This season the Cleveland Browns have several players who will gain a lot through having a career season.
Last season we saw guard Wyatt Teller become one of the premier offensive linemen in all of the league. Quarterback Baker Mayfield reestablished himself as a franchise quarterback, and safety Ronnie Harrison proved that he was not a lost cause after being traded from Jacksonville.
Every year multiple players are fighting for money, roster spots, and playing time. The Browns had many of these players come through in 2020, and some became franchise building blocks.
David Njoku, TE
Njoku has been thrown into trade scenarios for the last calendar year since news broke that he was unhappy in Cleveland. The tight end denied the rumors and stated that his only focus is getting wins for the Browns.
Njoku is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Someone will pay the tight end after this year, and there is a good chance that it will be the Browns.
His athleticism jumps off the screen, and his hands have improved every year since arriving in Cleveland. Head coach Kevin Stefanski ran sets with multiple tight ends on 42% of offensive snaps in 2020, according to OBR Analytics.
If Njoku can continue his upward trajectory and burst onto the scene this year, he could be in for a big payday in 2022.
Greedy Williams, CB
Williams missed all of the 2020 season with a pinched nerve in his neck. He has played in only twelve games over the course of two years with the Browns, which led to them selecting corner Greg Newsome II in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
His rookie season had its highs and lows, but overall, Williams proved adequate. He will remain a pivotal part of the corner rotation and should have plenty of chances to prove that he is an NFL corner.
He was the Browns' top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. They selected him with the No. 46 pick in the second round and made him a starter from day one. They were drawn to his experience in man coverage and considered him to be NFL ready from day one.
Williams has reportedly made a full recovery from his nerve injury and should be active at the start of the season. His size and athletic traits suggest that he can still be a starting corner in this league, and staying healthy is one of his only questions.
While he is inexperienced, that shouldn't hold him back this season. Williams is a speedy corner with loose hips that can do a variety of things. He thrived on the outside and moved all over the defense as a rookie. He got better in zone as the year went on and improved game to game.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE
Clowney signed a one-year deal with the team in April after conducting multiple interviews with the team brass.
He spent the past season with the Tennessee Titans, where he did not register a sack and ended the year on injured reserve. The former No. 1 overall pick has bounced around the NFL after parting ways with the Houston Texans in 2018.
Clowney is on his fourth team now and needs a breakout year to secure his standing in the league. He has always been a question mark due to inconsistent performance, injury, and effort level.
There is no questioning his talent, but he needs to have a big year in order to re-establish himself as a top-flight edge defender. He will also be looking for a big contract in 2022, as he has already turned down a lot of money in his career.
The ceiling for Clowney remains high. He can be the anchor of a strong-run defense and should be the beneficiary of the attention edge rusher Myles Garrett will attract.
A career year for Clowney would constitute being healthy for the majority of the year, being the team's best-run defender, and getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. All of these things are plausible in Cleveland because of the nature of defensive coordinator Joe Woods' scheme.
Woods lets his edge rushers get upfield and allows them to chase the quarterback. Both Garrett and Von Miller have had a lot of success with Woods and there is no reason that Clowney won't have a career year rushing the passer.
Unless the Browns manage to clear some cap space, Clowney will likely not be with the team long-term. He can still be a key contributor in their push for a Super Bowl and could command a large deal on the open market after the season.
The Browns are an ideal location for Clowney. He is not comfortable being the lead edge rusher and is at his best when working off the edge as a secondary piece.
Ronnie Harrison, S
While Harrison already had to prove himself last season, he will have to do it again in 2021.
The Jacksonville Jaguars traded Harrison to the Browns during the 2020 preseason for a 2021 fifth-round pick. Harrison had to prove that he was still capable of playing in the NFL at that point and delivered in a big way.
Outside of corner Denzel Ward, Harrison was the best defender in the back seven last year. He was a very reliable run defender and flashed some ability to play in pass coverage.
His contract expires after this season, and the Browns will have to decide on his future. The defense will feature a lot of dime personnel this year, meaning that Harrison will get a chance to play an in-the-box role.
If he puts together a season reminiscent of his 2020 campaign, the Browns front office will have a tough decision ahead of them.