At one point last season, the Cleveland Browns were 7-4 and looking to be atop the AFC North. Things went south to finish off the season, but it wasn't too long ago that the Browns were on the rise among the national power rankings. Now, it appears as though Cleveland is a team that is easy to pigeon-hole at the bottom again.
Take NFL.com's most recent power rankings for example, where the Browns are ranked No. 29 in the league:
#29 - Browns - Josh McCown lines up at center, looking at Brian Hartline and Taylor Gabriel outside. Andrew Hawkins is ready in the slot. Tight end? Gary Barnidge, babe. And none of them could start for several teams in the league. No one needs to get the first round right more than the Browns -- not if mostly laying out is their free agency M.O.
If I was an outsider looking in, I can't say I wouldn't do the same thing -- plummeting my faith in the Browns' ability to succeed. When you look at the team that got to 7-4 last year, though, what's really changed? If we're looking at free agency departures (Brian Hoyer and Buster Skrine), they've been replaced by a somewhat similar level of player (Josh McCown and Tramon Williams). Except for tight end, this team is pretty much the same as it was in 2014. Is that progress? If you believe the Browns can do the following, then yes:
- Continue to develop their young players
- Put together an impressive draft class in 2015
- Use that cap space we didn't blow in free agency to lock up core players long-term
Everything I mentioned above isn't sexy enough to warrant a high power ranking. With the right execution, though, it's the foundation toward building a team that won't be one-and-done once they do get over the hump.