It has been three and a half weeks since we unveiled our first 53-man roster projection for the Cleveland Browns before the start of training camp. Since then, we've had the opportunity to witness several weeks of training camp sessions and two preseason victories for the Browns.
Injuries have also played a factor in training camp, which creates several unique situations as the regular season approaches. Listed below is Version 2.0 of my 53-man roster projection; explanations for some of the decisions are below the table.
The list above contains 54 players that I kept, and 36 players that I cut. I am allowed to carry one extra player in my projections this year because for the first two games of the season, wide receiver Josh Gordon will be serving his suspension. Gordon will not count toward the roster during that stretch.
General Roster Projection Notes
- Compared to my last edition, I added five new players and cut five players I previously had making the roster.
- The five new additions to the 53-man roster projection included RB Brandon Jackson, OG Oniel Cousins, C Jarrod Shaw, LB Justin Cole, and S Josh Aubrey.
- The five players I moved over to the "cut" side included FB Owen Marecic, LB Tank Carder, LB Tommy Smith, DE Armonty Bryant, and CB Kent Richardson.
- First off, let me explain the difficulties that the recent injuries created for this roster projection, starting with RB Dion Lewis. Lewis has a broken leg which means in a best-case scenario, maybe he could return by the half-way point of the season. I don't think the Browns should waste the one "injured reserve, designated to return" spot on him, though -- if a starter suffers an injury over the next few weeks, that'll be who you'd want to use it on. If there's a chance he can play for half a season, he shouldn't go on injured reserve. When our injury situation gets a little bit better, there should be enough room for him as an inactive on the 53-man roster.
- The injury to RB Montario Hardesty complicates that position a little bit more. He will miss the first 2-3 regular season games, but if we keep both him and Lewis idle on the roster, we needed somebody else. That's why I gave RB Brandon Jackson a call-up. Heck, he's gone from being the fifth running back in the pecking order to the second guy in just a couple of weeks.
RB Chris Ogbonnaya gives the Browns the flexibility of being a fullback and backup running back, so with him, Cleveland would be keeping just three running backs for the first few weeks of the year. If we need to utilize Ogbonnaya at running back more, I've seen us use TE Kellen Davis enough near the fullback position to believe that we'll find a way to accomplish what we need to without adding more bodies to the roster. At the expense of keeping both Hardesty and Lewis on the roster while injured, I sacrified FB Owen Marecic as a roster casualty.
- The offensive line situation also complicated things. Let's assume that both OG Shawn Lauvao and OG Jason Pinkston will miss the first 2-3 games of the regular season. That's not enough to place either player on injured reserve, but it also puts the Browns in a situation where my previous roster projection would only give them 6 healthy offensive linemen on gameday.
Veteran OL Oniel Cousins just returned from the injury he's been nursing and is now taking second-team reps at offensive guard, so that gives him an edge at making the final roster. I also included C Jarrod Shaw as a throw-in lineman, but we could either sign a free agent backup or keep OT Ryan Miller instead. I hesitate on Miller because he's missed pretty much all of camp with a concussion.
- That would put the Browns at having 10 offensive linemen on opening day. The circumstances make that necessary, though. So far, I've mentioned cutting one guy (Marecic) and adding three guys (Jackson, Cousins, and Shaw).
- I did want to make room for a few performance-related additions: LB Justin Cole and S Josh Aubrey. Cole was a late addition to the roster as he came over from the Rams, and he has looked pretty good among the backup linebackers. It seems like he's been used in a versatile role as both an inside and outside linebacker. He also seems like a player we could put in a key position on special teams coverages.
Aubrey has taken full advantage of the preseason injuries at safety, and I think he's grown into a Ray Horton guy, so-to-speak. He has stood out more than any other undrafted free agent rookie defender this year, and can also be a hard-hitting asset on special teams.
- By adding Aubrey, I scanned the rest of the defensive backs and cut S Kent Richardson; he was only on the roster initially because of a blind guess at picking someone extra. There were still three more players needing to be cut. Going back to Cole, I thought the best substitute for him is basically LB Tank Carder. Carder is a special teams guy, but isn't getting utilized on defense as much as I thought he would. Therefore, I let him go.
- Two more players needed to be cut, and I ultimately went with DE Armonty Bryant and LB Tommy Smith. Both guys have looked good this preseason, but both of them are buried very far down the depth chart right now. Because of our offensive line and running back situation, we don't have as much of a luxury to stash guys like this on the 53-man roster to start the season. We'll have to hope that the other 31 teams in the league aren't willing to guarantee either guy a roster spot either, at which point we can slip them on our practice squad.
- The single asterisks on the cut side represent my projected practice squad, which includes RB Miguel Maysonet, WR Cordell Roberson, TE Brad Smelley, DE Armonty Bryant, LB Tommy Smith, LB Justin Staples, CB Akeem Auguste, and K Brandon Bogotay. The new additions include Maysonet, Bryant, and Smith. The three players I removed from my previous practice squad roster projection are C Braxston Cave, DT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, and DL Dave Kruger.
- If injuries weren't as much of a concern, I would have liked to have considered TE Brad Smelley, DE Brian Sanford, ILB James-Michael Johnson, and LB Justin Staples for a spot on the 53-man roster (that is in addition to guys I already cut like Smith and Bryant).
- The wide receiver situation presents a big question mark still on the back end of things. I have us keeping five wide receivers (not including WR Josh Gordon) for the first two weeks of the season. Three of those guys are WR Greg Little, WR Travis Benjamin, and WR Davone Bess. The other two are WR David Nelson and WR Jordan Norwood. Nelson really hasn't practiced in camp yet, but remains hopeful that he'll return against the Colts this Saturday. I'm putting my faith in him being up-to-snuff. Norwood is a wildcard who could be substituted for WR Josh Cooper.
- Our backup tight end situation is still a little unsettling to me. Besides TE Jordan Cameron, we know very little about the other guys. I still have a fantasy about TE Dan Gronkowski emerging as a beast and taking TE Kellen Davis' roster spot, but Gronkowski simply isn't getting many reps in practice or the preseason games. TE Brad Smelley is getting quite a few reps, but I don't know where he really fits in.
- I am of the opinion that teams can just go with two quarterbacks, but I think we like our backups too much to part ways with either of them, and that's fine.
- Could the Browns pull the old injured reserve move with some of their players, particularly S Jamoris Slaughter? As much as I'd like to see him, with Aubrey's emergence and how everyone else has settled into a role through training camp, it might be the best-case scenario to open up another roster spot for someone else.
- I don't think anyone has a definitive edge at kicker or punter yet, so I left my projections the same.
Feel free to share your roster projections here, or some changes you would make to mine.