The Cleveland Browns have built a roster that should have the team contending in 2020 for the team’s first playoff appearance since 2002.
That is if the rankings by Pro Football Focus hold true for the upcoming season.
1. Ravens— PFF (@PFF) June 25, 2020
Full 2020 NFL roster rankings ⬇️⬇️https://t.co/l25gRTC0Lm
The analytics-based site used its player grades from the 2019 season, along with career grades and statistics, to rank each of the rosters in the NFL for the upcoming season.
And after running the numbers, PFF has the Browns ranked at No. 11 overall and No. 6 in the AFC, which would put Cleveland squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot if they can play up to that ranking. One big hurdle, however, is that the Baltimore Ravens (No. 1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 10) are both ranked above the Browns, which adds extra importance to their divisional games.
Writer Ben Linsey lists the offense as Cleveland’s biggest strength:
The offensive weapons surrounding quarterback Baker Mayfield are among the best in the NFL. Nick Chubb has a higher PFF rushing grade since 2018 than any other running back in the league, and while Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t his usual self in 2019, there is plenty of evidence to suggest he is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. From 2014 through 2018, his 92.2 receiving grade landed behind only Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins. Throw in Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Kareem Hunt, and you have a Browns offense rich in talent.
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When you think of the offensive weapons the Browns have accumulated, along with the fixes at both left and right tackle (more on them in a moment), it is easy to get excited about the offense.
Of course, with so many talented players comes the weekly issue of keeping everyone happy, which is something that head coach Kevin Stefanski said the coaching staff has been discussing, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
“We know, having been on different teams with different offensive players, sometimes you have a great running back, great receiver or great tight end, and certainly, you have to be mindful and intentional about how you want to go about that while understanding that each week calls for a different gameplan. I think we are fortunate enough to have players at each of those levels that can affect the game, but it is definitely on our mind of how you divvy that pie up and how you design plays. That is definitely something we are talking about.”
As for Cleveland’s biggest weakness, Linsey turns his focus to the club’s group of unproven linebackers:
The linebacker spot, particularly after losing Joe Schobert in free agency, has to be a concern for the Browns. Mack Wilson recorded run-defense and coverage grades lower than 45.0 as a rookie last season, and the next guy on the depth chart — B.J. Goodson — has never graded above 65.0 in coverage and has just one season with 500 defensive snaps played. The Browns might have to alternate through players this season looking for a solution.
Related: Browns linebackers unproven but “exciting”
Other than right guard, it would be hard to argue against the linebackers being the weakest position group on the roster. That is not to say they can’t make it work, but there are still several unknowns about Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, B.J. Goodson and Jacob Phillips to feel very comfortable at the moment.
Finally, we come to the “X Factor” — quarterback Baker Mayfield:
Mayfield’s transition from three elite seasons as a starter at Oklahoma and one of the better rookie performances we’ve ever seen from a quarterback at PFF to complete disappointment last season was unexpected. Mayfield’s PFF grade of 83.2 as a rookie in 2018 was better than every first-year quarterback except Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott over the past decade. That number fell to 73.5 in 2019 (18th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks). New coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense and the additions of tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. should help right the ship situationally for Mayfield in 2020, but there are also accuracy and pocket presence issues that fall on him to figure out.
The Browns are only going to go as far as Mayfield can carry them, so a return to form is needed for 2020. Mayfield showed glimpses of his talent last season, but there was still something very off about his game. Whether it was coaching, injuries or a lack of preparation, Mayfield cannot have a similar performance this season if the Browns hope to accomplish anything.
Related: Fans still optimistic about Baker Mayfield, but not as crazy as a year ago
A positive sign is that Mayfield appears ready to put last season behind him, Stefanski told the team’s website:
“I have been very impressed, like I said before, with the work that (Baker) is putting in. He is all ears. He has taken everything and he is taking it all in. I think Alex Van Pelt and the coaching staff are really giving him a lot, and I do not see any limitations with Baker. He has done a really nice job. I talked to him actually this morning, and he is raring to go and hopefully, we will get him back in here and with his teammates.”
There may be a few minor quibbles with PFF’s rankings as the Browns are behind the Buffalo Bills (No. 7), who have a major question mark at quarterback, and the Steelers, but otherwise the rankings are pretty solid.
Now it is up to the coaching staff and the players to show they are worthy of being considered one of the better teams in the conference.