s 29th-ranked unit in 2018. However, turnovers decrease after the defense led the AFC with 31 last year—that’s the nature of a defense that blitzes, which new coordinator Steve Wilks loves to do, particularly from the slot. Slot blitzes are extra-tempting considering the Browns don’t have a pure inside cover guy (the options are T.J. Carrie or Terrance Mitchell). They do, however, have a young corner, Denzel Ward, who can cover quick receivers and another, second-round rookie Greedy Williams, who—they hope—can handle big receivers. With those corners and athletic linebackers Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, Wilks has the necessary back-end pieces for his six-man zone coverages.
Myles Garrett goes off. Violent hands, a sudden first step and flexible hips translate to big statistical production now that the third-year pro is surrounded by stellar veteran defensive linemen such as Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. Almost half of Garrett’s sacks come from inside, where he’s a tick more explosive.
BOTTOM LINE: The Browns, everyone’s preseason darlings, feel too good to be true, but on paper, they have no major weaknesses.