The Cleveland Browns took a major step forward on offense in 2020 under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Even though the offense did not really take off until after the bye week, the Browns still finished the season:
- Having scored 408 points - the fourth-highest total in franchise history and the most in the 16-game era
- Ranked 14th in the league in scoring - the highest ranking for a single season since 2007
- Ranked 16th in the league in yards - just the second time the Browns have finished in the top half of the league since 2007
Heading into the second season in the same offensive system - and returning every key member of the offense - should have the Browns poised to collectively be one of the league’s best offenses this fall.
But what about the individual components of the offense? How do the various position groups stack up against their peers across the league? That is a question that Pro Football Focus attempted to answer this week with its annual rankings of the skill position groups on offense.
Let’s see how PFF views the players who will make Cleveland’s offense hum this season.
Baker Mayfield - Ranked No. 10
Give Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski a ton of credit for how he helped set up his quarterback for success. The Browns protected Mayfield early in the season, but when Stefanski opened up the playbook, Baker excelled. He was the second-highest-graded quarterback in the league from Week 7 through the playoffs. He also ranked in the top five from a clean pocket, on standard dropbacks and on early downs for the entire season — all of which are important and stable metrics.
Considering the offensive weapons Mayfield has around him and his offensive line’s league-leading 84.4 pass-blocking grade last year, expect him to pick up where he left off for the 2021 season.
Nick Chubb - Ranked No. 4
Kareem Hunt - Ranked No. 10
There may be no better pure ball carrier in the NFL than Nick Chubb, and only a relative lack of impact in the passing game keeps him as low as No. 4 overall. The Georgia product has the best broken tackle rate in the NFL over the last two seasons, with 124 broken tackles on 488 carries.
The Browns picking Hunt up for peanuts, given his off-field transgressions, has meant the team can field two top-10-caliber running backs simultaneously. Hunt may not be quite as good as Chubb as a ball-carrier, but he is a superior receiver and has broken 33 tackles on receptions since the start of 2019.
Odell Beckham Jr. - Ranked No. 18
Jarvis Landry - Ranked No. 21
Other notable rankings: Terry McLaurin, Washington, No 17; Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, No. 24; Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals, No. 32
Something else to note: The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens did not place a wide receiver on the list.
Beckham has been a decidedly different receiver in Cleveland. When we did these rankings prior to the 2019 season, Beckham came in at No. 4. Throughout his first five years in the NFL with the Giants, from 2014 to 2018, Beckham was the fifth-most valuable wide receiver in the NFL, according to PFF WAR. And that even includes his 2017 campaign when he played only four games due to injury.
The Freddie Kitchens experiment and playing through injury clearly didn’t help matters in Beckham’s debut season with the Browns in 2019, which ended up being the lowest-graded season of his career. He still wasn’t performing like his normal self in 2020 before a season-ending injury in Week 7 (73.7 receiving grade). We know Beckham can be a top-five receiver in the NFL, but his play as of late certainly doesn’t warrant such a ranking entering the season. It wouldn’t really surprise anyone if OBJ changes that in 2021, though.
OBJ has had a tough time finding his footing with Baker Mayfield, but Landry is on the other end of the spectrum. The former Miami Dolphin has notched an 80.0-plus receiving grade in each of the past two seasons, forming a two-year mark that ranks 15th among qualifying wide receivers.
Landry, who was once infamously known for being only a slot weapon, accomplished those feats while seeing more reps on the outside. He ran the highest rate of routes from the outside in his career in both 2019 and 2020, combining to produce the sixth-best receiving grade on those plays. He went from the 22nd percentile in grade against single coverage in 2017 and 2018 to the 90th percentile on such reps in 2019 and 2020.
Austin Hooper - Ranked No. 17
Notable players ahead of Hooper: Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons, No. 4; Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens, No. 6; Hunter Henry, New England Patriots, No. 10
Notable players behind Hooper: O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, No. 23; Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers, No. 25; Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons, No. 27
Hooper came in at 11th on this list last offseason despite signing a deal that made him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL at the time. The reasoning was that he operated in an advantageous scheme in Atlanta where over 75% of his receiving output came on targets defined as attacking holes in zone or underneath the defense in 2016. His results weren’t nearly as strong when matched up in man coverage.
The move to Cleveland came with a downtick in production last season. Hooper’s PFF grade fell from 78.3 in 2019 to 69.8 in 2020. He still profiles as a reliable target over the middle of the field who has averaged at least 1.3 receiving yards per route run in every season of his career. Hooper just isn’t going to strike fear in defenses the same way some of the elite names at the top of this list will.
What do you say, Browns fans? Did PFF get the rankings right or no? Have your say in the comments.