The Cleveland Browns cannot be faulted for generosity.
They have singlehandedly absorbed the city’s entire capacity for sporting suck – and, as any Clevelander knows, that capacity is immense – so that LeBron could bring home a championship to the city in 2016, the World Series very nearly following months later. During all that, the Browns under Hue Jackson went 1-15, their only win coming courtesy of a Chargers field goal miss. You’d figure they couldn’t “top” that in 2017.
But they did. They went 0-16.
Hue Jackson has still not been fired. The last time the Browns beat a team not from California was 11 October, 2015. In that time, there have been four Star Wars movies, or more than there were in the history of the original Browns.
The less said about a season in which #1 overall pick Myles Garrett lived up to expectations and still couldn’t get the team even one win, the better. Second-round pick DeShone Kizer invented the concept of German rhyming slang with a playing-Madden-on-the-wrong-difficulty-level 60.5 passer rating, throwing two interceptions for every TD. To put that number into context, teams throwing on the Seattle D in their championship-winning, peak-LOB 2013 averaged a 63.4 passer rating.
Kizer literally made the average team he faced look like the 2013 Seahawks. Well done to the other 31 teams for letting him fall to the second round.
Fortunately, while the Browns didn’t see their true franchise quarterback in the last two drafts, they at least managed to weaponise their QB void against other teams, turning QB trades into cascading picks to the point that they entered the 2018 draft with not only their own picks but the first two picks of the Texans and the second-rounder from the Eagles.
Baker Mayfield was the (somewhat unexpected) choice to be anointed next former Browns quarterback. Good luck to him. He’ll need it. The Browns also burned a third-rounder (easy to do when you have two firsts and three seconds) to take Tyrod Taylor out of his Buffalo purgatory and eat up some 2018 starts while Mayfield marinates.
Finally not hoarding picks like Panini stickers, they kept the top of their 2018 selection stash untraded and got got needs filled at corner with Denzel Ward, left tackle with Austin Corbett, and running back with Nick Chubb. Those last two became needs courtesy of the retirement of Joe Thomas (the most well-earned retirement in NFL history) and the departure of Isaiah Crowell to the Jets.
Although Carlos Hyde was acquired in free agency to theoretically fill that need too. Other free agency acquisitions included tackle Chris Hubbard from the Steelers and corner T.J. Carrie (a man whose name is begging to be shouted in the style of DJ Khaled shouting out his own name on his tracks) from the Raiders.
Oh, and Kizer is gone, traded to the Packers in a deal that gave the Browns Damarious Randall in return.
When you have as many high draft picks as the Browns have had lately, you’re going to hit on some by the law of averages. Garrett is certainly one, and seemingly 90% of the rest of the roster is young enough that you can’t count them out. (Would it be at all shocking to see the likes of David Njoku, Jabrill Peppers, and Larry Ogunjobi making second-year breakouts?)
Between Hyde, Chubb, and trade acquisition Jarvis Landry, the Browns have added enough theoretical ways to make Mayfield comfortable as soon as he’s thrust into the fire. The Sooner standout might himself be a strength if his collegiate video game numbers – if that even makes sense when there are no collegiate video games anymore – are even remotely transferable to the NFL. Seeing as some of the records he took belonged to Russell Wilson, it’s entirely possible they are.
It’s all very well saying the Browns can’t be counted out, but practically nobody on this roster has shown they can be counted in. Joel Bitonio is arguably the only exception of note, but the stud guard has had at least some camp reps at left tackle because that’s how big a hole there is at that spot now. Not good for Mayfield’s development, that.
The WR group is all theoretical upside and no certainty besides the hyper-inefficient Landry (Josh Gordon, sure, but he lacks the most important ability of all – availability). The secondary has been rebuilt from scratch using other teams’ spare parts. Frankly, most position groups on this roster have an element of mystery to them.
Plenty of those mystery men actually get good, and Mayfield has an impressive rookie year, helped by a legitimately top-drawer receiving corps. Believe it or not, it’s only four years since the Browns won seven games in a year, and it can happen again – or maybe they can go one better! 8-8 second in AFC North
This is a Hue Jackson team we’re talking about. Nobody’s living up to their potential with him calling the shots, as evidenced by the last two seasons. Those teams had theoretical talent, too.
Jackson somehow survives to the Browns’ week 11 bye, leaving with the Browns 0-10. Just to make things truly worst-case, the two wins their replacement coach gets after the bye ultimately cost them the #1 pick. 2-14, last in AFC North
It’s the Browns. They only deal in worst-case scenarios. 2-14, last in AFC North