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How Many Browns Roster Spots Are Truly Up for Grabs?

The Cleveland Browns may be utilizing the next two weeks to get ready for the season, but their final roster may all but be decided with only a handful of spots to be determined.
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Between continuity and the infusion of talent the Cleveland Browns have experienced this offseason, the roster may largely be settled even with almost two weeks left to go until opening day.

Injuries may prove to be the biggest factor in determining the last few spots they have, but there may only be a handful of spots the Browns are actually trying to decide at this point.

In the end, there are only about four or five roster spots that seem truly up for grabs unless they suffer more injuries or the Browns make a big move.

Quarterback (2)

Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum

Maybe there's a scenario where the Browns trade Keenum for salary cap savings because they are happy with what they've seen from Kyle Lauletta. They aren't going to keep three quarterbacks though, so one has to go.

If they are going to move on from Lauletta after their preseason finale with the Atlanta Falcons, it'd be nice to trade him even if it's for a conditional seventh round pick. There are a number of teams with backup quarterback issues that could use Lauletta.

Running Back (3)

Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson

D'Ernest Johnson has made himself indispensable. He's not just a decisive runner with speed, but the former fisherman has become a better receiver and blocker. If not for the fact the Browns have one of the best duos in the league, there might be even more excitement for just how effective Johnson can be for this offense.

John Kelly is someone the Browns would like to get back on the practice squad, but he may get scooped up by another team on waivers.

Fullback (1)

Andy Janovich

For whatever reason, there seem to be a large number of fans that think the Browns shouldn't carry a fullback when Janovich is the gold standard in terms of zone blocking fullbacks. In the preseason, he's also showing off the hands he consistently showed when he was a member of the Denver Broncos, but proved to be a problem last year.

There could be some interesting roster gymnastics that involve someone like Janovich on cut down day. It's possible the Browns could cut someone like Janovich to then put a player on injured reserve with the ability to designate them for return later, to then re-sign Janovich.

Two seasons ago, the Browns did this to get then rookie Drew Forbes to injured reserve with the ability to get him back later in the season. They cut Greg Robinson to bring him back the next day.

Johnny Stanton has had a great preseason, but he's still the second fullback on the team. Unless a team claims him on waivers, which is possible, they will put him back on the practice squad in case they need him to play if Janovich is out, which occurred last year.

Wide Receiver (6)

Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Demetric Felton, Anthony Schwartz

Whether the Browns want to list Felton as a running back or receiver, he's going to end up on the team. The sticky wicket is rookie Anthony Schwartz and his hamstring. Whether it's simply being cautious or he's truly not able to go could impact how the Browns operate at the deadline.

If he's hurt, the Browns could keep him on the active roster to then put him on injured reserve with the intent to get him back later. If that happens, the Browns could keep KhaDarel Hodge, even if only temporarily.

Hodge is definitely an NFL caliber wide receiver who has produced for the Browns, offers size, strength and speed. He's also earning a little over $2 million this season, which the Browns might view as a little rich for a fifth or sixth wide receiver when they are already paying Higgins $2.3 million.

The best case scenario for Hodge, purely from a career standpoint, would be to end up on a team where he's potentially the third or fourth receiver. A trade involving Hodge would be pretty enticing for the Browns to get a player or pick.

If the Browns were to trade or waive Hodge and want to place Schwartz on injured reserve with a chance to return, they could then keep Davion Davis. A few weeks into the season when Schwartz might be ready to come back, Davis would have a better chance of making it to the Browns practice squad.

Tight End (3)

Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant

The Browns do not have anyone on their roster that warrants being kept as a fourth tight end. Four may be the number the Browns want, but the next best option after Stephen Carlson, who is out with a season-ending knee injury, was Connor Davis, who was just placed on injured reserve.

Unless the Browns make a move, likely a trade along the lines of the framework of Ronnie Harrison for a fifth round pick, the Browns would be better off putting what amounts to be their fourth tight end on the practice squad. They can activate them as needed.

That would also enable the Browns to keep an extra offensive lineman and they could utilize a sixth offensive lineman as a tight end. The tenth best offensive lineman on the Browns is substantially more talented than what would be the fourth tight end on the current roster.

Offensive Line (10)

Jedrick Wills, Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin, Michael Dunn, Chris Hubbard, James Hudson, Drew Forbes, Nick Harris

The Browns have a ton of talent on the offensive line and they would like to keep as much of it as possible. With the injury to Alex Taylor that resulted in him being waived with an injury designation, the backup tackle position is far trickier. That might ensure Chris Hubbard makes the team even at just under a $5 million in salary this year.

It's not impossible the Browns might like Greg Senat enough to keep him and move on from Hubbard. Blake Hance has played tackle in a pinch. But since Hudson is nowhere near Sunday ready, Hubbard is the safest option to ensure the Browns have a professional level swing tackle that can step in and play if needed.

Do the Browns feel good enough about Harris at this point? It seems like they do, grooming him to be the eventual replacement for J.C. Tretter, but Hance did step in and play reasonably well against the New York Giants. That may have more bearing on what Hance can offer the team in terms of versatility than a knock against Harris, but Harris is a center only and as a backup, that's not a great spot to be. He might have a shot to make the practice squad as a scheme specific center.

It's not likely the Browns would give up on Hudson despite his significant struggles in the preseason. They had to know this was a possibility when they drafted him. However, development from other players might make it so they are willing to waive him with the hope he somehow gets to the practice squad.

Does Hance play any one spot well enough to be retained over another player? He can play all five spots which is valuable and having another player who can snap is valuable, but it's possible he could be the odd man out if he doesn't truly excel in any one area.

If the Browns do love Hance, Drew Forbes could be the odd man out, unless Hudson never amounts to anything with the Browns.

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There's almost no wrong way to go here. It's entirely about preference.

Andrew Berry should be able to find a way to trade at least one of these guys and keep everyone else.

Defensive Line (10)

Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, Andrew Billings, Takkarist McKinley, Tommy Togiai, Jordan Elliott, Joe Jackson, Malik McDowell, Sheldon Day

This will be the most interesting and anticipated position group to be decided. There are a number of different ways they can go.

First, Takk McKinley is at least back in Berea which is a good sign. He's a hugely important part of this team's plans for this year in terms of their pass rush. If he's going to be ready to go for week one, that could impact how the Browns operate.

If the Browns have McKinley, they could go ahead and keep Porter Gustin, accentuating faster, up field edge rusher type edge rushers. The other possibility is they go with another long end that could play up and down the line in Joe Jackson, who has had a productive preseason even if he has not been a dynamic pass rusher.

The interior is where things could get nuts. Four players seem safe even if their performance doesn't suggest they should be - Malik Jackson, Andrew Billings, Tommy Togiai and Jordan Elliott.

Billings has had a difficult time adjustmenting from his opt out year while also getting in shape. He struggled against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Billings played better against the New York Giants, but still had some brutal reps. No one else has played ahead of him, so the Browns appear to be at least cautiously optimistic that he'll get where he needs to be.

Tommy Togiai has struggled mightily, which isn't surprising for a 21-year old rookie playing on the defensive line. He has flashed at times, but it's going to be a process. Jordan Elliott, meanwhile, played really well against the Giants, which is a relief. He has yet to truly announce himself, but he is heading in a positive direction.

After that, it's weighing the present against the future as well as projecting what the team will need this year stylistically. All of that with a bit of gambling involved.

Marvin Wilson has an NFL body, but between injury concerns and his play in the preseason, it's difficult to say he warrants a roster spot. He also might be the best chance to get through to the practice squad, which still may be quite low.

Malik McDowell was outstanding against the Giants, the first game of his career. He's 25 and there are some off field considerations with him that start with his mental well being. 

The Browns have to decide if they can trust him enough to keep him on the active roster. Getting him to the practice squad may simply be a pipe dream at this point even if a year there might be the best case scenario for McDowell in life as well as football.

Last but not least is Sheldon Day, who is the oldest, 27, most polished and most reliable of the group. He also has zero upside and is trying to sustain rather than improve. That may be exactly what the Browns need right now, but they may let go of players that could surpass him to do it, which could come back to bite them later. 

The Browns are looking to win now, but they may feel like they can be patient with what would amount to be their fifth defensive tackle. Day could also help the Browns hide Togiai, which could prove beneficial particularly through the early part of this season.

Nine is the safer bet for the Browns final roster along the defensive line, but given their deficiencies at linebacker, they might keep ten.

Romeo McKnight is someone the Browns will want on the practice squad if he can get there.

Linebacker (5)

Anthony Walker, Malcolm Smith, Sione Takitaki, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Elijah Lee

The Browns overhauled their linebacker room only to suffer injuries which have shortened their rotation down to largely the same limitations of last season. The loss of Jacob Phillips to a torn bicep and the foot issues that have stopped the rookie season of Tony Fields before it has started leave the Browns with a lack of linebackers worth keeping on the roster.

Phillips has not been placed on injured reserve to this point, which is interesting. It's as if the Browns think they might be able to get him back if they can get him into the season, then place him on injured reserve with the intent to designate him to return.

The Fields situation is similar, though it may be more difficult to try to get him into the season to then put him on injured reserve with the intent to bring him back. It may simply be a situation where the Browns are waiting as long as possible to waive him with an injury designation hoping to get him back to then put him on injured reserve, looking to next season.

That only leaves two linebackers on the roster with Mack Wilson and Willie Harvey. Both could end up on the Browns practice squad in the end. Maybe someone claims Wilson, but Harvey shouldn't have an issue getting there. Even if someone claims Wilson, there's no reason to believe the Browns cannot find a linebacker to put on their practice squad that represents can give at least 80 percent of what Wilson does. He simply has not done anything to this point to demand a roster spot.

Maybe the Browns feel differently as they want to keep six linebackers and Wilson would be the sixth. Is Mack Wilson more valuable to the Browns than Sheldon Day or Malik McDowell? That's a difficult case to make.

Corner (5)

Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Greedy Williams, Troy Hill, A.J. Green

Unless the Browns can find someone that is an upgrade over Green, this might be the easiest group to project on defense. Newsome being able to play in the slot provides depth if necessary.

Safety (5)

John Johnson, Ronnie Harrison, Grant Delpit, Richard LeCounte, Jovante Moffatt

The top three are obvious. LeCounte has been uncontested to this point as the backup free safety since Sheldrick Redwine has been hurt. The only question facing the Browns right now is if they feel good enough about Jovante Moffatt to keep him as their fifth option or if they can get someone from another team they like better.

Moffatt has been in this system under Joe Woods since last year, so there may be a level of comfort with him they won't find elsewhere at this point.

Kicker (1)

Chase McLaughlin

Unless the Browns bring in someone to replace McLaughlin, the job is his. The Browns would then get someone on the practice squad to provide competition, operate as insurance against COVID-19,

Punter (1)

Jamie Gillan

Long Snapper (1)

Charley Hughlett

READ MORE: A Tale of Two Mayfields