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Browns offense has potential to be among league’s elite

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ESPN and NFL.com rankings put Cleveland’s offense on par with the best that the NFL has to offer.

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The Cleveland Browns offense took off in the second half of the 2019 season.

Once Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator for the second half of the season, the Browns averaged better than 395 yards per game; surrendered just five sacks; averaged a league-best 6.86 yards per play; scored 25 touchdowns, tied for sixth in the NFL, among other highlights.

Now with Kitchens running the offense full-time as head coach, quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb entering their second season, and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. taking the position group to a new level, Cleveland’s offense has the potential to be among the league’s elite.

How elite, you ask? Well, according to both Ali Bhanpuri of NFL.com and ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the Browns should be very elite on offense in 2019.

First up is Bhanpuri, who ranked each team’s top triplets - quarterback, running back and wide receiver - using a weighted points system and the Browns checked in at No. 3 in the league, trailing just the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 2) and New Orleans Saints (No. 1):

I know some folks will scoff at Mayfield’s top-10 ranking (or the Browns at No. 3), but the former Heisman Trophy winner was that impressive as a rookie. Add in Odell Beckham Jr. (we’ll get to him in a bit), a full dose of Nick Chubb and another year in the same offensive system, and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to expect fireworks every time Mayfield lines up under center.

I initially had Chubb in the mid-teens, and then at the behest of NFL.com editor and noted Browns fan Tom Blair, I re-watched some tape from last year and dove a bit deeper into the data. I’m not sure how Kareem Hunt will work into the rotation when he returns from his eight-game suspension, or how long Duke Johnson will remain with the team, but Chubb proved as a rookie he’s a game-changing back. He finished Year 1 ranked fourth among RBs in yards after contact (858) and ninth in runs over 10 yards despite finishing 21st in snaps (198), according to PFF.

As for Beckham, the table is set for a career-defining season. He has a strong-armed and accurate quarterback throwing him the ball, skilled pass-catchers lining up all around him (including his close friend, Jarvis Landry) and his college position coach serving in the same role in Cleveland. We should expect the best from the 26-year-old generational talent. If not now, when?

Barnwell took a different approach at ESPN, as he attempted to rank each team’s skill-position talent independent of the impact of the quarterback, the quality of the offensive line or the scheme of the coaching staff, among several other factors.

But the results were the same as Cleveland comes in at No. 3, trailing the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 2) and the Los Angeles Rams (No. 1):

It’s hard to believe that we’re only two years removed from a Browns receiving corps whose leading weapon was 395 yards of Seth DeValve. No duo is going to be more fun to watch than Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who should challenge Diggs and Thielen as the league’s best wideout pairing. The only blemish here is Beckham’s injuries, as the three-time Pro Bowler has played just one 16-game season in five tries and missed 16 games over the past two seasons.

Unlike the Vikings, though, the Browns also boast one of the best running back trios in football with Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson and a half-season of the suspended Kareem Hunt. Counting on Hunt to make a meaningful impact given his abhorrent off-field behavior and the looming suspension seems naive, but the Browns don’t need him to dazzle offensively. The weakest point in this chain is tight end David Njoku, but the Miami product showed signs of delivering on his freakish ability a year ago with a 639-yard, four-touchdown season. I don’t think Njoku’s numbers will leap again in 2019, but that might be because the Browns only get to play with one football.

Just how well the Browns stack up to the league’s best remains to be seen, but it appears likely that at least a couple of longstanding team records will fall in 2019.

Mayfield looks to be a lock to become just the second quarterback in franchise history to surpass 4,000 passing yards in a season. Brian Sipe’s team record of 4,132 passing yards, set in 1980, is well within Mayfield’s reach.

The same can be said of Sipe’s record of 30 touchdown passes in a season, also set in 1980. Mayfield had 27 as a rookie despite sitting out the first two-plus games and being saddled with Hue Jackson for the first half of the season. With all the offensive weapons around him, it would be a bit of a disappointment if Mayfield does not finish the season well north of 30 touchdown passes.

While the team record of 89 receptions - held jointly by tight ends Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow Jr. - appears safe due to the Browns having numerous options, Beckham could still become just the fourth player to catch at least 10 touchdowns in a single season, joining Gary Collins (four times), Paul Warfield (twice) and Braylon Edwards (once).

Finally, the Browns have only surpassed 400 points in a single season five times in franchise history. Ironically, the only time they managed to do it since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 came in the 2007 season. (For those keeping score at home, the other times were in 1946, 1947, 1964 and 1966 - and in three of those years the Browns won a title.) This year’s squad should have no problem becoming just the second team in franchise history to reach that mark in a 16-game season.