This seems like the year the Browns finally return to respectability, if not the year they actually win. With all of the roster additions and Hard Knocks exposure, there is a lot to get excited about. So without further adieu, here are the top 5 things I am excited about as we enter the regular season
1. Todd Haley and the new-look offense
We’ve seen some success in the running game when we have made it a focus, we’ve seen RPOs, we’ve seen no-huddle, uptempo offense. We’ve seen pick routes for Jarvis Landry, seam routes for David Njoku, and back-shoulder fades to anyone who can catch them. While it’s hard to predict exactly what the week 1 offense will look like, all of the elements for an intelligent, contemporary offense are there.
An perhaps most importantly, we aren’t seeing a clearly overwhelmed head coach try to manage the game and call plays from the sideline at the same time.
2. Myles Damn Garrett
I tried to make all 5 things, things. As in; “not individual players.” But I cannot contain my excitement about Myles Garrett.
The only thing that can derail him at this point is injury. He’s already a force to be reckoned with, and he’s on his way to being one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. This is exactly what we were hoping for when we drafted him last year. If Myles continues to improve his technique to go along with his incredible blend of speed, agility, and power, he is going to be unblockable.
3. Rookie Defenders
Denzel Ward showed flashes during the preseason, despite injuring his back. He’ll take a few lumps, as many rookie corners do. But he’ll also be our best corner from the first snap of the year. And when he starts to put it together, look out. Ward’s burst and willingness to come up and hit were on display during the preseason, and I am excited to see what he can do against the best of the best.
But we had all heard of Ward before the draft. Someone who was an under-the-radar pick has been a surprise this preseason, and that someone is LB Genard Avery. Avery is a linebacker, but has also been lined up as a stand-up end in Gregg Williams’ defense, where he has shown off some nice burst and rush moves. His athleticism, hustle, and size were really eye-popping in the preseason, and I hope we continue to work him onto the field despite being a 4-3 team with 3 good linebackers in front of him.
On this play, watch as Avery is lined up toward the bottom of the screen as a stand-up DE. Instead of rushing the passer, he drops into coverage on the TE as a blitz comes from the other side of the formation. Avery successfully walls off the TE, passes him to the safety, and then pursues scrambling QB AJ McCarron all the way toward the opposite sideline. Coverage, hustle, and closing speed:
4. The Development of Young Players
Jabril Peppers, Brien Boddy Calhoun, David Njoku, Larry Ogunjobi, and Rashard Higgins all look like players ready to break out. After years of seeing talented young players make their way onto the Browns only to underperform, is this the year that several guys put it together?
Peppers looks more comfortable in a strong safety role after playing as the “Angel” all year last year. He looks to be playing with more confidence and instinct in year 2.
Someone is going to need to create penetration in the backfield and catch quarterbacks as they try to escape Myles Garrett and Ogunjobi showed flashes of becoming a 3 tech penetrator in the preseason.
Everyone expects Njoku to break out as a seam-stretching TE, but Higgins has really impressed me with his continued improvement. Billed as a guy who was maybe “maxed out” in college, Higgins has somehow developed chemistry with both Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield, demonstrating a knack for making plays despite his limited athleticism.
If a handful of players in year 2 or 3 can step up and even become “middle class” players for the Browns, it will be a welcome sight.
5. Competent QB Play
Here are DeShone Kizer’s red zone numbers from last year: 14 of 42 (33.3%) for 105 yards (2.5 yards per attempt) for 8TD, 6 INT, and 2 fumbles. If we just improve on those numbers a little bit, it would be hard not to win a few games this year. Thankfully, we should blow last year’s quarterback play out of the water.
Tyrod Taylor has been exactly what the Browns have needed as a “bridge QB”. He’s a calm, low-key guy who shows up every day ready to grind. He’s not the most rah-rah guy, but he has led the Browns by example all offseason, and he’s ready to lead them on the field. Whether you think he hit his ceiling in Buffalo or that he was overly conservative out of necessity, he’s still going to be a huge improvement.
There have been a few things that haven’t surprised me about Baker Mayfield, starting with his deep ball accuracy. Despite only connecting on 57.4% of his passes this preseason, Baker has thrown for 8.2 yards per attempt. Meaning when he did connect Baker wasn’t just dumping it off. But Baker has always been an accurate deep passer, so that shouldn’t be surprising.
What has been surprising to me has been the way Baker has adjusted to the NFL game. He can already be seen at the line of scrimmage making calls, checks, and signals, changing the direction of runs and commanding the offense. His pocket presence and ability to move around to buy time to deliver the ball, or escape the pocket and pick up a first down has also felt very advanced for this stage of his career.
Moving forward, Baker will need to connect on a few more checkdowns in order to get that completion percentage up and to turn sacks or throwaways into gains of 2-5 yards. But he’s off to a great start.
What do you think?
So, Browns fans, should we be excited as we enter the regular season? Is this really the year the Browns turn things around, or will we be waiting for next year by week 4? Who or what are you excited about? Discuss in the comments below.