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5 Musings on Browns Evolving Roster; The Anonymous Player on Track to Make Team

Injuries and player development can produce some unexpected surprises on the Cleveland Browns roster. As a result, here are five thoughts on the direction this could be headed including a player almost no one knows that might make this team.
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A combination of injuries and players simply shining has me thinking about the Cleveland Browns 53-man roster and some of the ways it could end up shaping up by the time the season starts.

Some of this is simply because the Browns have enough talented players at their disposal, which is allowing them to be creative with how they meet their needs while maximizing talent. It also could see some legitimately talented players go elsewhere.

1. The Browns may not replace Stephen Carlson

Carlson's injury is disappointing on multiple levels. He's a player who has gotten better every year he's been in the NFL with the Browns. All three of their top tight ends missed games at points last year and Carlson was able to fill in admirably, preventing a meaningful drop off in play or forcing the Browns to dramatically alter gameplans.

It's also frustrating for Carlson who is having knee surgery as he will be a free agent. He signed an exclusive rights deal for $850,000 for one-year. It's possible the Browns will just sign him again next year pending a healthy knee as he does have value to them.

Unless the Browns find someone they simply love, who may not be on the roster currently, their best course of action may to simply sign two players to the practice squad and activating the one they need each week. Currently, that would seemingly be Jordan Franks and Connor Davis. Franks is more of a receiving tight end while Davis is an undersized offensive tackle that offers length and power as a blocker.

The extra roster spot this would create might go to an offensive lineman. The lineman they would cut to keep a fourth tight end is likely to be more talented. And they could simply line up a sixth lineman at tight end if they wanted.

2. KhaDarel Hodge feeling the squeeze

Hodge, who at times was the third receiver on the Browns during the 2020 season may now find himself on the outside looking in due to a combination of factors, which might seem a little convoluted.

First, D'Ernest Johnson looks great at running back. The former fisherman was effective for the Browns last season with a no-nonsense running style that just picks a lane and goes. With his speed, he created explosive plays, averaging 5 yards per carry in limited opportunities in 2020.

This year, he has improved in blocking and become a nice little option out of the backfield as a receiver. Early on, it seemed like the Browns could cut or trade Johnson, who would absolutely end up on another roster and then keep a downhill running back on the practice squad they could activate. After all, there are always viable running backs available.

Second, Demetric Felton has been impressive as a rookie. With Johnson likely taking up a running back slot, Felton would then be taking up a receiver spot even if he can play both spots. The other area that helps Felton is his ability to contribute on special teams, which is something Hodge has done in the past.

Third, Davion Davis could end up on the practice squad and offer much of what Hodge does without taking up a roster spot. Hodge is faster than Davis to be sure, but Davis is big and has impressed as a pass catcher. He made the most of his opportunities against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Davis can block, that could wrap things up for Hodge in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, should the Browns let Hodge go, he will have a new team as soon as waivers go through. Multiple teams will put in a claim for him. Hodge could quickly become a team's third or fourth receiving option as he was for the Browns in 2020, which may end up working out for him even if it would be disappointing to see him leave Cleveland. He and Donovan Peoples-Jones both stand out physically on the field in terms of their size. Both offer speed and Hodge excels as a blocker. The Browns simply have an embarrassment of riches at the position.

Hodge's best chance to stay in Cleveland may be if Anthony Schwartz ends up on the PUP list or injured reserve. Schwartz has been dealing with hamstring issues and really hasn't been able to do all that much in camp to this point.

3. Injury could green light Browns keeping 10 offensive linemen

Between the injury to Carlson and the amount of talent the Browns have on the offensive line, keeping ten makes a ton of sense. Good backup linemen are worth their weight in gold, particularly on rookie contracts.

James Hudson struggled in his preseason debut, which doesn't mean the Browns give up on Hudson. They drafted a player with limited experience at tackle, who has displayed some good fundamentals and a terrific demeanor for offensive line coach Bill Callahan to develop.

Hudson's struggles, should they continue, could make it more likely the Browns keep Chris Hubbard. Hubbard was invaluable to the Browns in 2020 as the sixth man on the line, helping at both guard and tackle. The Browns no longer need him at guard, but they might need him at tackle despite a pretty hefty cap cost of just under $5 million.

Alex Taylor looks like a player the Browns should keep because he's young, 24, and enormous at 6'8" with quick feet. He no longer looks like a basketball player trying football. Taylor looks like a football player. It's a journey to get around him. The issue is if Jedrick Wills or Jack Conklin were to miss a game or few, the Browns would have to decide if they trust Taylor enough to step in and play. They trust Hubbard, which could give him an edge.

It'd be nice to see Taylor play on the second line with Hudson playing on the third team. Hopefully, that would enable Hudson to find his footing, but Taylor should get an opportunity to play against the opponents ones and twos. He was effective, even if he's still developing, in Jacksonville.

It's not impossible the Browns could waive Hudson on roster cut down day if he continues to struggle and Taylor takes steps forward that make him too good to cut, but the Browns are not there yet. In spite of how well this front office has drafted, they are not beholden to their draft class as they have been able to utilize multiple avenues to add talent.

Michael Dunn is good. He picked up right where he left off with in the playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dunn looks like he could step in and start at guard without issue if needed, which may not be great news for Wyatt Teller and a potential contract extension.

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Dunn played second team left guard against the Jaguars and looked terrific. Drew Forbes played third team left guard and was dominant in pass protection. His run blocking was frustrating as he played high and narrow, occasionally out of control as a result.

The Browns had Blake Hance play second team right guard and he was okay. He didn't jump out to me that much, though he does get down the field pretty well as does Nick Harris, the team's backup center.

The offensive line I would like to see come out against the Giants would include Taylor at left tackle, Dunn and Forbes at the guards, Harris at center and Greg Senat at right tackle. Senat had some impressive reps at right tackle in the game against the Jaguars and whether they are looking at potentially keeping him or shopping him, getting reps against better competition could prove valuable.

So long as Hubbard is healthy, the Browns know what he is. If they are looking to shop him, then it makes sense to play him so he can prove to 31 other teams he's healthy. No one would blame the Browns for keeping Hubbard given his track record with the team, but it would be disappointing to see someone like Alex Taylor end up on another team and becoming the player he might have become with the Browns.

4. It's difficult to see how Mack Wilson makes this roster

It's fortunate that Mack Wilson's shoulder injury was not significant because he needs to be able to practice against the Giants and play in each of the last two preseason games. It's just really difficult to see how he makes the roster.

Starting against the Jaguars is meaningless. Rookie linebacker Tony Fields looks like he's going to be out for a while, potentially ending up on the PUP list or even injured reserve this season. Meanwhile, Malcolm Smith has nothing to prove in the preseason. He was good for the Browns last year when he was signed after Wilson suffered the knee injury. Smith quickly passed Wilson on the depth chart and never looked back.

So the only other player at weak side linebacker the Browns are really evaluating is Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He missed ten days due to COVID-19, so he's slightly behind, but he's also in no danger of losing his roster spot. So Wilson started and part of the reason he started is because he's competing to be viable.

Unfortunately, Wilson only played four snaps on defense against the Jaguars before he went out with the shoulder injury. The four snaps weren't good, following what has been a two-year long trend of mediocrity. Wilson needs to be able to practice and play to show that the playoffs, where he shined in limited snaps, were more indicative of where he's headed in year three.

All the camp hype means nothing if he can't make it translate into games. So either the hype is coming from sources that have no idea what they are looking at or Wilson is great in drills. He has no track record of success, still has not made meaningful improvements on his weaknesses coming out of Alabama in diagnosing plays and has no room for error.

Currently, Malcolm Smith and JOK are the two weak side linebackers who will end up making this team with Anthony Walker and Jacob Phillips in the middle and Sione Takitaki the lone man that plays strong side. Perhaps WIlson can show more viability on special teams and make the team that way over a player like Elijah Lee, who would make the team almost exclusively because of his ability to help in that capacity.

Wilson seems to be a prince of a person, engaging and has a lot of qualities that make him easy to root for including trying to overcome financial hardship that played a significant role in his decision to declare for the NFL Draft after his junior year. Just don't be surprised if he's all of those things for another team in 2021 or he's on the Browns practice squad. 

Still only 23 years old, there are reasons to want to work with and hopefully develop Wilson, but it just may not be with the Browns. The fact the Browns drafted JOK and keep insisting he's a weak side linebacker was always writing on the wall for Wilson.

5. Jovante Moffatt on track to make final roster

The most anonymous player that could end up making the Browns final roster is Jovante Moffatt, playing the role of a backup strong safety. The Browns are pretty loaded at safety, so long as everyone is healthy and all eyes are on Grant Delpit in this respect, coming off the Achilles' and now a hamstring issue.

Meanwhile, rookie sixth round pick Richard LeCounte III made a big impression against the Jaguars, almost making one great interception, then coming back and getting one later before the end of the half. He wowed people with his range.

So should the Browns decide they want a pure strong safety in reserve, Jovante Moffatt is very quietly on his way to securing that spot. His main competition is equally unknown reserve Elijah Benton, but unless the Browns plan on grabbing one from on waivers or a trade, they are likely to be the two players vying for that spot.

Whoever doesn't win the job outright may be on the practice squad.

Moffatt has been largely unnoticed, which is good that he hasn't been exposed at any point. He also isn't making impact plays that tend to draw notice in preseason.

Moffatt appeared in nine games in his rookie season with the Browns as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State. He's entering his second season with the Browns, both under Joe Woods as defensive coordinator.

The Browns clearly aren't afraid to bring in outside help as illustrated by the trade for Ronnie Harrison last season, but it seems like the Browns might be comfortable with keeping Moffatt in that spot. As long as everyone is healthy, he really becomes the third string strong safety and someone that can contribute on special teams, but because of the way the Browns want to utilize their safeties, they must keep five.

The long shot possibility would be for M.J. Stewart to be able to play a combo role as a slot player and backup safety.

READ MORE: Browns Combined Practices with Giants Matter More than You Think