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8 notes on the Browns’ initial 53-man roster

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A quick look at the Browns’ roster composition.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Minicamp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns named their initial 53-man roster on Saturday. Before anticipated waiver claims come in on Sunday, let’s analyze the team’s initial 53-man roster with 8 quick hitter thoughts.

Here are 8 quick hitters about the initial roster:

1. Comparing to Final Projection

I correctly predicted 45/53 (84.9%) of the roster spots in my final roster projection, which is one pick worse than my final projection from a year ago. Our of curiosity, I went back to see how well I did in my pre-training camp roster projection:

  • 1st projection: 43/53 (81.1%) - link
  • 2nd projection: 45/53 (84.9%) - link

2. Who I Missed Out On

The players I thought were going to make the roster, but did not, were FB Dan Vitale, WR Jeff Janis, OT Shon Coleman, OL Spencer Drango, DL Caleb Brantley, DE Nate Orchard, LB Justin Currie, and CB Mike Jordan.

There were no jaw-dropping cuts. While I am overall surprised at the demise of Coleman, because of the demotion at the beginning of camp, I had speculated for weeks that the club was probably looking to trade him. Orchard is the longest-tenured player to be cut, but he was only making bigger plays against second- and third-stringers. Removing Drango after all the reps he took is a sign of how unsatisfied the team was with their offensive line depth. Vitale not making it will be alleviated by Charles, another blocker, being on the roster. He has some H-Back experience from his Bengals days.

Not including trades, the players I failed to predict making the roster WR Derrick Willies, TE Orson Charles, OL Earl Watford, OL Desmond Harrison, LB Jermaine Grace, CB Denzel Rice, and CB Jeremiah McKinnon.

3. Biggest Surprise

I did not expect the team to waive Caleb Brantley. When you think back to the team’s defensive tackle rotation a year ago, it was five-strong with Danny Shelton, Trevon Coley, Larry Ogunjobi, Jamie Meder, and Brantley. The team traded Shelton this offseason to the Patriots, in part because they loved the young depth they had.

That depth became a concern in the preseason due to injuries to Coley and Brantley, along with some lackadaisical play. Brantley had a reputation in college of taking plays off, which is why he fell to the 6th round to begin with. Per Lane Adkins of The OBR, that did him in with GM John Dorsey:

4. Waiver Wire

We’ll be coming up with a separate article tonight on possible waiver wire targets who could interest Cleveland, but this serves as a reminder that now the real fun starts for our front office. For the second year in a row, the payoff of having the worst record is that the team now get first dibs on all of the younger players who were cut and subject to waivers.

If there were any young players who had a solid preseason, Cleveland can have those players for free. It’s a luxury that the front office will absolutely take advantage of.

Despite the initial 53-man roster being set, I could still easily see about four waiver claims. That means the team would need to cut four players who made the initial roster. The most likely cuts could be WR Derrick Willies, OL Earl Watford, LB Jermaine Grace, and either CB Denzel Rice or CB Jeremiah McKinnon.

The biggest positions of need via the waiver wire should be on the offensive line and at linebacker...but don’t be surprised if they explore any and all positions, due to the large talent pool they will be able to hand pick from.

5. Practice Squad Possibilities

Of the players cut so far, RB Matthew Dayes, TE Devon Cajuste, DL Daniel Ekuale, LB B.J. Bello, and S Simeon Thomas are the five players I’d most like to see on the practice squad. We know S Tigie Sankoh will be on there as the special NFL Europe exemption. And then if Willies, Grace, Rice, or McKinnon are waived in favor of new additions, they can go on there too.

6. Who is the New Guy?

A little bit lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Browns made a trade at the cutdown deadline, acquiring DL Devaroe Lawrence from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a 7th round pick in 2019. Lawrence (6-2, 295 lbs) played college football at Auburn, but tore his ACL in December 2016. Despite the injury, the New Orleans Saints signed him as an undrafted free agent. Saints coach Sean Payton had high praise for him:

“We felt he was athletic, explosive and we felt like he could recover,” said Saints coach Sean Payton. “In other words, he was battling an injury and we saw traits that are hard to find sometimes for defensive tackles, and it’s hard to find that position, especially after the draft.”

Lawrence was ready to return to action in 2018, and he delivered this preseason, logging 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 4 quarterback hits, and 1 pass defended. In terms of motivation and hunger, one could argue that he has the drive the team wished that Caleb Brantley had — and Lawrence is likely taking his roster spot.

7. Hard Knocks Impact

The “bubble” players who were featured heavily on this year’s Hard Knocks included QB Brogan Roback, TE Devon Cajuste, DE Nate Orchard, and DE Carl Nassib. Of the four, only Nassib survived the cut, and you imagine those storylines will play out in the final episode this Tuesday at 10 PM ET.

8. Josh Gordon is Still There

Forgive me, but I have to rub my eyes about 20 times just to be sure: WR Josh Gordon is actually on the 53-man roster to begin a season. Not a suspension or non-football injury list. He is on the roster. We really are going to get to see Tyrod Taylor throwing to he and WR Jarvis Landry in Week 1 against the Steelers, aren’t we?