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Browns ‘core’ ranked 11th best in the NFL with upside to ‘fly up the list’

A lot riding on Deshaun Watson both on the field and in every ranking

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

Getting out in front of comments and social media replies: Yes, all that matters is what happens on the field and rankings do not mean anything.

The Cleveland Browns spot in most NFL rankings is somewhere near the middle of the pack as the national media is, understandably, uncertain of what type of player QB Deshaun Watson will be after a struggle during a six-game stretch in 2022. The rest of the Browns roster is considered to be good to very good but the fate of the team falls on Watson.

When looking at the “core” of any NFL team’s roster, looking at contracts is one way to decide who is on the list. For Cleveland, 11 players have contracts averaging over $11 million a season with four at or above $20 million a year. Those same four players also have the most guaranteed money on their contracts, in totality, with all at or above $40 million.

Of the Browns top contracts, four of the five are listed by ESPN as members of the team’s “core” players:

  • Deshaun Watson
  • Myles Garrett
  • Denzel Ward
  • Joel Bitonio

Only WR Amari Cooper doesn’t make the list despite his big contract as RB Nick Chubb replaces him as the fifth core player according to ESPN.

Those five players are ranked as the 11th-best core in the NFL with Watson’s performance last year pushing the team down but noting that his performance this year could skyrocket the team:

A few years ago this group could have challenged for the No. 1 spot in these rankings. But after Watson played so poorly in his return to football in 2022, posting a Total QBR of 38.0, it’s fair to wonder whether he holds the rest of the players on this list back going into 2023. If he gets back to his Houston level of play, Cleveland would fly up the list.

ESPN’s list boasts the Cincinnati Bengals at #2 and the Baltimore Ravens two spots above Cleveland. The lone AFC North team not in the top 15 is the Pittsburgh Steelers who are also noted with a future that is very dependent on their quarterback, Kenny Pickett.

Just above the Jacksonville Jaguars and below the San Francisco 49ers seems about right for the Browns at this point in the offseason. Anything higher all depends on Watson.

Who would you place in the Browns “core” five players? Where would you rank that core among the NFL?