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ESPN picks 4 Browns to Top 100 list for 2020

Site’s rankings are hit-and-miss when it comes to the Browns.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Training Camp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL kicks off in a little more than one week, meaning that everyone is running out of time to put together their preseason rankings.

These types of lists are mostly harmless content to fill in the gaps until something significant happens, but it is still worth checking in to see how the outside world is viewing the Browns.

Which brings us to ESPN, which on Tuesday released its annual list predicting the best 100 players for the upcoming season:

The list was created by 46 NFL experts at the site who were tasked with rating players based on how good they will play this season as compared to their peers.

Ignoring the merits of a name or two in the Top 10 - it might be nice, for example, if Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson could win a playoff game before being considered at No. 3 - the Cleveland Browns checked in with four players on the list.

The lowest-ranked Browns player is cornerback Denzel Ward, who comes in at No, 89:

Ward was up and down in 2019 but was also battling a hamstring injury. A Pro Bowler as a rookie the year before, Ward still has the tools to be a lockdown corner. But after sitting out seven games through his first two seasons, he needs to show more durability as well. — Jake Trotter

Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Stephon Gilmore (minus-11.8%) and D.J. Hayden (minus-11.0%) led the NFL in catch rate allowed above expectation (minimum 300 coverage snaps). But just behind them sat Denzel Ward (minus-8.9%), who was actually targeted at the third-highest rate among those 70 cornerbacks (22.4% of coverage snaps).

What they are saying: ”I think Denzel has a chance to be a really, really good player. I like a lot of things about him physically, I like the person that he is, and [he] has great ball skills. We are excited about Denzel, and he realizes that there is work to be done.” — Kevin Stefanski, Browns coach

There are eight cornerbacks listed ahead of Ward, which seems like a few too many. But if he can stay healthy this season, there is little doubt that Ward should move up the list next season.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Training Camp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Next up is running back Nick Chubb, who somehow came in at No. 59:

Chubb was 47 yards away from winning the rushing title in 2019. Now, under new coach Kevin Stefanski, he’ll be operating out of a multiple-tight-end, power-rushing attack that will revolve around him. Going into his third year, after which he’ll be extension-eligible, Chubb seems primed for a monster season. — Jake Trotter

Signature stat: Chubb led the NFL with 4.9 yards gained after close-in — yards gained by a ball carrier after the first defender gets within 1 yard of him — last season (minimum 100 carries, via NFL Next Gen Stats).

What they are saying: ”It’s an argument that I always talk to my guys about and my friends. ... I honestly believe Nick Chubb is the best running back in the National Football League. I am going to continue to say that until I play somebody else and they show me otherwise.” Mack Wilson, Browns linebacker

No real arguments about Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers being ranked ahead of Chubb, although being 53 spots higher only highlights how unappreciated Chubb is. The same with Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans (No. 28) and Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints (No. 50).

But seeing Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants (No. 16), Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys (No. 24) and Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings (No. 41) ahead of Chubb is just unacceptable.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Training Camp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The third player on the list is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is ranked at No. 40:

OBJ might be coming off the worst statistical season of his career, save his injury-shortened one in 2017. Yet despite playing through a sports hernia all year, he still had more than 1,000 yards receiving. When healthy, Beckham can be as electric as any playmaker in the league. And after undergoing offseason surgery, he’s finally healthy again. — Jake Trotter

Signature stat: Since 2014, Beckham has 14 receptions of 50-plus yards, including 11 receiving touchdowns. He ranks second in both categories in the NFL during that span, trailing only DeSean Jackson.

What they are saying: ”I think the unique thing with him would be the ball skills. When the ball is in the air, he has a knack of getting it any which way he can — one-handed, two-handed, along the boundary. I just think he is special in that regard.” — Kevin Stefanski, Browns coach

Beckham should be more comfortable now that he is entering his second year with the Browns, and if he is healthy he should be able to live up to that ranking.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Training Camp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, we come to defensive end Myles Garrett, the Browns’ highest-ranked player at No. 12:

Garrett has vowed to earn the offseason contract extension that made him the highest-paid non-QB in NFL history. There’s compelling evidence to believe him. Over his first three seasons, Garrett ranked fourth in the league with 0.82 sacks per game. He has the talent and the experience, and now finally the help around him. — Jake Trotter

Signature stat: Garrett beat his block by 2.0 seconds on 32 pass rushes last season, which was second behind only Aaron Donald through Week 11 (NFL Next Gen Stats), when Garrett was suspended for the rest of the year.

What they are saying: ”Myles as a player, from the first day he has been on the practice field, you can tell he was something special. The way he moves and the way he bends, it’s just stuff you only see in a few guys in the NFL. It’s been really impressive. If he puts together a whole season this year, really there is no limit on his success.” Joel Bitonio, Browns guard

Garrett trails on Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams among defensive linemen on the list, and Garrett looks poised to pick up where he left off last season. Which means that Reggie Camp’s team record of 14 sacks in a single season is very much in jeopardy.