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Talking Cleveland Browns With Football Outsiders

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As the regular season approaches for the Cleveland Browns, it is time to post our annual interview with Football Outsiders! This year, our interview was conducted with Robert Weintraub.

Be sure to check out the 2016 Football Outsiders Almanac. The Almanac is only $15 in PDF format, and consists of 500 pages of unique analytical research for every team in the league, as well as many players. If you're looking to bone up on your knowledge about all 32 teams in the NFL before the season starts, this is certainly worth the purchase to buy, print out, and then read up on one team per day. The staff at Dawgs By Nature compiled a list of questions for Rivers, which are highlighted below.

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DBN: “The Almanac makes it sound as if you don't believe the Browns are doing much different from anyone else in terms of ‘analytics.’ Are there any teams you think are further ahead/behind in terms of data-driven strategy, or is there more or less an even playing field in that regard across the NFL?”

Weintraub: “It’s difficult to track this with any precision because most teams keep their analytics proprietary. Certainly the Browns are more public about what they want to do with analytics than teams like the Patriots, who have been quietly embracing number-crunching for years. Offhand I’d put the Browns in the upper third of teams using analytics as a real decision-making tool, but it’s hard to say for sure.”

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DBN: “As you note in the Almanac, the ‘analytics people’ in Berea seem to have had a big influence over the draft. As a fan, I noticed that the Browns usually went after two types of guys in the later parts of the draft: (1) the athletic freak who put up very good size+speed numbers but didn't produce or lacks refinement (Ricardo Louis, Seth DeValve, Shon Coleman), and (2) the productive college player who didn't seem overly-appealing to GMs due to a lack of physical ability (Rashard Higgins, Joe Schobert, Scooby Wright, Spencer Drango). Which of these types of players is more likely to work out? And is it a good idea to be at the extreme ends of this spectrum as opposed to the middle?”

Weintraub: “The analytics end of the equation came more in the acquisition of as many picks as possible. In terms of the type of player drafted, the Browns went in both directions you describe because they were able to do so given their flotilla of picks. There are plenty of examples of both styles of picks working out, but in general the athletic traits required by the NFL are more meaningful than college production (see Tebow, Tim and a host of other Heisman winners who flunked out the NFL). Ideally, you want production plus athleticism, but there are only so many of those dudes around. Corey Coleman was certainly one of them, so that’s good.”

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DBN: “Cam Erving has made a position change after the departure of Alex Mack and a disastrous first season. Is there any hope he gets better? Is there a historical precedent for upticks in effectiveness either after a position change or after/during a lineman's first few years in the league?”

Weintraub: “Erving should definitely be a better center than guard, where he was physically out of place and had little experience. There are plenty of players who got better after changing positions -- Andrew Whitworth, for example, moved from guard to tackle and been even more effective than he was inside. Offensive line is so dependent on teamwork and familiarity that I’d argue most linemen benefit from a few seasons in the league. Erving is a good athlete, so he has a fighting chance to succeed in the middle, though replacing Mack would be tough for anyone.”

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DBN: “You wrote that Demario Davis has a low pass success rate (52 percent), but ‘he at least can thump in the run game.’ Can Davis match or at least come close to Dansby's tackle numbers last year?”

Weintraub: “In terms of just tackles, Davis should be an adequate replacement. He had 90 tackles (on a far better defense) to Dansby’s 108, so by dint of having more opportunities his numbers should rise. But there is no way Davis can replicate Dansby’s gift for defending the pass.”

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DBN: “The season preview for the Browns was quite bleak, is there an area that you guys think could actually be much better than anticipated?”

Weintraub: “I believe in Hue Jackson’s ability to wring superior offenses from even limited squads, so there for optimism. The talent level is very raw, but there is some there, in particular Duke Johnson. Much will depend, of course, on Robert Griffin performing at even an average level. If he can recapture any of his former gifts, the browns can be competitive, at least.”

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Thanks to Weintraub and Football Outsiders for their time.