The hype train is gaining steam for the Cleveland Browns.
After a 2020 season that saw the Browns make the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and win a road playoff game for the first time since 1969, and an offseason where general manager Andrew Berry rebuilt the defense and brought back every important player on offense, the Browns are poised to be legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl.
The overall quality of the roster is why Marc Ross at NFL.com placed the Browns at the top of his rankings of the team’s with the most complete rosters in the league heading into 2021:
The Browns have been building a respectable roster for several years now. But heading into the 2021 season, they aren’t just good — they’re loaded with Pro Bowl talent from top to bottom, featuring multiple high-level players at almost every position group. The offensive success no doubt stems from an O-line that returns all five starters from a unit that Pro Football Focus ranked first in pass blocking and second in run blocking in 2020. Cleveland’s offense also returns all of its star power — a quarterback in Baker Mayfield who made a big leap in Year 3 to help the Browns earn a playoff berth and first-round win, the league’s top running back duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and a talented receiving corps that gets Odell Beckham Jr. back after an injury cut his 2020 short. This offense should be even better in Kevin Stefanski’s second season after having a full offseason to understand and expand the playbook.
Despite an All-Pro campaign from Myles Garrett, the defense had its struggles in 2020, but general manager Andrew Berry did a great job addressing those areas in free agency and the draft. The Garrett-led defensive front got a boost on the open market with the additions of Jadeveon Clowney, Takk McKinley and Malik Jackson. But the unit that should see the most improvement this fall is the secondary. Cleveland signed two key members of last year’s top-ranked Rams defense (S John Johnson and CB Troy Hill) and drafted CB Greg Newsome in the first round. Greedy Williams could also add depth with a healthy return from a shoulder injury that kept him out all of last season. Another big addition for the Browns this offseason: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a second-round linebacker most evaluators considered a first-round talent. JOK is a versatile player who could impact any defense immediately.
Cleveland’s special teams unit was a liability at times last season. The return game was subpar, while Cody Parkey was solid but didn’t attempt a field goal of 50 yards or more. This entire unit should improve with the addition of several key players, including returner JoJo Natson. And now there’s a budding kicking competition between Parkey, who re-signed with the Browns on a one-year contract in March, and Chase McLaughlin.
Even with questions on special teams, these aren’t the same old Browns. Those days are over.
It was just two years ago that the Browns found themselves in a similar situation only to crumble under the weight of expectations.
That was a different team, however, one that had issues on the coaching staff, deficiencies at key positions along the offensive line, a front office that was not in tune with the rest of the organization, and an inability to overcome adversity.
Things are different now, with the coaching staff returning intact, an offensive line that is the league’s best, upgrades all across the defense, and a front office that has built perfect alignment across the organization.
Perhaps just as important, this version of the Browns showed the ability last season to work through just about everything that was thrown at them, from an offseason altered by COVID-19, struggles in the early part of the season, and losing players and coaches to COVID-19, nothing seemed to faze them.
Given everything they have gone through, a little bit of preseason hype - even when it inevitably goes over the top - is nothing they can’t handle.
Because as Ross pointed out, these are not the same old Browns.