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Browns will still have to play some starters in Week 18 — looking at how the depth chart might shake out

We can’t bubble wrap everyone.

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns are in the unique position of being able to rest their starters in Week 18 against the Cincinnati Bengals. We already know they are resting QB Joe Flacco and starting a guy who they just signed this week. But can they do that across all the positions and truly rest their entire starting lineup? Not quite.

This isn’t like the preseason when 90 players were in camp and you have enough bodies to play second- and third-stringers at every position. With only 53 players to work with, some key contributors will still have to play based on the numbers game. If the Browns are trying to maximize rest for as many starters or veterans as possible, though, here’s how the starting lineup might look on Sunday:

Possible Browns Week 18 Starters

- -
- -
Position Player
QB Jeff Driskell
RB Pierre Strong
WR Cedric Tillman
WR David Bell
WR James Proche
TE Harrison Bryant
LT Leroy Watson
LG Michael Dunn
C Luke Wypler
RG Nick Harris
RT James Hudson III
Position Player
DE Alex Wright
DT Siaka Ika
DT Jordan Elliott
DE Elijah McGuire
LB Tony Fields III
LB Jordan Kunaszyk
LB Mohamoud Diabate
CB Kahlef Hailassie
CB Mike Ford
S D'Anthony Bell
S Duron Harmon
Position Player
K Riley Patterson
P Corey Bojorquez
LS Charley Hughlett
KR Pierre Strong
PR James Proche

There are some things to be aware of when looking at that depth chart, though:

  • Guys are going to need breathers. For example, let’s look at the running back position, where I have Pierre Strong starting. Is he going to play 100% of the snaps? I doubt it. That means either Jerome Ford or Kareem Hunt are going to have to take some snaps, unless Cleveland elevates a running back from the practice squad. However, the team is only allowed two elevations, and one of those is going to be kicker Riley Patterson. The other, in my opinion, will either be depth for the offensive or defensive line.
  • At wide receiver, I don’t think you’re going to suddenly have Marquise Goodwin play a ton of snaps. Instead, I think rookie Cedric Tillman will get more experience under his belt, and you also let David Bell and James Proche eat up the rest of those reps.
  • At tight end, the Browns only carry three players. I doubt David Njoku plays, so either Harrison Bryant or Jordan Akins will have to play starter-level reps.
  • On the offensive line, the Browns only have one backup offensive tackle really, and four reserve linemen. Therefore, a starter has to play, and I’m predicting it’ll be James Hudson at right tackle. If the Browns elevate an offensive lineman from the practice squad, that would give them either someone to substitute in for Hudson, or a backup in the vent someone gets injured, you don’t have to dip into Wyatt Teller playing, for example.
  • On the defensive line, at defensive tackle, I’m expecting the Browns to want to rest Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris. Your only two other guys are Jordan Elliott and Siaka Ika. You can’t expect them to suddenly play 100% of the snaps, though. That’s why I think it’s more likely that we see Cleveland elevate someone on the defensive line from the practice squad. Even at defensive end, if you rest Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith, then you only have Alex Wright and Isaiah McGuireOgbo Okorokwo is close to returning from injury, but you probably don’t put him back in yet.
  • Linebacker is the position where the Browns are stacked with the most depth, so to speak — I think it makes sense for Jim Schwartz to play more linebackers this week, just for reps sake, and then you can have Tony Fields II, Jordan Kunaszyk, Matthew Adams, and Mohamoud Diabate eat up reps.
  • In the secondary, you can try rolling with Mike Ford and Kahlef Hailassie playing every snap, and forego nickel packages so you don’t have to play Greg Newsome or Martin Emerson. At safety, Ronnie Hickman has been playing so well that I sort of want to protect him too, so I’m pegging D’Anthony Bell and Duron Harmon to play.

What do you think, Browns fans? It’s crazy how you go from starting everyone each week, no hesitation, and now I’m here paranoid about a guy like Teller or Emerson having to play a few snaps in a pinch.