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Prior to Smith trade, Browns roster ranked worst in the AFC North

Browns have a lot to prove going into 2023 after Andrew Berry’s busy offseason

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New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns were obviously unhappy with their defense last year. It started with the firing of DC Joe Woods immediately after the season ended and continued through free agency, the NFL draft and this weekend’s (reported not official yet) trade for DE Za’Darius Smith.

The defense, along with the putrid play (based on his past, expectations and trade/contract compensation) of QB Deshaun Watson led to a last-place finish, a full two games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC North.

Despite that, Pro Football Focus ranked the Browns No. 9 in their power rankings last week. With the Cincinnati Bengals the top-ranked team in the AFC North and the Baltimore Ravens one spot behind Cleveland, three of the four teams in the division were ranked in the top 10.

Somehow, PFF’s newest ranking, looking only at the team’s roster, has a different order with the Browns having the worst roster in the division at No. 14. Published before the Smith trade, it is interesting to note where they saw the team’s biggest weakness:

Biggest weakness in 2023: Defensive Line

Aside from Myles Garrett and Dalvin Tomlinson, there isn’t a ton of depth on the Browns’ defensive line following Jadeveon Clowney‘s departure. The Browns will look for players like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and rookies Isaiah McGuire and Siaki Ika to step up and take some of the pressure off their star defenders.

As we shared through a FanShot, PFF is high on the Smith acquisition so maybe the Cleveland roster would be able to catch up to the Steelers (12) or Ravens (8). The Bengals are ranked as the third-best roster in the NFL.

While different authors were in charge of this ranking and the power rankings, it is interesting to see the difference between the two. For Browns fans, concern remains with HC Kevin Stefanski and Watson’s return to greatness. PFF notes Watson in their “X-Factor” section of the roster rankings and takes the under on 8.5 wins for the team this season.

Cleveland has a lot to prove on the field before respect will be earned at a national level. With talented teams in the division and conference as a whole, 2023 will be a slugfest. Many Browns fans think the roster is ready for it but PFF wasn’t buying in before the Smith deal.

Where would you rank Cleveland’s roster within the AFC North?