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Ranking the Top 25 Most Important Players on the Cleveland Browns

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Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to our first-ever ranking of the top 25 most important players or assets on the Cleveland Browns. This is a feature I had been wanting to do for weeks, but at first I was thinking about the entire roster. Once you reach a certain point, though, you start diluting the process by throwing darts and seeing what sticks. Therefore, the cutoff was set at 25 players.

Additionally, I wanted the rankings to be more representative of a group of Browns fans as opposed to just my personal opinion. The rankings you see below are a composite ranking formed by the collective efforts of the DBN staff, including myself, Matt Wood, Dan Lalich, Josh Finney, Zach Miller, Joe Ginley, Jon Stinchcomb, and rufio.

The tough thing about these rankings is that people have different definitions of "important." What I didn't want is for someone to leave Alex Mack out of the top 25 "because they felt he wouldn't be back." Instead, I asked that if they felt Mack was a top 10 player if he were on the team, then the rankings should represent that. That way, if Mack opts out of his contract, the rankings will demonstrate that the Browns lost an important player. Also, I asked that the panel not make any assumptions regarding who will leave in free agency.

Lastly, I made the following three special cases eligible for the rankings: WR Josh Gordon (who has not been re-instated yet), the No. 2 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and the No. 32 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. I think including the draft picks in the rankings, even though they are unknown, will demonstrate how valuable we feel those picks are to the future of the franchise.

Without further ado, here are the composite rankings:

Top 25 Most Important Players on the Cleveland Browns

#
Cumulative DBN Rankings
Top 25 Most Important
Browns Players
1 LT Joe Thomas
2 #2 Draft Pick
3 WR Josh Gordon
4 CB Joe Haden
5 C Alex Mack
6 LG Joel Bitonio
7 RT Mitchell Schwartz
8 #32 Draft Pick
9 FS Tashaun Gipson
10 NT Danny Shelton
11 RB Duke Johnson
12 WR Travis Benjamin
13 TE Gary Barnidge
14 OLB Nate Orchard
15 RG John Greco
16 OLB Paul Kruger
17 CB K'Waun Williams
18 DE Desmond Bryant
19 ILB Karlos Dansby
20 DE John Hughes
21 ILB Christian Kirksey
22 CB Pierre Desir
23 OG Cameron Erving
24 WR Andrew Hawkins
25 CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

Other players who received at least one nomination in someone's top 25 were OLB Barkevious Mingo, DT Jamie Meder, P Andy Lee, S Ibraheim Campbell, RB Isaiah Crowell, DT Xavier Cooper, CB Justin Gilbert, QB Josh McCown, WR Terrelle Pryor, ILB Craig Robertson, SS Donte Whitner, LS Charley Hughlett, and K Travis Coons.

Commentary on the Picks

Below are some more explanations and notes on the individual rankings, via the panel. If you'd like to see each panelists' top 25 rankings in a spreadsheet, click here.

#1 - LT Joe Thomas

Thomas nabbed the No. 1 ranking, but it wasn't a unanimous decision. In fact, only half of our panel listed him at No. 1, while two members listed him No. 2 and two others listed him No. 4. Matt and Dan were the ones who listed Thomas at No. 4, citing his age (31) as the only reason why he didn't top their lists. The age isn't a concern for me right now -- he's a future Hall of Famer who hasn't shown any sign of regressing and hasn't missed a snap. Sure, that day will come, but nobody else on the roster has more value at this point.

Other Commentary:

  • rufio - Best LT in the game, future HOFer, important from an on-field and off-field standpoint, fits any scheme, will likely play longer than most due to injury history and ridiculous athleticism
  • Jon Stinchcomb - Quarterback is the most important position in football. The Browns may not have a great one yet, but if/when they do, this man will keep him upright.
  • Joe Ginley - Thomas is important for two reasons: 1. Protecting the new franchise QB and 2. Locker room unity.
  • Josh Finney - #1 OT in the league. Consistent. Plays every down. Team leader, and second most important position on the team when trying to develop a young QB.
#2 - No. 2 Overall Draft Pick

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is certainly viewed as a critical commodity to the future of this franchise. When you look at the #1, #4, and #5 listings in these rankings, they were all former first-round picks (LT Joe Thomas, CB Joe Haden, and C Alex Mack, respectively). When the picks pan out, they pan out in a major way. Unfortunately, those selections came in 2007, 2010, and 2009, respectively. Very few first-round picks have panned out for this franchise. From 2011-2015, the past five years, the team had 8 first-round picks. Only two of those picks, NT Danny Shelton and OG Cameron Erving, are even in the top 25, and that might only be because the jury is still out on both players with such a limited sample size.

While the success rate of the Browns' first round picks hasn't been good, we can only hope that one of these front offices will get lucky. This particular selection is valued exceptionally high among the panel because they feel it is basically a placeholder for the team's new franchise quarterback. It's the team's most important position, yet is not represented by a single player in the top 25.

rufio graded this pick at No. 5, citing the lack of predictability of first-round picks: "Let's be honest, this player is not likely to be as good as Thomas, Mack, Haden and Gordon. Drafting the next Peyton Manning would be great, but the odds of it happening are not high. We have better odds of finding an Andy Dalton, and that's good enough."

Other Commentary:

  • Josh Finney - BETTER BE A GODDAMN QUARTERBACK.
  • Joe Ginley - Nothing is more important for the Browns than finding a franchise quarterback. Period.
  • Jon Stinchcomb - This is where your franchise cornerstones are found. Previous first round failings have sustained the Browns' ineptitude. That has to change here and now.
#3 - WR Josh Gordon

He looked completely out-of-sync in the few games he played in 2014. He was out of football in 2015. He hasn't even been re-instated for 2016 yet. Despite all of that, the awe-inspiring talent he showed in 2013 compelled the panel to rank him as the second most important player on the roster, excluding future draft selections. This team has lacked a tall, playmaking receiver for a couple of years now, and with Hue Jackson having a couple of talented receivers in Cincinnati the past few years, fans are envisioning Gordon being a major factor in his return year. Dan Lalich says, "Gordon is something of a wild card, but he completely changes the complexion of the offense."

A couple of panelists, including Zach Miller and Jon Stinchcomb, say they would have listed Gordon at No. 1 had it not been for his off-the-field issues. "Pure game-changing, elite-level player," said Jon. "He would be my #1 on this list if I had complete confidence he'd never find his way back off the field; I'm very hopeful though."

Other Commentary:

  • Matt Wood - A skill guy with All-Pro potential. And he is 24 years old with a 1,600 yard season under his belt.
  • rufio - He is important to this franchise because if he pans out he's dynamic and changes the game. Ranking isn't based on the likelihood that he stays on the field, but rather how important him staying on the field is to our success. I've tried to lower my expectations for him but he could jump-start our success.
  • Joe Ginley - The Browns desperately need a deep threat and can't afford to spend a 1st rounder on a WR. His return is key.
  • Josh Finney - Elite, game changing receiver. If motivated, properly coached, and engaged, is made for coryell system. Defenses have nightmares about these kind of guys.
#4 - CB Joe Haden

Despite a truly terrible 2015 season in which he was hampered by concussions and injuries, Haden still comes in as the top-ranked defensive player on the team and the only defensive player in the Top 8. Concussions will definitely be a concern for him moving forward, but I'm more worried about him regaining his confidence. He is such a great community guy, and you could tell that he was genuinely affected by fans who accused him of basically phoning it in last year.

With that said, the panel was more-than-forgiving of Haden's down season. If it weren't for his injuries in recent years, it sounds like he would've been ranked higher than No. 4.

Other Commentary:

  • rufio - I'm worried about his injuries, but he can be a top 5 corner in the league when he's on his game.
  • Josh Finney - One of best shadow corners in the league, when healthy. Was lynchpin of top 2 defensive backfield in the league in '14. Underrated, dedicated, work ethic, etc. Young. Works with rookies/youth as mentor.
  • Jon Stinchcomb - Injuries no doubt marred what is Haden's worst career season last year. I suspect he's hungry for a strong comeback.
  • Dan Lalich - If healthy, is as important for the defense as Gordon is for the offense.
#5 - C Alex Mack

We don't know whether Mack will opt out of his contract, but if he does leave, it'll be a big loss for the team. Zach Miller called him "arguably the best center in the league" and Jon Stinchcomb says, "Alongside Thomas, he's a cornerstone to the offensive line." They might be able to shuffle Cameron Erving in his spot successfully, but I'm not too hopeful about that option. Given what unfolded last season, hiring Hue Jackson is the most influential thing the team could have done to lure Mack in returning.

Other Commentary:

  • Josh Finney - Elite center, smart, calls the protections, which is huge for developing QB.
  • Joe Ginley - A great center makes all the difference. A healthy Mack makes the job of the new QB much easier.
  • Dan Lalich - Really good, still in his prime. Can't let him walk.
  • Matt Wood - Stud. If he played a different position he would be much higher.
  • rufio - Top 3 center in the game, fits any scheme, intelligence and ability to make line calls and help out a QB is underrated (especially if we draft one).
#6 - LG Joel Bitonio

After the top 5, there is a slight comparative dropoff in the composite ranking at No. 6. Bitonio is coming off of a bit of a sophomore slump, and the team's running game actually seemed to improve once he left to injury and was replaced by Austin Pasztor. However, that also co-incided with former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo finally tweaking the team's run blocking strategy, so the change in personnel might not have played a major factor. rufio didn't think he was used effectively last year, saying, "He was misused last year, but has the potential to be great for us -- only not ranked higher because he plays guard."

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb - There's a bit of a theme here. I value good o-linemen, but it's also an area the Browns have drafted well in.
  • Zach Miller - Young, talented, and can help fill void of Mack (eventually) leaving.
  • Joe Ginley - Bitonio could develop into a perennial Pro Bowler. LG is a less important position, but he's still great.
  • Josh Finney - Was a ROY candidate 2 years ago, and is both a road grader in run game and quality pass protector. High on this list due to versatility, could pop outside.
#7 - RT Mitchell Schwartz

If you're looking for an example of a guy who delivered big-time in a contract year, then look no further than Schwartz. One of the finest resume-builders got stronger after the postseason and the Super Bowl, thanks to how well he contained Broncos OLB Von Miller during the regular season. Everyone listed Schwartz in their top 10 except for Joe Ginley, who had Schwartz all the way down at No. 17. Why the drastic difference in ranking? "Schwartz is solid piece but he is replaceable -- he showed improvement in 2015 but was still beaten too many times," said Joe. I disagree with that, and so did other members of the panel.

Other Commentary:

  • Matt Wood - Almost had him in front of Joe [who he ranked No. 4] before I was struck by lightning.
  • Dan Lalich - Underrated in Browns fandom. Good, young tackle.
  • rufio - He played well in a contract year, but odds are he will regress to the mean. Still an important cog for our potentially dominant line.
#8 - No. 32 Overall Draft Pick

After seeing the No. 2 and No. 32 picks in the top 10, I wondered how high the team's third- and fourth-round picks would have been ranked had I allowed it. I'm glad I didn't allow it, though, because I wanted the majority of the focus to be on assessing talent currently on the roster.

Other Commentary:

  • Josh Finney - If you get Bitonio/Malcom Brown/Preston Miller type of value out of this pick, which is where guys historically were, SHOULD be an elite player. Needs to be a WR or pass rusher.
  • Zach Miller - WR? I don't really care where they go, but odds are they're going to be more important than the rest of this list.
  • Joe Ginley - The defense needs a pass rusher, and the Browns should get one at #32. A critical piece for a rebuilding team
  • Jon Stinchcomb - At this point in the draft, while you still need these picks to turn out starters, it's a much more crap shoot.
#9 - Tashaun Gipson

Gipson was one of the most difficult players for me to rank, as I had him at No. 17 on my list along with rufio. He was in a contract year but had a very quiet season, marred by injury and the struggles of the team's defense in general. I thought Gipson, to an extent, fulfilled his role of being the center fielder fine, but that our cornerbacks were so awful that quarterbacks just attacked them up the sideline, rendering Gipson useless. Nonetheless, he still nabbed the second-highest defensive ranking on the list.

Other Commentary:

  • Matt Wood - Only 25 and has shown the ability to be a difference maker.
  • Josh Finney - Ball hawking, smart safety. Terrible tackler.
  • Dan Lalich - Needs to prove last year was the fluke, not the previous two. Would really suck to need two new safeties.
  • Joe Ginley - A poor '15 campaign and a reported attitude problem drop him to #9. He's regressed since his injury.
  • rufio - I'm still not sure who he is. If he could return to being the ball-hawking INT king it would be great.
#10 - Danny Shelton

One of the inspirations for me initiating this idea of ranking the Browns' top 25 most important players was the fact that I was curious where Shelton would rank. Before polling the panel, I thought to myself, "I'm going to rank Shelton around No. 10 and see how the community responds." I ended up ranking him at No. 9, but his overall ranking came in at No. 10. Although he didn't reach the level of dominance during the regular season that some of us expected, I thought he showed some growth and can make some more strides as a sophomore.

Matt Wood isn't so confident, saying, "I was wrong on him I think -- he won't be anything more than a 2 down guy, and he may not even be very good at that. I pray that I'm wrong." Josh Finney isn't as high on him either: "He'll be a 2 down run stuffing NT, as he settles into role and gets better with technique. He's fine -- not a top 12 pick, but whatever. Has value."

Other Commentary:

  • rufio - Fans whine, but he's underrated. He is exactly what I thought he would be at this point. He's Athyba Rubin's hustle with much more power at the point of attack. The run defense gets blamed on him but he was eating double teams all year. He'll improve, and a NT is important for any scheme.
  • Zach Miller - Total meh rookie year, but thinking he'll develop into a Pro-Bowl caliber NT. Or not, we'll see.
  • Dan Lalich - Needs to take a big step forward or the defensive line starts to look shaky.
  • Joe Ginley - A solid player who had trouble adjusting to the NFL in his first year. Expect him to rebound in '16.
#11 - Duke Johnson

Despite not doing impressive work on the ground last year, Johnson is the second-highest ranked skill position player on offense. That can be attributed to his ability to beat linebackers as a receiving back, and for the praise that head coach Hue Jackson has already thrown his way. He received the highest ranking (No. 6) from Joe Ginley, who said, "This kid is special -- A running game makes the offense much more efficient and dynamic." Matt Wood concedes that he ranked him as high as he did not for being a runner, but for his receiving ability -- "I consider him a RB/WR. Gives him a HUGE bump up."

Other Commentary:

  • Zach Miller - Versatile as all get out. Love his upside in the passing game with Hue in the fold. Looking like a big soph season.
  • Jon Stinchcomb - If I valued running backs a bit more, he'd be higher on this list.
  • rufio - He's a nice player, I don't think he's spectacular or really that much better than replacement-level. Many guys could probably do what he does, but he's actually done it. As a small RB whose game is based on quickness, he probably won't last too long in the league, so he's not a cornerstone of the franchise.
  • Josh Finney - AFCN rookie of the year. Could develop into a Brian Westbrook type, but played exceptionally well as a rookie. If he improves on rookie year, look out. Hue will love this guy
#12 - Travis Benjamin

After being the team's No. 1 receiver in 2015 [and the team's punt returner], Benjamin's stock is as high as its ever been. His recent interviews make it sound like he plans on returning to Cleveland in 2016, and if he can be on the field with Josh Gordon, it'll give our quarterback a couple of great downfield weapons to spread the defense out. The panel didn't rank Benjamin too high or too low -- this ranking pretty much fit the consensus.

Other Commentary:

  • Josh Finney - Prototypical "Z" receiver, can hurt teams in multiple ways. (Returning, screen passes, deep routes, skinny posts) Had amazing production as basically only dangerous threat on field. Started to see physicality, high pointing ability we heard about in various TC's but rarely saw on the field. Surprising availability for a tiny frame. Wants to be in Cleveland, gets better every year.
  • Travis Benjamin - A great special teams player with improving WR skills. Opposite JG12 for a full year should be fun to watch (hopefully).
  • Dan Lalich - Browns need last season to be real. Receiving group looks really bad if he regresses and Gordon doesn't come through.
  • rufio - He has game-changing speed, but still might be best in a secondary role. Similar to Johnson but even smaller/faster, and older with an ACL tear on his legs.
  • Matt Wood - Don't know if he is a flash in the pan or real, but I hope the Browns keep him as a #2
#13 - Gary Barnidge

I thought Barnidge would be ranked higher on this list. Two people, including Matt Wood and rufio, left him off their lists completely. That might have been an oversight, but if not, I'd be interested in hearing their reasoning. Some could say that Barnidge is a one-year wonder, but I don't think so. If you watch his previous years with the Browns, it's all about opportunity. Whenever Barnidge has played, he's delivered. Last year he received his first starting opportunity, and that's why more fans and the rest of the NFL took notice.

Other Commentary:

  • Zach Miller - Not 100% sold on him keeping up his 2015 form, but couldn't keep him out of the top-10
  • Joe Ginley - I really like Barnidge, but his age concerns me. In the meantime, a solid contributor.
  • Jon Stinchcomb - He's part of that new breed of play-making TE. Just stay consistent and he's a riser.
  • Josh Finney - Still BARELY 30. Consistent. Great hands, big bodied. Will truly benefit from having another physical receiver (either as another TE or WR) this year. Would be tremendous if he could block.
#14 - Nate Orchard

Orchard was touted as a great pass rusher coming out of college, but his rookie season turned me off, and Orchard's votes were scattered between the panel being optimistic about him coming around and being pessimistic about him not being able a special talent. Right now, I'm leaning toward the latter category, as is Zach Miller, who said, "Orchard has shown flashes of a good pass rush, but seems like he is what he is." On the flip side, Matt Wood ranked him high (No. 10) because he's the team's lone young pass-rusher: "Only youngster with any sort of potential to rush the passer. Think he has a low ceiling, but beggars can't be choosers."

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich - Decent rookie season, pass rush situation looks really bad soon if he doesn't develop.
  • Joe Ginley - Started off '15 slow, looked like he was pressing. But he can be a solid pass rusher.
  • rufio - I'm not convinced he's all that good, it would be great if he proved me wrong.
#15 - John Greco

Greco's ranking here means that the Browns have all five of their starting linemen in the top 15, which is very impressive. For a line that impressive, the running game should have been leaps and bounds better than it was in 2015, which circles back to the point I've made in the past: individually, these guys are good, but there were a lot of communication/scheme issues. That is coaching. Greco is another guy whose ranking didn't deviate among the panel. In fact, despite his composite ranking being No. 15, that was also his highest individual ranking by any one panelist, with the lowest being No. 20.

Other Commentary:

  • Matt Wood - Should get a bump if he ends up as the Center next season. Age is a factor though
  • Josh Finney - Underrated, consistent, versatile interior lineman. Has racked up multiple highly graded seasons in a row.
  • Joe Ginley - Solid RG, weakest link on a very good offensive line, the strongest unit on the team.
  • Dan Lalich - Good player, but entering back nine of his career and he plays guard.
#16 - Paul Kruger

If we had done these rankings last offseason, Kruger would've been a lot higher. He had a disappointing 2015 campaign, though, with his sack totals dropping as he was forced into coverage more by former defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. One would hope that Ray Horton will be familiar with how to use Kruger again. The panel didn't have the most optimistic outlook on him, though.

Other Commentary:

  • Zach Miller - Probably in the minority here, but can't stand watching him play. Has the same rush move every time, and that facemask...but, I think he has to be on the list somewhere.
  • Dan Lalich - Only dependable outside linebacker on the team. Age/contract situation push him down the list.
  • Josh Finney - Blech. Had to hold my nose for this one. Professional OLB, but uninspiring. Had a great 2014 when he was the focus of the pass rush, but has never been an effective run defender. May be better when part of an effectively schemed zone blitz.
  • Joe Ginley - Approaching the end of his prime and poor play the last two seasons bury him here.
  • rufio - A solid player but old. Is one of very few actual pass rushing threats on the team, a skill we desperately need.
#17 - K'Waun Williams

You won't see Tramon Williams anywhere on this list. In fact, nobody ranked him in their top 25, which goes a long way in showing how the panel would've preferred if Buster Skrine could've been re-signed instead last offseason. The other Williams fulfills his niche role as a nickelback well, and would be more highly-touted in the NFL if one of the Browns' outside corners had produced in 2015. rufio and Zach Miller did leave him out of their top 25, though.

Other Commentary:

  • Matt Wood - Nickel CB's are starting CB's. His injury history holds him back from being higher
  • Joe Ginley - A nickel corner who has shown flashes of potential but never sustained bursts of productions.
  • Josh Finney - Elite slot corner. Health is a concern, but when he's on the field, he's potentially the best slot corner in the league.
#18 - Desmond Bryant

Besides Gipson, Bryant is a bit of a polarizing player to rank for me. He is not a player who can single-handedly change a game, so he's not a Pro Bowl caliber player. However, if he played in a complementary defense, he'd have the potential to be a standout. I thought he'd get some more opportunities to shine with Danny Shelton at nose tackle last year, but it didn't quite work out that way.

Other Commentary:

  • Zach Miller - A beast when healthy. Also, still has the greatest mug shot of all time.
  • Jon Stinchcomb - With the Armonty news, Des is now the go-to pass rusher.
  • Dan Lalich - Only "plus" player on the defensive line. Would be much higher if not for age/contract situation.
  • Josh Finney - When healthy, very disruptive DE. Front 7 a complete different unit when he's performing.
#19 - Karlos Dansby

The veteran Dansby is an upgrade over D'Qwell Jackson from a few years back and has been great in coverage. He's been bad in run support for two years, though, and is really getting up their in age with no promising inside linebackers in the pipeline.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich - At times he has literally been the only thing resembling an NFL player on the defense. Age pushes him down the list.
  • Josh Finney - Would be top 10 if he was 3 years younger, but will eventually find the age cliff. Has been incredible for the Browns.
  • Joe Ginley - The old man makes an appearance. Lots of respect for his play at ILB. Solid veteran player on a bad team.
  • Jon Stinchcomb - If it wasn't for his age, he's top 3 on this list. I hope he can keep it up. He's super human.
  • rufio - Still wiley and somewhat athletic, he's also a leader. Clearly not a part of the team's future on-the-field.
#20 - John Hughes

I used to be high on Hughes, but after getting a contract extension, I thought he played terrible in 2015, which really hurt the depth on the defensive line. For him to be ranked No. 13 on Matt Wood's list makes me cringe a bit -- certainly we have some better talent on the team than that? Matt said referred to Hughes as a "steady lineman who can play multiple schemes -- won't wow you, but he is solid." I'll give him the fact that he's at least more steady than Xavier Cooper.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich - Versatile, dependable, young. Good combination.
  • Joe Ginley - Good backup DE with ability to stop the run and rush the passer. Low risk, low ceiling.
  • Josh Finney - Versatile, run stuffing DE. Would be part of a rotation on the line for a contender. Can play NT passably in a pinch.
#21 - Christian Kirksey

The expectations were that Kirksey would rise to the occasion in 2015 as a new force defensively, but it didn't happen. The hope still exists that he will pan out in year number three, says Josh Finney: "I'm probably higher on him than most; elite coverage ability and speed, can be used in multiple ways in formation. Will get better every year as he gets stronger. Great instincts."

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb - There's a lot of promise for Kirksey. Up and coming LB.
  • Dan Lalich - I'm lower on him than most, but he's the only decent option at ILB outside of Dansby.
  • Matt Wood - Wish I was more comfortable with him, hope he takes a big step this season.
#22 - Pierre Desir

This is the point where the top 25 rankings start to drastically differ. Four of the panelists didn't include Desir in their top 25. I was one of those people -- although he showed some promise in 2014, he regressed significantly in 2015 in all areas -- coverage, tackling, and confidence. It was embarrassing to see the large cushions he gave and then the lack of physicality he had. Maybe Ray Horton can coach him up well, though. Those who voted in support of Desir feel last year's performance was due to bad coaching too.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich - Please let last year be a coaching issue. Corner situation is extremely bleak if he doesn't pan out.
  • Josh Finney - Showed great flashes at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015, and the tape showed a great asset before literally the entire defense crumbled like a stack of dominoes. Inexplicably was benched for worse options. (I'm 99% sure it was a coaching issue).
  • Zach Miller - Big CB, and seems to have shown flashes. Maybe can turn a corner with new coaching.
#23 - Cameron Erving

Erving was left out of the top 25 by three of the panelists. Joe Ginley gave him the biggest support, ranking him No. 14 overall and saying, "He was expected to do too much in his rookie year -- he could take a huge leap with a new coaching staff." That is a good point. Asking him to practice/learn every position can't be easy, especially when he was taken to be a center and then didn't practice at that position.

Other Commentary:

  • Zach Miller - I hated putting him on here, but I felt obliged to do so. I'll get shredded for this, but he can't be that bad...can he?
  • rufio - He was awful last year. It would be really great if he weren't awful.
  • Dan Lalich - Only on the list because we might lose Mack/Schwartz. Inclusion in top 25 shows dearth of talent on roster.
#24 - Andrew Hawkins

Wow, this was the one I was "off" on the most. I had him ranked at No. 13 overall, even ahead of Travis Benjamin on my list, but most of the panelists left him out of the top 25. I saw how valuable he was as a slot receiver in 2014, but last year had to be frustrating with him. I think I'm leaning toward being done with Taylor Gabriel and committing fully to Hawkins as the slot receiver again, where he's at his best. Concussions are an issue for him, but he can be a quarterback's best friend on third down.

Other Commentary:

  • Josh Finney - In 2014 was a truly dynamic weapon. Suffers from defense living around LOS and from playing too many snaps. Brittle, but elite quickness.
  • rufio - Can be great in a specialty role, but often injured and not especially young. His skill set is similar to other offensive players we already have, which probably hurts his value.
#25 - Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

The Browns took a chance on Ekpre-Olomu with the seventh round pick in 2015, but he was touted as a first- or second-round talent. It would be a dream to Browns fans if he could step in as a starter all of a sudden, and some of the panelists were giddy about that possibility.

Other Commentary:

  • rufio - It would be absolutely huge if he could be healthy.
  • Zach Miller - Was a college stud before shredding his knee. Loved the pick at the time, and could prove to be an interesting stash.
  • Jon Stinchcomb - Having a guy (7th round pick) that hasn't even played an NFL down on this list shows the potential we hope for.
  • Matt Wood - Total roll of the dice here, but I like him more than a washed up Whitner or a bad Charles Gaines.

Notable Players Who Missed the Cut

  • QB Josh McCown
  • RB Isaiah Crowell
  • OLB Barkevious Mingo
  • CB Justin Gilbert
  • SS Donte Whitner

Three people had McCown at the bottom of their top 25, including myself. I think he's important right now because he could still start in 2016 with stable production, and can serve as a mentor to whoever the team drafts.

Crowell was included in two of the panelists' top 25, with Joe Ginley thinking Hue Jackson's two-back approach could re-up his value, combined with how well he did to close out the 2015 season.

I was disappointed that Mingo was left out of the top 25. Three panelists included him, with rufio having him at No. 11 overall, saying, "It would be absolutely huge if someone could coach him up and he could get stronger at the point of attack. Still has rare athleticism and frame, running out of time."

Matt Wood was the lone soul to include Gilbert in the top 25, basically casting his support out of blind hope that we didn't waste another first-round pick.

Whitner was included in the top 25 by two panelists, but not very high. He is probably the most notable player to be left off the list, especially when you see how well T.J. Ward is doing in Denver.

Sleeper Players Who Received Some Support

  • WR Terrelle Pryor
  • NT Jamie Meder
  • S Ibraheim Campbell

Will Pryor's previous ties to Hue Jackson pay off? Matt Wood took a chance on him, while throwing a dig at another receiver: "I don't know if he sucks as a WR, but I know Gabriel does. Give me the size and the unknown please."

Four panelists voted for Campbell, which makes it surprising that he didn't crack the top 25. Still, that's pretty high support for a guy who was barely played by the coaching staff last year despite shining in the game or two he did play. rufio said, "Can he play in the league? Seems smart and willing to hit."

Four panelists also voted for Meder, and Joe Ginley values the solid niche he can fulfill on third downs: "Local guy who fought his way onto the roster last fall -- he plugs the middle nicely on 3rd downs."

Special Teams Love

Some special teamers received some support. Four panelists had P Andy Lee in the top 25, with Zach Miller having him the highest at No. 14, calling him a "Punt God." Jon Stinchcomb was the lone person to vote for Travis Coons at No. 25, saying, "As the resident apologist for the importance of a consistent kicker, Coons gets a nod from me." Lastly, the long snapper, Charley Hughlett, even got the No. 25 nod from Joe Ginley: "Almost put Dwayne Bowe here as a joke. Give the long snapper a little credit, eh?"

Final Takes

What do you think, Browns fans? Did we get it right? Are there some players who you would have had a different ranking for? Please feel free to ask the panelists any questions in the comments section, and provide your own rankings if you were compiling the top 25.