With NFL Free Agency and the 2023 NFL Draft in the books, the national media released offseason power rankings. Here is how the Cleveland Browns ranked with their new and returning talent:
If Deshaun Watson can revert to his old form, they will be a major factor in the division race. He looked bad last year, which has to be concerning. They have done a nice job adding to the roster through the draft and free agency.
The Browns had a smart, sensible draft — but when it comes to this franchise, the focus continues to hang over the quarterback position. Deshaun Watson underwhelmed upon his return from suspension last year, prompting questions about whether he’ll be able to regain the form that made him a superstar in Houston. “You can’t define my career off of six games,” Watson said in a surprise appearance on Twitter Spaces last week. The steady drumbeat of drama following Watson can cloud the fact that the Browns have an intriguing roster that makes them potential bounce-back candidates in the AFC. If Watson gets his game back, Cleveland is going to surprise people.
The Cleveland Browns weren’t able to do much damage early in the 2023 draft. Thanks to the Deshaun Watson and Elijah Moore deals, the Browns didn’t pick until No. 74. However, even without much draft capital, the Browns were still able to have a successful Day 2. Cedric Tillman of Tennessee gives Watson another big-bodied target in the passing game. Washington’s Siaki Ika further fortifies a defensive front that the Browns already addressed with the addition of Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency.
But regardless of what the Browns did or didn’t do in free agency and the draft this year, Cleveland’s odds of being in the hunt in the AFC North depend on one thing: Watson playing more like the 2020 version of himself and less like last year’s rusty mess. Remember, in Watson’s last full season, he completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 4,823 passing yards, 33 scores and just seven interceptions. The weapons are there on the ground and in the air. The offensive line is excellent. The defense should be improved.
But if Watson plays like the quarterback who struggled with accuracy and consistency last year, none of that will matter. And Watson’s fully guaranteed $230 million deal will look even more like an all-time boondoggle.
On paper, the Browns look like they deserve a much better ranking. They traded for Elijah Moore and drafted Cedric Tillman to fill out their receiver corps, and they invested a lot of capital in their abysmal run defense. There aren’t any obvious weaknesses. The problem is that it’s hard to shake how awful Deshaun Watson looked after his return from suspension. If he can re-discover the level of play we remember from Houston, the Browns won’t be an afterthought for long.
Draft takeaway: With no picks until the third round, Cleveland nevertheless added real talent to the roster, including five players from Brugler’s top 100. Third-round pick Cedric Tillman and previous addition Elijah Moore should give Watson enough weapons to look more like his former self on the field.
Hype man: So much rightful focus on the offensive improvements this season neglects the improvement we’re going to have on defense. Jim Schwartz hasn’t coordinated a defense that finished in the bottom half of the league by DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) since 2006 in Tennessee.
Deshaun Downer: You guys saw how bad Watson was last year, right?
After everything he cost from a financial, draft capital and public relations standpoint, Year 2 under, ahem, franchise QB Deshaun Watson has to go better. Right?