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Ranking the Top 25 Most Important Players on the Cleveland Browns

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It’s time for our second annual ranking of the top 25 most important players or assets on the Cleveland Browns.

This was a popular feature we started last year, which included 23 players and 2 assets. Would you believe that of those 23 players, only 11 ended up taking snaps for the Browns during the regular season last year. That is because the new front office let all of their big free agents walk, cut a few players, and saw some players get injured or stay suspended.

What are we in store for with this year’s rankings?

About the Rankings

The rankings are intended to be 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, 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 Terrelle Pryor out of the top 25 "because they felt he wouldn't be back." Instead, I asked that if they felt Pryor was a top 10 player if he were on the team, then the rankings should represent that. That way, if Pryor is not re-signed or franchised, 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. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, and the No. 12 overall pick of the 2017 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.

Let’s dig in: here are our 2017 composite rankings:

Top 25 Most Important Players on the Cleveland Browns

Rank DBN Power Rankings
Rank DBN Power Rankings
1 #1 Draft Pick
2 LB Jamie Collins
3 LT Joe Thomas
4 WR Terrelle Pryor
5 NT Danny Shelton
6 #12 Draft Pick
7 LG Joel Bitonio
8 WR Corey Coleman
9 ILB Christian Kirksey
10 DE Emmanuel Ogbah
11 CB Joe Haden
12 CB Jamar Taylor
13 RB Isaiah Crowell
14 DE Carl Nassib
15 OG John Greco
16 RB Duke Johnson
17 WR Josh Gordon
18 CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun
19 DE Desmond Bryant
20 TE Gary Barnidge
21 OT Shon Coleman
22 TE Seth DeValve
23 OL Austin Pasztor
24 FS Ed Reynolds
25 SS Derrick Kindred

Other players who received at least one nomination in someone's top 25 were QB Cody Kessler, OLB Cam Johnson, OL Cameron Erving, FS Jordan Poyer, WR Ricardo Louis, DL Stephen Paea, WR Andrew Hawkins, QB Robert Griffin III, OLB Nate Orchard, ILB Tank Carder, C Austin Reiter, FB Dan Vitale, and DL Xavier Cooper.

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, click here.


#1 - No. 1 Overall Draft Pick

Maybe I should have just penciled in “Myles Garrett” here, because that is the person who 90% of the mock drafters are projecting the Browns to take at No. 1 overall. Since returning to the NFL, the Browns have had the first overall pick twice: in 1999 when they took QB Tim Couch, and then in 2000 with DE Courtney Brown. 17 years later, some might object to the fact that Garrett is the projected No. 1 overall pick and not a quarterback, especially since the quarterback position is completely absent from our Top 25.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “The Browns must land a future elite-level, longstanding, reliable franchise cornerstone player with this pick. Whether it's a defensive anchor or the QBOTF, it has to work. The current regime's job security is probably tied to the success of this selection.”
  • Dan Lalich: “This player will be expected to serve as the anchor of either the offense or defense for a decade.”
  • rufio: “The spotlight and expectations will be sky-high for whoever this ends up becoming. We need this to be an impact player.”
  • Josh Finney: “....hey, the #1 overall pick! This pick should be a rock star, out of the gate. After 17 years of "give him time to develop" I think the top pick (be it Allen, Garrett, or a QB Hue is infatuated with) should be able to shape the course of the next decade. No pressure.”
  • Matt Wood: “This is the make or break pick for the new FO. I know that sounds crazy, but if this pick flat out busts, they will probably be given a chance to correct it.”

#2 - LB Jamie Collins

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Three panelists had Collins ahead of LT Joe Thomas by two spots, while the other three panelists had Thomas ahead of Collins by one spot. That gave Collins the slight edge in the cumulative ranking, but the bottom line is that both of these players are high caliber players on their side of the ball.

I ranked Collins at the top of my board, and I continue to point back to the first half performance he had against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football. Cleveland was a disaster on defense, yet for that half, when I kept my eyes on Collins pre-snap on every defensive play, he was single-handedly leading the charge for Cleveland's defense. There were times later in the season in which I thought his effort was a bit questionable, but it sounds like Gregg Williams is the type of defensive coordinator who won’t stand for that. Also, Collins went from a Super Bowl team to a team that ultimately ended up with one win. I can understand how, mentally, you might just have a few lapses.

Josh Finney couldn’t believe that a player of Collins’ caliber re-signed with Cleveland. “He’s a top-8 linebacker in the league, and somehow he’s now on the Browns for MULTIPLE YEARS,” said Finney. “Collins moves well in space, can be brought on blitzes, and adds an element of confusion to every defensive package because of his versatility. If nothing else, he's a high football IQ player who tackles like a professional. My kingdom is a roster full of those.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “I've got very high hopes for Collins. Acquired in what many thought would be a rental, Browns paid to hang on and if it works out, it could be a coup.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Elite defender. He's one of the ‘core’ building blocks moving forward.”
  • rufio: “Probably our best defensive player, in his prime, athletic, capable of changing games.”
  • Matt Wood: “I am lower than most on Collins, but I think he is a plus player that has upside. While that can make him expendable to the Patriots, it makes his a unicorn with the Browns. Easily the Browns best move this year in picking him up and keeping him.”

#3 - LT Joe Thomas

If we’re making an All-Time list since 1999, everyone already knows that Thomas is by far everyone’s No. 1 pick, with maybe K Phil Dawson in second. Thomas had the No. 1 ranking on this top-25 list last year, and the running theme among the panelists for his slight decline is the fact that he’s not getting any younger.

As Matt Wood put it, “Only his age keeps him from the top spot. He deserves better than this team.” Despite what Thomas deserves, he’s endeared himself to fans even more by basically saying that at this point, he’s perfectly fine staying in Cleveland, the city that he’s called home for ten years while not missing a single game nor snap.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “The best draft pick the post-expansion Browns have ever made should be the mold of exactly what they should have gotten out of at least some of their other countless high first rounders. Now he's played 10 seasons and is still producing. He's also a class act and everything a team could want out of an elite tackle. Even just a couple years younger and he tops this list.”
  • Dan Lalich: “If he was five years younger he'd be at the top of the list. Best player on the team, provides needed stability up front.”
  • rufio: “Not getting younger, but he's a surefire hall of famer, a stabilizing presence in the locker room, and can play at an elite level for 5 more years if he wants to. Oh, and he plays the 2nd or 3rd most important position in the game.”
  • Josh Finney: “Literally the only player on the Browns roster that all 31 teams would take in a heartbeat on their own squad. First ballot Hall of Famer, iron man who doesn't miss snaps, playing a crucial position. There is no critique for Joe Thomas. Making him play his entire career on the Browns is like making Van Gogh use exclusively finger paints. Goddamn travesty.”

#4 - WR Terrelle Pryor

Dallas Cowboys v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When we compiled our rankings last year, C Alex Mack, RT Mitchell Schwartz, FS Tashaun Gipson, and WR Travis Benjamin were all set to become free agents, but still made our list. The Browns didn’t re-sign any of them. This year, the team’s two big free agents were LB Jamie Collins and Pryor. Collins re-signed almost right after the season ended, and all indications are that Pryor will be with the Browns in 2017 in some capacity.

How long will negotiations take? Jon Stinchcomb says, “I don't think Pryor's success is only a flash in the pan and I don't think he's hit his ceiling yet...but the price has to be right.” We’ve seen several one-year wonders over the past decade like QB Derek Anderson, WR Braylon Edwards, and RB Peyton Hillis. Things seem to be different when it comes to Pryor, who I believe feels genuinely indebted to the Browns for giving him the opportunity to revive his NFL career. When you watch the work he put in to perform like he did in 2016, and the training he’s already doing in 2017, the sky is the limit for him as not just a receiver, but a unique all-purpose weapon on offense for Hue Jackson.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich: “Young, proven talent. Getting him locked up long term is extremely important. Losing him would really set the offense back.”
  • rufio: “Physically, he's a beast. Even as an underdeveloped pass catcher, he was productive. Needs to continue to develop his skills.”
  • Josh Finney: “Probably will look like an idiot for this selection, but using ONLY ONE YEAR as a guide, Terrelle was a de-facto #1 receiver. He caught bad balls, jump balls, balls in traffic....the dude catches more balls than...”
  • Matt Wood: “I think Pryor is a huge cog for the Browns. Still learning the position and looks good. Not to mention young. Has a ton of upside. Must keep him.”

#5 - NT Danny Shelton

Despite Shelton catching some grief after his rookie season for not having an impactful season, our panelists saw through that and ranked him at No. 10 last offseason, believing he was on the path to a much-improved 2016 season. Sure enough, here he is at No. 5 overall. But will Gregg Williams’ defense be able to utilize him effectively? rufio believes so, after seeing how well he utilized his personnel in St. Louis:

“Shelton is young, clearly improving, and plays a criminally underrated position on defense,” said rufio. “If you think Gregg Williams' defense doesn't need a nose tackle, think again. Williams got away with playing Mark Barron at LB (listed at 213 lbs), another 220 lb safety in the box as a ‘linebacker,’ and was able to turn Alec Ogletree loose because of NT Michael Brockers.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “A recurring theme on this list will be the fact that certain players being as high as they are is illustrative of just how awful the Browns are. Danny Shelton is a good player with a bright future, but when he's one of the best players on your team, it's telling.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Whether he takes another step forward or a step back will have a huge impact on the defense.”
  • Josh Finney: “The Browns have spent a decade trying to fix the run defense, and they may have finally found the critical cog for that effort. Danny is quick, penetrates, and is a mountain of beef. He made a huge jump from year 1 to 2, and should see improvements with a defensive coordinator that isn't a literal sack of potatoes.”
  • Matt Wood: “Again positional value hurts here. Wonder what the new D will do to his production. Horton had good luck with large DT's (See Phil Taylor).”

#6 - No. 12 Overall Draft Pick

Last year, the No. 2 and No. 32 draft picks for the Browns were ranked No. 2 and No. 8 in our top-25 list. This year, the No. 1 and No. 12 draft picks are ranked No. 1 and No. 6, which seems to be following the same general feeling of how much the panelists believe these draft picks are essential to the future of the franchise.

Dan Lalich says, “This player needs to be another elite talent — we can't waste picks like this.” Matt Wood almost went as far as ranking the pick at No. 3 on his list, but settled for No. 4. The one thing that would’ve bumped it up in his mind? “It [would have] gone up if I was convinced it ends up being a QB taken,” said Matt.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “Obviously this pick carries less weight than #1 overall, but the importance of getting this one right, too, should not be understated.”
  • rufio: “This will be about the expected contribution from the 12th overall pick. We passed on a potential franchise QB to get this pick (among others), it's important that we get some ROI.”
  • Josh Finney: “Go back and look at the #12 pick (and the players immediately adjacent to this pick) from the last 5 drafts. If you get this right, it's a franchise changer, and this is a draft INCREDIBLY deep on edge rushers, DBs, TEs, and CBs. (Related: the Browns need work at most of these spots) Get an impact player. The first round is absolutely swollen with quality dudes.”

#7 - LG Joel Bitonio

Bitonio was ranked No. 6 last year, so the one-spot drop isn’t much of a decline. However, it also shows how much talent the panelists feel a healthy Bitonio has, considering he’s only played in 15 games the past two seasons due to injuries. In 2016, his foot injury cut his season short after just five games, and sent the offensive line into a tailspin the rest of the season.

With Bitonio entering a contract year, Josh Finney makes a good point — now is the time to try to get him extended, since his value is perhaps lower from his string of injuries. “He’s an All-Pro talent who can't seem to stay healthy,” said Finney. “We need Bitonio to play 16 games, and he also needs to be extended. The Browns’ running game is fierce when he's on the field road grading.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “If it weren't for the injury last season, I might have him at the top of this list. He's vital to the Browns' o-line.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Health questions loom large. Browns really need him to stay on the field, or suddenly the offensive line looks a lot worse.”
  • rufio: “Our line (and our offense) is simply a lot better with him healthy. He's a pro bowl talent on a thin roster, which is why he is important to us.”
  • Matt Wood: “Positional value and injuries hurt him. Wonder if he could play RT down the line, I doubt he would be nearly as good as he is inside.”

#8 - WR Corey Coleman

New York Giants v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

We’re banking hard on the fact that the combination of WR Corey Coleman’s broken hand early in the season, coupled with poor quarterback play and first-season jitters, led to a disappointing rookie season for the Browns’ first-round pick in 2016. Despite all of his ‘struggles’ last year, though, I never once got the impression that Browns fans thought he was a bust. I think we all see the talent he has, but we all understood that it just needs to be nurtured in the right way.

I see this as being a parallel to the faith the panelists had in NT Danny Shelton after his rookie season. “Coleman had a tough first year, but we need him to stay healthy and showcase his talent,” said rufio. “He’s capable of contributing to an explosive offense, but in 2017 we need to see him actually do it.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “Coleman could be a high-ceiling WR, but he's far from it so far. He's got a lot of work to get there.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Coleman is the difference between a great receiving core and one in need of an upgrade. A breakout year could really change the complexion of the offense.”
  • Josh Finney: “SHAMELESS HOMER/OPTIMIST ALERT: Corey Coleman was always going to be a project. Ran a limited route tree at Baylor, wasn't expected to block, showed up to camp needing work on his conditioning, and missed most of the preseason due to lingering issues. Combining these facts with inconsistent quarterback play, and its no surprise Coleman was up and down. His gamebreaking athleticism is still there, and he'll benefit from a full year in a system. Remember, it takes WRs time to explode onto the season, usually. OBJ is an anomaly, not the rule.”
  • Matt Wood: “Wish we saw more from him as a rookie. Injuries suck, think he could bust out this year.”

#9 - ILB Christian Kirksey

The most encouraging thing about Kirksey is the fact that he has shown growth in each of his first three years in the NFL. The results have not been so overwhelming to where he went from “decent player” to “defensive MVP candidate” like a Landon Collins did for the Giants. However, there’s something to be said for the fact that in his first year as a full-time starter in 2016, he was fifth in the NFL in tackles. Had the Browns not acquired LB Jamie Collins, Kirksey probably would’ve finished second.

Now, the question is, “How high is Kirksey’s ceiling?” Jon Stinchcomb noted that while Kirksey is “another solid young piece playing pretty well, only on the Browns is he ranked this high.” rufio is hoping that he can continue to elevate his level of play, and that he doesn’t get stuck as the next “Andra Davis:”

“Kirksey is entering his prime and capable of making a lot of tackles,” said rufio. “He's valuable to use as one of our best defensive players, though I would like to see him make more impact plays. If he can be more than Andra Davis 3.0, he can be really good. He has the athleticism to make those kinds of plays.”

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich: “Solid young linebacker. Not a gamebreaker, but the kind of player good teams need.”
  • Josh Finney: “Gets better absolutely every year. Led the team in tackles, and was at the top of the league in the category. Will flourish as the front 7 improves and demands more attention, and moves well in space. Provides the same kind of attractive versatility as Collins in that you can give him a variety of roles and have him succeed. (Can run with TEs, swim to the ball carrier, etc) Critical cog in the center of this defense.”
  • Matt Wood: “Overlooked. Positional value once again plays a role, but if he played for a good team like Seattle, he would get tons of national love.”

#10 - DE Emmanuel Ogbah

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Ogbah led the Browns in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hits (16). Those numbers might not jump off the page at you, but Ray Horton messed with Ogbah’s role throughout camp and the season, going back-and-forth between defensive end and outside linebacker. Once he settled in as a defensive end, there was a point in the season where things eventually started to “click” a little more for him. That type of subtle growth, even if it doesn’t light up the stat book, provides confidence that we’re in store for a solid 2017 season from him.

Matt Wood wondered is he ranked Ogbah too low on his list, saying, “He could easily be in the top 5 of this list next year.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “Ogbah produced as a pass rusher in his rookie season, showing promise, but he could use drastic improvements against the run.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Young, talented pass rusher. A leap forward next year would mean a lot for the defense.”
  • rufio: “He's young, he's got talent, and he's one of few people on the roster capable of applying pressure to the QB. I'm excited to see what he can do in this defense.”
  • Josh Finney: “After giving up the ghost on making Ogbah a stand up linebacker, they simplified his role, and got exactly what they were looking for: enough flash plays to know that if/when Ogbah develops consistency, he'll be a force. Got progressively better as the season went on, and would do really well without being the primary/only pass rusher.”

#11 - CB Joe Haden

When the panelists ranked Haden No. 4 last year, every one of them cited “injury concerns” in their write-up. You can get away with injury concerns for one or even two seasons with us, but now we’re being asked to have faith in him for the third year in a row. Haden gutted his way through 13 games last year, which is something I believe he feels fans don’t give him enough credit for. However, I also feel like some of Haden’s issues on the field were mental. Perhaps a new defensive coordinator, and being able to hit the restart button with lowered expectations, will allow him to re-gain some of his old confidence as an under-the-radar guy.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “Haden is this high due to past success and a hope for potential that he can back there. What nagging injuries have done to his production is incredibly unfortunate.”
  • Dan Lalich: “The Browns secondary is thin. If Haden can't return to form they're in trouble.”
  • rufio: “He's still good but he's aging and he's hurt a lot. If he returns to form, it would be huge for our defense.”
  • Josh Finney: “Used to be really.....ugh. /drinks bleach (I really miss Joe Haden)”
  • Matt Wood: “Last year I am holding on to hope for Joe. If someone offered a mid round pick I would trade him. Think there is a good shot he is not a Brown after this year.”

#12 - CB Jamar Taylor

After seeing how well the trade for Taylor worked out last year, I’m sure the Browns will be scouting the back end of teams’ rosters in this year’s draft too. If I had my choice between a random seventh-round pick or a player who didn’t live up to expectations on one team, I’d take my chance that I could revive the career of that player who once had higher stock.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “If he keeps playing well, the trade for Taylor could be quite a steal and a great re-signing.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Had a nice year, but needs to prove it wasn't a flash in the pan. Continued breakout would be huge for the secondary.”
  • rufio: “Need him to develop into a ‘middle class’ player capable of contributing to a playoff team. His potential isn't sky-high, but he's solid, reliable, and unfortunately that's where we are at this point in the rankings.”
  • Matt Wood: “Another shrewd pick-up that played well. Hope he continues to impress.”

#13 - RB Isaiah Crowell

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Despite having a career year (albeit still short of 1,000 yards rushing), almost all of the panelists’ remarks were down on Crowell, either because of his skillset, or because they don’t place a premium on the running back position in general. I understand the sentiment. While I love what Crowell brought to the table last season, ultimately, the Browns could probably find another undrafted free agent who could fill the running back role well enough. It’s just the nature of the position in the NFL, where the success of the ground game is usually just a byproduct of how well the offensive line blocks.

OK, that all sounded negative, so let’s get to the big positive for Crowell: he didn’t crack the top 25 of our list last offseason, yet made it to No. 13 this year, even surpassing RB Duke Johnson, who is No. 16 this year after being No. 11 last year.

Josh Finney had the highest individual ranking for Crowell this year, believing he was limited because of Hue Jackson’s love for trying to develop quarterbacks and wide receivers. “Crowell was actually good this year, right?” asked Finney. “Hard to tell, because Hue had a hard on for developing his QBs and WRs and didn't bother feeding him. Hugely effective, and really thrived in a power run scheme. I’m hoping he's back for a few years.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “I think Crowell is replaceable, but that is the nature of the position for mediocre running backs. I think truly elite running backs are out there, but they are rare and not worth investing what it costs to get them at a position that takes such a beating making success too often fleeting. Ok, I'll get off my RB soapbox.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Talented young running back, would be higher if I didn't think running backs were pretty fungible.”
  • rufio: “I'm lower than most on Crow's talent, but he's clearly the best we have. He would be higher but as a fairly traditional running back who doesn't have game-breaking speed, I wonder how easy it would be to replace him.”
  • Matt Wood: “I know the numbers were good, but there is just something missing with Crow. A position that could use an upgrade, but when compared to the rest of the team it is certainly not pressing.”

#14 - DE Carl Nassib

This is the first ranking I look at and think to myself, “we might regret this one.” I was all-in on the hype for Nassib last preseason. It looked like he could be the star of the defense with the relentless motor he showed. But once the regular season rolled around...he was a non-factor. Unlike Ogbah, I didn’t see week-by-week growth from Nassib. He still deserved a ranking on my list because the potential of his pass-rushing skills can fulfill a nice niche role in the future, but the truth is that this ranking was solely built on last year’s preseason and not on anything we saw in the regular season.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “At only 23 years old, a lot of snaps were asked of him.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Between Ogbah, Shelton, and Nassib, the Browns have the makings of a solid young defensive line. Nassib needs to make those flashes he showed last year more consistent.”
  • rufio: “I'm not sure what Nassib's potential is, but he could probably be serviceable at end for us and he's young.”
  • Josh Finney: “Carl puts on 25 pounds and flourishes as a pass rushing 5 tech, or doesn't and is out of the league in a few years. We'll see, I'd bet on the former. I'm buying Carl Nassib.”
  • Matt Wood: “A lot early, not a lot late. Hopefully he adds some weight and continues to develop.”

#15 - OG John Greco

Greco maintained the same ranking he did a year ago, and that is despite the fact that I left him off of my top 25 list. I dropped him off my list because I see that he is entering the final year of his contract, but is also coming off of an injury late last year that might prevent him from being ready for the start of the 2017 season. Given his age and a few other guys (Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango, Cameron Erving, and whoever else the team adds) waiting in the wings, I just felt like Greco’s time with the Browns might already be at an end.

One twist that I didn’t think about is what Matt Wood suggested -- if Greco does recover, he could be the starting center in 2017.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “Solid guard who is aging.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Basically the same as Bitonio, just older.”
  • rufio: “Greco is no spring chicken and he's not the most athletically gifted, but he's capable of playing at multiple spots on the line and he's pretty good at all of them. When he starts to fall off athletically I think his value will plummet, which is why he isn't higher.”

#16 - RB Duke Johnson

San Diego Chargers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

One of the most interesting things I learned from the rankings this year is the decline in stock for Johnson among the panelists. He logged a darn-near identical season in 2016 as he did in 2015, although his YPC were up to 4.9. I thought he dropped a few passes that he would’ve hauled in as a rookie, but we’re not talking more than a handful of plays. His value might have been over-estimated a year ago when he was No. 11, but at No. 16, it’s still pretty high for a backup/pass-catching back. Jon Stinchcomb left him out of his top 25, which isn’t as much of a surprise if you read his RB soap box about Crowell earlier.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich: “Good third down back, but is basically relegated to a backup role. Pretty replaceable.”
  • rufio: “Duke is capable of making some plays on offense and adding another weapon. On a team lacking weapons, he's important. I am not overly high on his value vs. some of the other playmakers in the NFL, but he's good enough to be one of the best we have.”
  • Josh Finney: “Duke is fun! He's got home run pop, showed another gear of shiftiness this year, and provides a great change of pace/receiving threat compliment to Crowell. I think a lot of teams would be very happy to have Duke on their roster, and the coaching staff will echo that thought.”
  • Matt Wood: “Don't know what he really is and I don't think the coaches do either. Odd usage, frequently knicked-up and an inability to be a 20 carry guy knocks him down.”

#17 - WR Josh Gordon

This is a big dropoff from a year ago, when Gordon was ranked No. 3. It looked like he was on pace to be live up to that ranking with the type of preseason he had. Just when he was about to be re-instated during the regular season, he entered rehab and now we don’t know what the hell is going on with him.

The most controversial individual ranking this year was via Matt Wood, though, who ranked Gordon No. 1 overall in his rankings. Here is what he said:

“Laugh if you want, but he is the only player on the Browns who is heading into prime and that can play at an All-Pro level. Granted, the off-the-field questions loom absurdly large, but he is easily the most valuable asset the Browns have. Hell, other teams in the NFL would trade for him even with the question marks.”

This led to some back-and-forth dialogue behind-the-scenes after Josh Finney’s sides starting hurting from laughter from seeing Matt rank him No. 1 overall. Jon Stinchomb understood Matt’s point, but just couldn’t include Gordon anywhere given his uncertain future. Dan Lalich said the following in response to Matt:

“I put Gordon dead last on my list, and probably would have left him off entirely if the roster had more than about 10 players resembling real NFL starters. I can certainly empathize with wanting the return of Flash, but first on the list? I don't know man...”

Josh came back with some more claims to the absurdity of Gordon at No. 1:

“Joe Thomas has a Hall of Fame career and is currently playing at a high level, and Jamie Collins had 3 straight years of being a top 10 linebacker. I would have chuckled quietly at Gordon being on the list, but #1 is amazing. There's some players on this roster. It's just young.”

rufio closed things off with this:

“He was 18th on mine and I struggled not to list him higher. The roster is bad, and if Josh plays he instantly makes things easier for any QB and O line and transforms our offense from ‘hey they have some actual NFL caliber weapons’ to ‘how the hell do we defend this shit?’

Because he is an insane talent and because of the impact he could have on the team I think he's pretty important. I don't know how likely it is that he plays again, and even if he plays again I don't know how likely it is that he continues playing. But if he does...”

I personally had him ranked at No. 11 on my list, which some might say is pretty high. Last year was actually progress that he played in the preseason. Maybe this year, we’ll even get a glimpse of him in the regular season!

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich: “His presence on this list says more about the rest of the roster than anything else.”
  • rufio: “My confidence level in Josh Gordon is about 5% at this point. But when he plays he's a top-3 WR and transforms our offense.”

#18 - CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When you have a change at defensive coordinator, you never know what will happen with a young nickelback. Just look at what happened with K’Waun Williams last year -- that was a guy who had the No. 17 ranking. This year, our nickelback is projected to be Boddy-Calhoun, and he’s pretty much in the same ranking spot. I loved the confidence he showed as a rookie, and it’s unfortunate that the final game ended with him on the losing end of a couple of close plays.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “His interceptions were of the opportunist variety, but that is not a bad quality to have in the secondary.”
  • Josh Finney: “BBC!! I never want to NOT have a guy with those initials on the squad. (also, was a solid cornerback with the highest upside of the group)”
  • Matt Wood: “Biggest surprise last season. Wonder if he could hold up as a starter for 16 games, but you have to like what you saw.”

#19 - DE Desmond Bryant

Despite not playing a single snap due to a season-ending injury last year, Bryant only dropped one spot. We have no idea what his health or level of play will be this season, but we know that heading in to last season, Hue Jackson was valuing him as not just a leader of the defensive line, but perhaps the entire defense. That void was something that the defense never recovered from.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich: “Perhaps the best defensive lineman currently on the roster, a healthy season would be big. Not sure he's part of the long term plans though.”
  • rufio: “We need someone to play the 3-tech and to be disruptive from that position. Bryant might be the best fit. He's old and he's coming off of an injury, but we don't have anyone else. We need him, so he's important.”
  • Matt Wood: “Injuries and age keep him down. Wonder if he makes the team.”

#20 - TE Gary Barnidge

After being ranked No. 13 last year, Barnidge’s stock saw a decline as he wasn’t as big of a part of the offense in 2016. Under the radar, perhaps, is the fact that his blocking took a step forward, and we know he’s still a good hands receiver. Instead of “Good Guy Gary” from a year ago, the vibe with Barnidge in this year’s rankings settled closer to “Just Another Guy.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: His production has fallen off from last year, but even at his age, I think with a good QB he's a solid receiving tight end.”
  • Matt Wood: “Meh. Solid dude, replacement TE.”

#21 - OT Shon Coleman

NFL: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Start the cutoff at No. 20, because these next several guys begin the list of “Fantasy Island,” so-to-speak, as evidenced by the fact that Coleman is No. 21 on the list. He played 38 snaps against the Steelers in the final game of the season, and a couple of snaps here and there as a sixth lineman throughout the rest of the year. For all intents and purposes, though, he was red-shirted for his rookie season.

Remember the fact that Coleman was the No. 76 overall pick in the 2016 draft, which is nothing to sneeze at. All along, the coaching staff conveyed that they were going to take their time with Coleman, to the point where I believe they were grooming him for the 2017 season. We don’t really know how well he can play, but if the Browns are counting on him and gave the experiment of Cameron Erving at center nearly a full year of a trial run, then surely Coleman will get some work at right tackle, and thus deserves a spot as an important player in these rankings.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “I think he has the potential.”
  • Dan Lalich: “Had a rocky first season, but the potential is there and it would mean a lot if he could turn into a starter.”
  • rufio: “He's young, talented, and could develop into a starter for us. We need some of these young guys to develop and reach their potential, so he's important in that sense.”

#22 - TE Seth DeValve

We only saw DeValve in doses as a rookie, as he caught 10 passes for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was another guy who the coaching staff appeared to want to bring along slowly, but for the brief stretches in which I saw him on the field, I didn’t understand why he wasn’t a little more involved at the end of the season. I saw an athletic receiving tight end who can create some mismatches against linebackers, and that can be an asset for Cleveland in 2017 and perhaps eventually as the successor to Barnidge.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich: “Has unique athletic talent at the tight end position. Should become a big part of the offense as he matures, if he stays healthy.”
  • rufio: “He's young and talented. He showed some flashes and could add another dimension to an offense as Good Guy Gary ages.”
  • Josh Finney: “I remember Browns fans rushing to bury DeValve, a rookie TE switching positions and fighting off some nagging issues, before he even got any PT. He did, and he looked good, and he's gonna be fun when he figures out the nuances of the position.”

#23 - OL Austin Pasztor

I left Pasztor off of my list, and he’s going to be an undrafted free agent. He started in all 16 games for the Browns last season, is still young, and overall did an admirable job when you consider the low expectations people placed on him. I understand why he deserves a spot on these rankings...but similar to with Greco earlier, I see other talent who the Browns might be more interested in developing, which makes their stock rise and Pasztor’s fall over the long haul. Josh Finney completely disagrees with me, though:

“I despise that it feels we have to talk about Austin like he was a conspiracy theory. Austin had a rough start, played really well, was graded higher than Mitch Shwartz, he of the Browns fan constant lament, and really should be playing guard, where he's.....better? Why are we in a rush to get rid of capable players? Blah.”

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “More offensive line injury insurance, the cheap minimum coverage policy.”
  • Matt Wood: “Wouldn't hate replacing him, but doesn't HAVE to happen like the interior of the OL. Should be replaced soon though.”

#24 - FS Ed Reynolds

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I was thrilled that Reynolds made the list, even if my No. 22 ranking of him might have been the thing to make it happen. Cleveland’s liability at the safety position disappeared as soon as Reynolds was inserted into the starting lineup last season. There is no guarantee that he’ll start this year, given a new defensive coordinator and the team likely aiming to vastly improve the safety position in free agency or the draft. If they only address one of the spots, though, I think we can get away with Reynolds starting at the other spot.

Other Commentary:

  • Jon Stinchcomb: “Young safety with potential for a bright future.”

#25 - SS Derrick Kindred

Kindred overtook Ibraheim Campbell in the second half of last season, and showed a little bit of improvement as the season went along. He’ll be in the mix this year, but only cracked the top 25 list by a slim margin.

Other Commentary:

  • Dan Lalich: “Probably not a long term starter, but is young and has potential. Should get plenty of chances given the lack of talent in the secondary. I could say the exact same thing about Reynolds.”

Notable Players Who Missed the Cut

  • QB Cody Kessler
  • QB Robert Griffin III
  • C Cameron Erving
  • OLB Nate Orchard
NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

No quarterbacks made the overall top 25, but Kessler just barely missed out at No. 26 overall. The only two panelists to rank him were Matt Wood (No. 15) and Josh Finney (No. 19). With respect to Kessler, Matt said, “He was much better than what I expected. I don't think he is a long term answer, but in a league where people think Mike Glennon is good, Kessler has value.”

Erving made three of the panelists’ lists, but was either the 24th or 25th player ranked. “The overwhelming chorus of "SEE?!?" from the ten people still on the Cam bandwagon is going to be absolutely deafening if he ever gets it all together,” said Josh. Erving could contend for the right tackle spot with Shon Coleman this year, but could also be shipped away as a trade chip like Justin Gilbert was.

On Erving, Dan Lalich added, “It would mean a lot if by some miracle he was able to take a giant leap forward and hold down a position somewhere on the line. I would settle for ‘decent backup’ at this point.”

RGIII made the final spot on my list and on rufio’s list, and here is what rufio had to say about him:

“SOMEONE needs to play quarterback, and even if Griffin only holds the starting job as a rookie develops for a few games, it's still a pretty important job. I have low confidence in Griffin, but the nature of this position boosts him to this spot. There might be other QBs out there on the market, but none in free agency will likely be more valuable to our team specifically, even if it's only because of his experience in this offense.”

Perhaps the most “where did he go?” award should go to Orchard. He was No. 14 on this last a year ago and was the 51st overall pick in 2015. An ankle injury ended his season after three games last year. If guys like Desmond Bryant and Joel Bitonio didn’t suffer any hits in their rankings despite missing all or most of last year, then why did Orchard completely drop out of the top 25 (except for rufio, who had him at No. 21)? Did we just forget about him?

Sleeper Players Who Received Some Support

Here is one player from each panelist who received some love in their personal top 25, despite not making the overall top 25:

  • Chris Pokorny - C Austin Reiter at No. 23 - “In the one came he started at center, everything clicked on the offensive line. The chemistry was naturally there. He tore his ACL, but I think he’ll be back and will win the starting center job.”
  • Matt Wood - OLB Cam Johnson at No. 24 - “I like pass rushers, especially young ones. That being said, it would surprise me zero if he didn't make the team.”
  • Dan Lalich - WR Ricardo Louis at No. 21 - “Had a quiet rookie year, but the athleticism is there. Hands remain a problem, but he looked the best out of the rookie receivers not named Corey Coleman.”
  • Jon Stinchcomb - FS Jordan Poyer at No. 25 - “He was doing good things in 2015, but the injury abruptly ended his 2016. I'm curious to see how he bounces back.”
  • rufio - DL Xavier Cooper at No. 23 - “I've been disappointed that he hasn't shown the same burst off of the line of scrimmage that he did in college, but maybe a chance at playing the 3 tech in this new defense will be a breath of fresh air. We need someone to make plays from the 3 tech spot, and we are lacking bodies there after Bryant so Cooper gets a spot on my list ”

No Special Teams Love

Last year, the kicker, punter, and long snapper each got one vote from a panelist. This year, there was no love for the special teams unit, although rufio did rank ILB Tank Carder at No. 22, saying, “I couldn't believe he was still on the roster, which means he's probably still relied on for special teams — we need someone to make special teams plays.” Note: these rankings were all compiled prior to LS Charley Hughlett’s six-year contract extension.

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.