It’s time for our third annual ranking of the top 25 most important players or assets on the Cleveland Browns. Here are the previous two editions of the list:
When you look back at last year’s list, five players from the Top 20 weren’t even on the team by Week 1, including WR Terrelle Pryor, CB Joe Haden, OL John Greco, DE Desmond Bryant, and TE Gary Barnidge. 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, Ezweav, Matt Wood, Andrea Hangst, Dan Lalich, Josh Finney, Robo Dawg, and rufio. The following conditions applied to the rankings:
- I asked that the panel not to make any assumptions regarding who will leave in free agency — i.e. if they still felt RB Isaiah Crowell was valuable, then he should be included.
- Do not predict any free agent additions.
- The No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft and the No. 4 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft were eligible for selection. 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.
- People have different interpretations of the word “important.” For example, CB Jason McCourty was a good player last year, but with his age and only having one year left on his deal, does that impact his ranking? That is up to the individual voter, with the composite ranking helping to average everything out.
Let’s dig in: here are our 2018 composite rankings:
Top 25 Most Important Players on the Cleveland Browns
|Pick||DBN Power Rankings|
|Pick||DBN Power Rankings|
|1||#1 Draft Pick|
|3||#4 Draft Pick|
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
For the second year in a row, the Browns own the first overall pick of the draft. Last year, the unanimous assumption was that the team would select DE Myles Garrett, which they ended up doing. This year, the panel again ranked the first overall pick at the top spot, but there isn’t a unanimous pick. There is, however, a darn-near unanimous position: quarterback. Especially since Cleveland has been in this spot two years in a row, Matt Wood says, “This has to be a QB and he has to be good.”
- Ezweav: “This is going to be (in order of whom it should be) Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson or Sam Darnold. We’re finally getting our franchise QB, and as long as we don’t do anything crazy (cough Josh Allen, cough cough Saquon Barkely) we’re going to walk away with a good one. Hopefully it’s Baefield.”
- Josh Finney: “This needs to be the QBotF. Not another BQotF. (Pronounced “Buckfotoff”) There’s no reason to dork around with this pick in a year where there are four extremely talented prospects, that are all different flavors.”
- Andrea Hangst: “This should be a franchise-altering selection, regardless of the position targeted.”
- Robo Dawg: “This pick must be the QBOTF, and as such, is the most important person in the future of the franchise.”
#2 - DE Myles Garrett
The only thing preventing last year’s No. 1 overall pick from grabbing the top spot in his sophomore season is the desperate need for a quarterback. Garrett didn’t have a lights out first season, but considering how inefficient the rest of the team was at generating pressure, he was damn good. His production came while he played through various injuries, which has to be the only concern for him moving forward.
Ezweav says that Garrett “is an absolute monster, and he’s going to be our Reggie White/Lawrence Taylor/Derrick Thomas - that kind of impact. Despite being dogged by injuries he still put together an impressive rookie campaign, and at full strength and a year of development will be causing OC’s to scheme for him. He will turn games by himself at some point in his career.”
- Matt Wood: “I liked what I saw but if he is going to ever be worth the #1 spot in these rankings (not his fault BTW), he will have to start impacting games every week. It’s almost unfair.”
- Robo Dawg: “The building block of the pass rush - his continued development is essential for the defense to develop its threat to the QB.”
- rufio: “We need him to make major impact on the franchise. Showed flashes of dominance and a lot of potential. Young, talented, plays a big impact position.”
- Josh Finney: “Garrett lived up to the hype. I can’t wait to see him with a year in the system and a clean bill of health. Does absolutely everything. If he doesn’t have 11+ sacks this year I’ll be shocked and disappointed.”
#3 - No. 4 Overall Draft Pick
Two of the three most important players on the Browns don’t even have names yet. It’s also a bit disappointing to know that Cleveland doesn’t currently have enough players on their roster to be in front of the No. 4 overall pick. You think back to their first round picks in recent years — Corey Coleman, Danny Shelton, David Njoku, Jabrill Peppers. These guys weren’t even considered to be ahead of a pick that ultimately is still just a giant question mark.
Dan Lalich says, “This pick is the Browns opportunity to add another blue-chip prospect to anchor a position group for years. They can’t afford to miss these.”
- Josh Finney: “ When I look at the availability of talent in the top 10 of the 2018 draft, be it Barkley/Chubb/Fitzpatrick or another lesser touted name like Ward or Davenport, there’s a wealth of immediate contributors with elite talent at #4. If you plug in another pass rusher, QB defender, or skill player here, the impact should be immediate.”
- Matt Wood: “ I am hoping this is Chubb. We need a difference maker and I don’t think Fitzpatrick is. No matter who this is, it needs to be a building block.”
- Ezweav: “Quite likely to be the best position player available, and there are some REALLY good ones. For me this pick is Bradley Chubb or Minkah Fitzpatrick, and either one plays a critical role in our future. It could also be a trade-down for a buttload of new picks, so either way 4 is 4.”
#4 - LT Joe Thomas
Everyone acknowledges that Thomas is the GOAT, including Matt Wood, who hopes that at some point this season, he’ll be protecting a rookie quarterback. With that said, Matt also added that “if the Browns could get an early draft pick for him, they would be dumb not to do it.”
That is something that’d be really tough to do. Thomas is in the final year of his contract and has contemplated retirement, so if someone acquired him, it’d be a rental. The price they’d give up can’t be that much. I’d say that Thomas should remain the one untouchable piece — once a Brown, always a Brown. Also, he hasn’t shown a desire to leave — he is content to stay here and retire here. Thomas is the first player to have appeared on last year’s list, dropping one spot from #3.
- Andrea Hangst: “ Normally, Thomas would be atop my personal list. But age, injury and an unsure future had me drop him to No. 2 for 2018 [Myles Garrett was No. 1 on Andrea’s list].”
- Ezweav: “Aside from being the greatest podcaster in the history of time, this guy is the bedrock of our pass-protection. Having him (FINALLY) blocking for our #1 overall rookie QB gives a lot of good feels, especially considering the last QB we picked 1st overall. With him in, our OL is solid with flashes of the spectacular. Also he’s the GOAT.”
- rufio: “He is the best pass protector of all time, and maybe the best left tackle to play the game. But he finally looked human, missing action for the first time. He won’t play forever.”
- Robo Dawg: “The Browns have not had to worry about the LT position in over a decade, and we fans have taken that for granted. Now we have uncertainty again, and with the mortality of Joe Thomas now visible, it will be interesting if we can eke another year or two before we need to take a premium LT towards the top of the draft.”
#5 - WR Josh Gordon
Last year, Gordon was the 17th-ranked player on the list, but ranking him at that time became an exercise in futility. Would he ever play again? Could he ever stay clean? One of the highlights of the dreadful 0-16 season last year was the fact that Gordon returned, told his story, and appears to be ready for 2018 with the club holding control over him for two more years.
Matt Wood has always been high on Gordon, ranking him No. 1 last year despite him being suspended. In this year’s rankings, Matt said, “He missed two full seasons and was still killing Pro Bowl cornerbacks.” Because of all that, he ranked in the Top 8 on all of the panelists’ lists this year, except for Ezweav, who is still a bit more guarded having him at No. 15. But as you’ll see, he wasn’t the only staff members that is still having a wait-and-see approach with him.
- Josh Finney: “Ugh. I was wrong about Gordon’s impact last year; I never expected him to take another snap for the Browns, and I certainly didn’t expect him to step off the street and immediately be a complete monster, AGAIN. It didn’t even look like he missed a beat. In a real offensive system with a capable quarterback, he’s good for 1400+ yards and 10+ touchdowns. Haley will feature him, if he stays clean. He’s only here on my impact because I still have no faith that he can stay clean and committed to football.”
- Dan Lalich: “Gordon is a transcendent receiver when focused and on the field. If he is successful, it totally transforms the offense. If he’s not, the team will need to add significant talent at receiver.”
- rufio: “When he’s playing and on his game he is the best in the league and he breaks games. I know he hasn’t been on the field much, but he’s giving us reason for hope. Maybe finally can contain his addiction.”
- Ezweav: “Gordon finally got back in the lineup final quarter last year, and seemed to show a lot of that incredible ability he displayed all over the league’s face in 2013. It was encouraging - enough to put him on this list. It’s always the same with him though - need to see it for a while before I’ll believe anything. If he’s happy and good-to-go for this entire offseason than I’ll be super-excited, but as of now too risky to be higher on the list.”
#6 - LG Joel Bitonio
After a couple of seasons that ended with injury, the Browns still gave Bitonio a big contract extension last offseason that will keep him with the team through the 2022 season. The move paid off as he, along with the rest of the interior of the line, didn’t miss a single snap in 2017. He moved up one spot after being ranked #7 last year.
The thing that Matt Wood is holding out hope for, though, is that Bitonio is one year moved to a tackle position.
- Andrea Hangst: “Bitonio will define the Browns offensive line in the post-Thomas era, whenever that ends up happening.”
- Dan Lalich: “The future of the offensive line, and a real plus player. His continued good play will help stabilize everyone else.”
- rufio: “Our lineman with the best combination of youth and talent. Already proven himself worthy of a second NFL contract. Needs to stay healthy. Isn’t higher because he plays guard.”
- Josh Finney: “Joel is a monster. He’s basically the equivalent of Zeitler, who is also a top 10 Browns player, but he has some versatility due to his background of playing tackle. Might be expected to move outside if Thomas retires. I’d like to see him stay at guard where his mean streak allows him to pile drive defenders into the ground.”
#7 - DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Despite finishing the season on injured reserve, Ogbah became a real force in improving the Browns’ run defense while also providing a good pass rush at times. His stats (4 sacks, 6 passes defended) won’t jump off the charts, but the fact that he jumped to #7 this year after being #10 last year shows how much he passed the eye test with our panelists. Andrea Hangst believes that Ogbah gets overlooked on a national basis only because of the team he plays for.
- Josh Finney: “I’m probably higher on Ogbah than most of the writers. Took a big step forward in 2017 before his injury; continued to shut down the run and got as many pressures as any DE in football, per snap. His snap numbers predictably began to rise once he had a legitimate pass rushing threat on the field with him, in Myles Garrett. Would benefit enormously by a 3rd pass rusher in the rotation, which is why i’d like to see the Browns add a 3rd guy in the first two days of the draft or FA that can consistently get after the passer both outside and in.”
- rufio: “It would be great if he worked out as a pass rusher. His talent was off the charts, but I want to see him be more of a game-breaker. Still young, and still has untapped potential.”
- Dan Lalich: “He’s supposed to be the pass rush threat to balance out Garrett. His run defense is great, so he’s a solid starter, but if he can get to the passer more the defense will reach another level.”
- Ezweav: “Really wished we could have seen more of Garrett and Ogbah on the field at the same time. Guy is a wrecking crew in the running game and made strides (though certainly not enough for anyone’s liking) as a pass rusher. He’s got BEAST potential, and was just about there last year. If he and Garrett both come back healthy and improved, it’s gonna be fun!”
#8 - RG Kevin Zeitler
All of the rankings shared a consistent message when it came to Zeitler: “The Browns spent a ton of money on Zeitler, and while he was pretty good, he wasn’t as good as his contract,” as Dan Lalich put it. However, everyone agreed that based on his past play, he’d remain an important part of the offense moving forward, hence being ranked #8 overall. I feel like Zeitler stabilized around the half-way point of the season, but for him to be worth the entire value of the contract the team gave him, he’s going to need to become a Pro Bowler.
- rufio: “Relatively young and pretty good. Pay doesn’t match his level of play from last year, but he will bounce back. I don’t value OG very much in terms of ‘importance’.”
- Josh Finney: “True road grading, pass protecting, mean-streak guard. The prototype for this position. When he and Bitonio are healthy, they will create chasms for running backs to run through. If he’s not playing in a !@#*(( offensive scheme, he’ll be a monster.”
- Matt Wood: “Didn’t have the season many were expecting, but is still only 27 and has a great track record. I expect him to bounce back really well this season.”
- Ezweav: “Probably underperformed his contract a bit, but wasn’t exactly a liability either. The offensive line last year as a whole was solid, and he’s an important piece.”
#9 - OLB Jamie Collins
The biggest dropoff this year in the rankings involves Collins. While cracking the Top 10 is pretty good still, he was ranked #2 by the staff last year, which was even higher than Thomas. That means Collins was viewed as key guy who could turn the defense around. It was a polarizing year watching Collins. On gameday, my hopes were through the roof for him, but his play didn’t match it. When he was gone, though, you started seeing the trickle down effect of just how little depth there was behind him (side note: James Burgess did do a fine job in substitution at times). Ezweav talked a little more about Collins’ injury having that unseen impact:
“I honestly think we would have won a game had Collins not got hurt. His loss affected the defense in much deeper ways than I think people realize. He was really hurt all year and his return, and subsequent resuming playing at a high level would be huge for us.”
- Robo Dawg: “He has the talent and stature to lead the defense. Does he want to? And will he stay healthy enough to? We will see…”
- Matt Wood: “Maybe it’s just me but he seems to half ass it a lot and just seems to be ‘here.’ Maybe it was the 0-16 and he will turn it on, but Collins doesn’t impress me all that much.”
- Dan Lalich: “His impact is somewhat dimished by the emergence of other players, but if he bounces back from injury he makes the defense much better.”
- Josh Finney: “It’s really sad to have Jamie Collins at 10. He’s an elite talent, but needs to have a defensive scheme that doesn’t consistently put it’s linebackers in a position to fail, just like….everyone else. Still an incredible coverage linebacker with consistent tackling techniques and high ‘football IQ.’”
#10 - RB Duke Johnson
Duke Johnson was by far the Browns’ best offensive playmaker last year, but overall, I think No. 10 is the perfect spot for him. Two years ago, he was #11 before dropping to #16 last year. The reason he shouldn’t be higher is that he’s still primarily a pass-catching back. He could be the best in the business at that, but there is a ceiling to how important that should be to a football team, and this is it.
- Ezweav: “Overall our best offensive playmaker. The only thing to complain about is he doesn’t seem to touch the ball enough. Seems like he just probably can’t handle a full-on workload, but so what? Guy played his heart out last year, was our best receiver for most of it and is a legitimate threat to score when he has the ball in his hands. Might even be worth a 2nd contract.”
- Andrea Hangst: “Johnson is more of a receiver than running back these days, but he does remain versatile and, most importantly, effective no matter the quarterback situation.”
- rufio: “Outside of Josh Gordon he is our best legitimate offensive weapon. Why isn’t he higher? He has an injury history, is a smaller back, and isn’t especially young for a RB. There also seems to be a back of his caliber available after round 1 every year. Still a very important player for us as we build back up to being a legitimate NFL team.”
- Matt Wood: “Hue doesn’t know how to use Duke. Then again I’m surprised Hue knows how to use the bathroom. Duke is a weapon, one of the few for the Browns.”
#11 - TE David Njoku
This is your Corey Coleman effect. By that, I mean that last year, Coleman ranked #8 after his rookie season because the panelist was hoping he’d take that big step forward despite a shaky first season. This year, that honor belongs to Njoku. Although his four touchdown receptions led the team, for a team that lacked receiving weapons much of the year, it was stunning that the first-round tight end was hardly featured at times.
Dan Lalich had him ranked all the way at No. 21, though, not pleased with what he saw from him in year one:
“This will probably be controversial. Njoku has tons of physical talent. But he has bad hands, and is still extremely raw. Hue Jackson also hasn’t shown a willingness to use his tight ends much. Njoku is a real boom or bust candidate, but I’m not sure how much impact a boom would really even have.”
- Matt Wood: “Really surprised me last season. Caught the ball well and was actually a decent blocker towards the end of the season. If he continues to get better he will be a monster.”
- rufio: “Absolutely dripping with talent. If we can get him to block effectively and pair him with a legit QB I expect huge things. Needs polish and will get it as he matures. Still crazy young.”
- Josh Finney: “I would have liked to put Njoku higher, but TE’s (especially those that are 20-21 years old) take some time to develop. He showed an incredible skillset and nose for the ball in 2017, and I hope he is on the field more often in 2018. Second biggest receiving threat on the team as it’s currently constructed.”
- Ezweav: “The 29th overall pick from a year ago set a few rookie TE records, and looks like a stud in the making. Needs to get better blocking (which he actually did as the season progressed) and not drop those 4th down passes. That and just what can be reasonably expected in terms of growth should make all of us excited about this kid.”
#12 - DT Danny Shelton
This one is somewhat of a surprising drop to see, as Shelton ranked #5 last year. We thought there might be some dropoff in his play because he was switching from a 3-4 nose tackle to a 4-3 defensive tackle, but he proved that he was a good for in both systems.
I think the dropoff is representative of two things: first, the team has added or re-signed some better talent (i.e. Garrett, Bitonio, Zeitler). Second, the perception is that Shelton has kind of settled into his ceiling at the NFL-level now: he’s an above average player who helps the team, but has peaked. That’s not a bad thing. Andrea Hangst says, “Shelton is one major reason why the Browns’ extremely long-standing issues stopping the run have finally come to an end.”
- Dan Lalich: “Some people might think this is too low, but I actually think it’s quite high given the position he plays. Shelton is really good at what he does. If he could add a handful of splash plays to his game he would vault up the list.”
- rufio: “He’s underrated and does a thankless job. Much like Alex Mack, most fans won’t notice how good he is until/unless he is playing somewhere else. He’s also young and a proven legit NFL player, which you can’t say about the vast majority of this roster.”
- Ezweav: “People will never get over the fact that he was drafted #12 overall, but he’s proven to be a force in the middle. He doesn’t get in the backfield enough for anyone’s liking but he also doesn’t get pushed off the ball like ever. A good player, and part of a potentially great DL.”
- Matt Wood: “Should never been on the field for 3rd and longs. And this coaching staff dropped him into coverage. Nothing more than a run stuffer and I don’t know how good he is at that anymore.”
- Josh Finney: “I struggled to put Shelton this high. He’s a rock and an anchor against the run, but that’s the extent of it. He doesn’t create pressure from inside, and that was the Browns biggest problem on the DL this year. (Not creating interior pressure) Might be a result of scheme more than ability, as Shelton is a load.”
#13 - CB Jason McCourty
The fact that McCourty was able to make this list is a big feather in the cap for him. On 0-16 football teams, 30-year old players with no allegiance to the team and who are on a short-term deal are often hard to label as “important.” But for half the season, I ranked him as the top performer on the Browns, calling him “one of the most shutdown corners in the NFL.” He dropped off significantly over the second half, but can hopefully help be an important bridge this year as the team tries to upgrade the position.
- rufio: “Great pickup for us, can he repeat his season? Only reason he isn’t higher is his age. How important will his contributions really be in getting this thing turned around? I’m not sure, he doesn’t seem to have a ton of years left.”
- Andrea Hangst: “McCourty led the Browns in interceptions and passes defensed in 2017 and represents one of the team’s best free agency additions in recent memory.”
- Ezweav: “Was not only a better CB than Joe Haden last year, but a much better CB than Joe Haden last year. Also cheaper, and among the very little bit that resembles anything close to veteran leadership. I think the losing got to him towards the end of the year but assuming he doesn’t have a drastic fall-off, is a more than capable CB1.”
- Robo Dawg: “As the #2 CB, he definitely overperformed last year when healthy. If we’re lucky we get that again, but even if his play is a step backwards this year, it’s important that he’s a stable presence.”
#14 - C J.C. Tretter
Cleveland paid Tretter last offseason to basically salvage the whole situation of drafting Cameron Erving, seeing how bad he was, and needing to patch up the position ASAP. Tretter had a few hiccups throughout the season, but overall brought that average to above average performance I was hoping for.
- Ezweav: “The Center is the anchor of the offensive line, even though the tackles are more important. Tretter did alright in his first year with us and also stayed healthy after a injury-plagued career in GB. Good, not great, but a really important piece to be sure.”
- Matt Wood: “Rough start to the season and had some ups and downs, but he is solid. Nothing great but he is a serviceable Center on a good contract. That’s valuable to me.”
- Dan Lalich: “Another lineman the Browns spent some cash on. Was serviceable, but needs to be better.”
- Josh Finney: “I’m not excited about Tretter, but hey, we’re here at this point on an 0-16 roster. At least he’s not Hank Fraley or Cam Erving. Whatever.”
#15 - OLB Christian Kirksey
Kirksey made the pivot to outside linebacker last year and still managed to rack up 138 tackles despite the fact that he wasn’t the team leader in tackles. He also added 3.5 sacks. Working off of a lucrative contract, Kirksey is a good player, and it was wise of the team to give him a 4-year, $38 million extension last offseason. At the same time, part of me feels like we’re settled in a little bit of mediocrity at his position. Much of the other staff still believes he has breakout potential, though, as Ezweav says the following:
“Kirko is a good, solid linebacker. Young but experienced, under contract for many years, played at a solid level in 2017. I feel like if our defensive scheme ever fully gels this guy will be a monster.”
- Andrea Hangst: “Hard-working both against the run and in coverage, Kirksey is also an effective pass-rusher; in 141 pass-rushing snaps last year, he totaled 3.5 sacks.”
- rufio: “I am lower on Kirksey than other Browns fans, but he’s obviously an NFL player and he’s relatively young.”
- Josh Finney: “Solid all around linebacker that inexplicably went from being a ‘coverage’ guy coming out of college and in his first year to a tackling machine/run stopper. I’d like to see him be more balanced, but he’s a monster. Great instincts, flows to the ball naturally, and stays healthy/dedicated. I’d like to see Kirksey play his whole career in Cleveland. Great person, solid football player.”
#16 - MLB Joe Schobert
I wrote off Schobert as a non-factor after his rookie season. After an injury to Tank Carder in camp, Schobert became the starting middle linebacker. By the end of the season, he was tied for the NFL-lead in tackles and was the Browns’ only Pro Bowler (originally an alternate). Schobert’s play in the preseason was really good, and I thought he had some coverage mishaps and tackling issues sprinkled in throughout the season. But for a guy who was very much just thrown into the fire, his play in year one as a starter turned a lot of heads.
Our resident hater, Matt Wood, sung a different tune: “I know he was a Pro-Bowler but I don’t think he is that good. He plays waaaaay off the ball (nice scheme Gregggg) and makes minimal impact.”
- Ezweav: “Terrific sophomore season, really took advantage of the opportunity afforded to him by Tank Carder’s preseason injury. Plenty of room for improvement but all kinds of reasons to expect some. If his year three more resembles his 2nd year rather than his 1st, than we may have got a real good one.”
- Andrea Hangst: “When drafting for depth goes as well as possible, you get the Browns’ lone (alternate) Pro Bowler and 2017 leading tackler, Schobert.”
- Robo Dawg: “An good tackler who has really taken to the MLB position, he made the Pro Bowl due to his prominence in our defense, but I fear that he may be at his athletic ceiling. He needs to keep producing at his current level, but I don’t see him as a defensive difference maker.”
- rufio: “I think Schobert is extremely overrated, both by our fanbase and nationally, due to the fact that he racks up a massive amount of tackles. I don’t think he is nearly as effective as his tackle totals would suggest. He’s young and he is getting better. He isn’t an athletic marvel. But is he London Fletcher, or is he Andra Davis?”
#17 - RT Shon Coleman
Coleman was a tough player to rank for importance. Last year in November, I said he had the 6th best performance on the team at the half-way point of the season. As the season finished, I thought both guards surpassed him, but that Coleman still did pretty well given the fact that it was his first year as a starter. Overall, it should be a good thing that Cleveland has all five of their starting offensive linemen ranked in the Top 17. Josh Finney, though, was very irritated by the number of penalties he had:
“I really wanted Coleman to be better in 2017. I loved him coming out, and he’s got a great work ethic/attitude. At some point that elite athleticism and mean streak has to translate into not making me want to throw my remote at the TV with 2 holding calls a game in critical situations. BE BETTER, goddammit.”
It’s worth noting that two panelists -- Matt Wood and Andrea Hangst -- did not include Coleman in their Top 25.
- rufio: “He’s important in the sense that if he got hurt we’d be a lot worse off. I don’t think Coleman is particularly good, but he is young and he does have talent, so at least the potential is there. If he could do a better job of picking up stunts and twists he’d actually be good. I don’t anticipate the 1st or 4th overall picks being used on OTs (you never know, though), so Shon is important to us because he’s the best we have. I think most fans are unecessarily hard on him because he isn’t the pass protector Joe Thomas is. Fans were hard on Mitchell Schwartz too.”
- Dan Lalich: “Remember, it’s ‘most important,’ not ‘best’ players. Coleman had a decent year, and if he can stick at right tackle the future looks a lot brighter.”
- Ezweav: “Right tackles are about as important as left tackles these days. Teams move their best pass rushers around to present mismatches, and Coleman for the most part held his own last year after basically redshirting in ‘16. Had a lot of penalties but so did everybody. Was not an apparent liability in pass protection and the guy’s always been a mauler in the ground game. I’d at worst, he’s no worse than Mitchell Schwartz was at this stage of his career, and that career turned out pretty well.”
#18 - WR Corey Coleman
Part of me wonders how much higher Coleman would be ranked if 0-16 wouldn’t have been officially locked in after his drop (which saw the ball go right through his hands and hit him in the face). Probably a couple spots upward. It’s so incredibly unlucky that Coleman has had each of his first two seasons shortened because of a broken hand.
Both seasons, it’s been the same thing: one good game before breaking his hand, then miss 7-8 games, and come back to...not much of anything. He actually looked sharp against the Jaguars in his first game back (6 catches for 80 yards), but over his final 3 games, he had a total of 3 catches for 37 yards. Coleman ranked #8 last year, but this steep drop shows how we’re not counting on him any more. I’d like to see him try the slot out. As Matt Wood says, “Meh. Show me something. Anything.”
- Dan Lalich: “This is his sink or swim year, and whichever direction he goes will have big implications for the future.”
- Josh Finney: “Im higher on Coleman than most. Still shows all the things the Browns drafted him for, but two freak injuries (that say nothing about his durability) and instability at QB limited his development. Having Gordon as a shiny object also hurts, given the terrible QB play.”
- Ezweav: “Coleman has been disappointing, but I don’t mean that to say that he has dissapointed. Dropped final pass notwithstanding, he’s showed some good things at times. He’s definitely a first-round talent but he needs to prove he can stay on the field. If he somehow breaks his hand in Week 1 next year I’ll be convinced it’s in injury he’s prone to.”
#19 - DT Larry Ogunjobi
If there is one player on this list who I could have manually nudged up the list a little more, it would’ve been Ogunjobi. Cleveland spread out the snaps on the defensive line last year, but Ogunjobi still played 28.3% of the team’s defensive snaps. He had some of the most “wow!” plays in run defense during the season, showing an ability to drive his lineman back several yards on a pretty regular basis. I don’t know if he’s built to be a starter or should remain a high-caliber role player, but either way, I see him as a very important player.
- Matt Wood: (ranked him at #11) “Yes this is waaaay too high, but I am betting on a monster season coming up. Best hands of a Browns DL and he is explosive. Very excited about his trajectory.”
- Dan Lalich: “Was disruptive at times as a rookie. If he takes a step forward and earns some more playing time, he could round out a scary front four.”
- Josh Finney: “Larry is a monster, and should get better every year after coming out of a small program. He was consistently a mismatch when he played, but the Browns took it slow in 2017 with his development.”
#20 - CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun
Internally, this ended up being one of the more debated rankings, with a mix of staff feeling like he’s valuable and others feeling like he is overrated. Personally, I think the consistency of the PFF stats don’t like:
Briean Boddy-Calhoun has quietly had a great season! pic.twitter.com/LIwHOhS75B— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 31, 2017
This was close to where Boddy-Calhoun ranked last year, when he was #18 on the list.
- Josh Finney: “LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BIG BALLER. Boddy-Calhoun. Two years straight, he’s been a monster in coverage (was one of the best, per PFF, on a snap by snap basis…..and that passes the eye test) and he plays bigger than he is. Isn’t afraid to come up and make a big hit, and energizes the defense. Versatile. Cheap. Sign him long term, please. Play him outside. Move him around. Let him work.”
- rufio: “I think he’s pretty good but he’s missed time with a variety of injuries and I think our fan base overrates him slightly. Still a positive contributor when he is on the field.”
- Andrea Hangst: “A true diamond-in-the-rough cornerback, BBC shines brightly.”
- Matt Wood: “All this kid does is play well. His future very may well be a career nickel DB (ala Captain Munnerlyn) but I do this he could play outside, all he does is makes plays.”
#21 - S Jabrill Peppers
The fact that Peppers is ranked outside the Top 20 shines light on one of the Browns’ dumbest coaching decisions of 2017. Peppers was supposed to be a player who was regularly near the line of scrimmage with the potential to see some snaps on offense. Instead, we stuck him 30 yards behind the play on every snap as a deep free safety. He was not put in position to make an impact, and also took some poor angles when he was the last line of defense. He also performed poorly as a punt returner.
- Ezweav: “Terrible rookie season, and it’s unfortunate because I really like him. He’s probably higher here than others have him because I think he’s someone that is going to get more rope (so to speak) than someone like Kindred, because of the draft investment (and obvious physical talent). If this young man can get it together, it would go a long way towards fixing a lot of our defensive problems.”
- rufio: “Peppers was pretty bad in his first year, after being a questionable pick in the draft. He clearly isn’t as fast relative to the NFL as he was relative to non-Ohio-State B1G teams. I hope we play him more like a linebacker in the future because he isn’t a deep MoF player right now. I’m picking him here because the rest of this list is going to be pretty sad.”
- Matt Wood: “This is all on hope. I hope Greggggg figures out how to use Peppers. He should almost be an OLB/Nickel hybrid ala the Honeybadger. I don’t have any confidence in these coaches.”
- Josh Finney: “Look, I hated this pick. HATED. If the Browns want to recoup value at the position, they can get rid of the idea of him being a jack-of-all-trades coverage option and play him as a box safety with better than average coverage skills at that position. Otherwise, they’re wasting time.”
#22 - TE Seth DeValve
It’s kind of laughable to look back at 2017 and see that DeValve, with 33 catches for 395 yards, was the Browns’ second-leading receiver. I became less enthused with him as the season went on. Part of that had to do with the head coach’s utilization of his personnel, but I also kind of felt resigned to the fact that DeValve was “just another guy.” Oddly enough, DeValve also ranked #22 last year.
- Andrea Hangst: “DeValve should be more featured in the Browns’ passing game than he was in 2017; his 57 targets was about 15-20 too few.”
- Robo Dawg: “Could probably give you 90% of Njoku’s ceiling, and is already a pretty polished player despite not playing much in college.”
- rufio: “He’s better than he gets credit for. Should form a really nice tandem with Njoku: lots of versatility, matchup nightmares. Young, cheap, good. Would love to see him with competent QB play and offense. 2nd TE’s cant rank much higher than this.”
- Josh Finney: “I really like Seth DeValve! He’s capable, athletic, and a big body. I think he’ll flourish with more targets, but I doubt he’ll get them with Gordon, Coleman, and Njoku on the team. I’d have liked to have seen more 2 TE sets, and DeValve is especially great as a safety net on 3rd down.”
#23 - DT Trevon Coley
Here is a fun fact for you: did you know that Coley played the most snaps on the Browns’ defensive line in 2017 (61.5%)? In that sense, he was kind of like the Joe Schobert of the defensive line. He was somewhat of a non-descript player, and might just be another version of Jamie Meder in the sense of him being a solid depth player. But because he came out of no where, his stock gets a little bump in case he takes a step forward.
- Matt Wood: “Liked what I saw from him last season, and only 23 years old.”
- Dan Lalich: “Had a solid if unspectacular year. If Ogunjobi doesn’t take that step forward, Coley should be a reliable backup plan.”
#24 - S Derrick Kindred
Kindred regularly graded well in run defense as an in-the-box safety, but the trouble with that is that he was taking on a role that should’ve been filled by Peppers. That makes it difficult to grade how important Kindred is to the future of the Browns. If Peppers does take on that role this year, is Kindred just a depth player? I don’t know. Kindred actually ranked #25 last year, so he improved one spot.
- Josh Finney: “Kindred was low key ultra-capable this year at strong safety, and is a heat seeking missile in run coverage. Only has a season worth of experience at this point, as he’s also proven to be somewhat injury prone. The biggest problem with Kindred at this point is that he plays the same position and has a lot of overlap with Jabril Peppers, who’s more athletically gifted than he is and likely has a better ceiling. I’d like to see him and Peppers utilized plenty this year, but with a true FS playing centerfield.”
- Matt Wood: “Injuries have been the issue. Sometimes looks like a really good player, then looks like he is lost. Replaceable but not pressing.”
- Ezweav: “Kindred actually played better than Peppers last year, but that’s an incredibly low bar. He wasn’t horrible (much) but figures also to see his starter status pushed.”
#25 - K Zane Gonzalez
And the final ranking goes to a special teamer. Not just a special teamer, but a kicker who, last year as a rookie, went through quite a bit of struggles. It’d be a different story if this was Phil Dawson being ranked here in his prime (he’d actually be ranked high).
- Andrea Hangst: “Cleveland’s leading scorer can’t be left off of this list.”
- Robo Dawg: “We lost a lot of points last year due to failed FGs. We need Gonzalez to step up and play to his potential.”
- Dan Lalich: “For some incomprehensible reason the Browns spent a draft pick on a kicker. So it would be great if he just had the yips last season and isn’t actually just bad.”
- Josh Finney: “The fact that a kicker is on the top 25 is everything you need to know about the Browns.”
Notable Players Who Missed the Cut
- CB Jamar Taylor
- RB Isaiah Crowell
- QB DeShone Kizer
- DE Carl Nassib
For the second year in a row, no quarterbacks made the Top 25. Three panelists did have him ranked, with Matt Wood having the highest ranking at No. 22: “A man can dream can’t he? I don’t think he is a franchise QB, but I do think he can be developed into a good back-up and a young one at that. Has the tools.”
Crowell didn’t get much love as he is likely on the way out. Ezweav ranked him at No. 17, saying, “Crow really got off to a slow start, but did not have a bad year on balance. Has led the team in rushing three straight years (first time since Mack) and whenever he’s not running up the back of OL’s legs (spawning Joel Bitonio’s injury problems) he’s a good, solid back. But, RB’s are kind of fungible so his value is only so much.”
Last year, WR Terrelle Pryor was ranked No. 4 on our list, representing how we genuinely wanted him back. We just didn’t have that same overall passion for Crowell. If he still had another year left on his contract, I probably would’ve had him in my Top 25. It’s a bit of a flaw in coming up with these rankings for pending free agents, but it is what it is.
Taylor could have easily been in the 25th spot over Gonzalez, but just missed out by a fraction. Robo Dawg and Dan Lalich were his biggest champions, each ranking him at No. 14. Robo Dawg said, “Youthful, and theoretically the talent making Haden expendable - he needs to continue to grow into the role of #1 CB. We will most likely require another year of Taylor as our #1 CB.”
Lastly, Nassib only made the No. 25 spot on one person’s list. I listed him as a notable absence because he played 60.3% of the defensive snaps in 2017, which was second most among the defensive line.
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 - OLB James Burgess at No. 23 - “Did you know that Burgess was the Browns’ third-leading tackler last season (71 tackles), and that he was tied for second on the team with 4 sacks? And that he led the Browns with 12 tackles for losses? It’s tough to rank Burgess higher, knowing that he is the fourth guy on a team where Kirksey, Schobert, and Collins will definitely start. But he showed enough in 2017 to warrant more nickel snaps in 2018.”
- Ezweav - LT Spencer Drango at No. 22 - “Struggled in the immediate aftermath of Joe Thomas’ injury, but settled down pretty quickly and played well above expectations. He’s basically a guard but he more than held his own at the tackle position. Considering the health of Joe, this guy is significant.“
- Matt Wood - DL Caleb Brantley at No. 15 - “Again probably a guy that I have too high, but I love his ceiling. Pass rushers from the inside are so valuable and I think Brantley can develop. I hope this doesn’t look dumb looking back.”
- Dan Lalich - WR Rashard Higgins at No. 23 - “Hollywood had moments where he looked like a good slot receiver. If he can grow into that role, it would save the team some money or draft picks.”
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.