I put this piece together because I noticed a lot of you are upset about Baker going to the Browns. Yes, THOSE Browns. The butt of all Nfl jokes, arguably the worst team of any sport for the last two decades, and the team that has won 1 game in the last two years.
But fear not, the future looks bright and this team truly is on its way to turning itself around. This post will be a little lengthy but if any of you are considering following Baker's team then I urge you to both read this post in its entirety and to do some research of your own to have a full understanding. I've only recently become a fan over the last three months so there are large gaps in my knowledge of this team's history and players on the roster. I feel I have a solid understanding of both, but I still urge you to do some homework on this as well if you are even somewhat interested in the team. Knowledge is power.
(I'm going to give a bit of history and a personal note real quick. I encourage you to read both, but if you are in a bit of a hurry and want to get to the good stuff skip down to where it says Present Day in bold.)
The Cleveland Browns have a storied history and just an absolutely amazing fanbase. When I had first introduced myself to their little corner of the internet I half-expected to find bitter fans that resent all the haves. Or maybe angry little people that cry and bemoan times lost or complain about their misfortune. But, surprisingly, this couldn't be further from the truth.
I have spent a fair amount of time on their SBNation blog, DawgsByNature.com. How they interact with each other and the sense of kinship they all have is how I wish all sports blogs would be. They can be vocal about their complaints, but it's always said in a way to where the chat can add on to it and make it a discussion. There is no toxicity.
They have built a deep culture there and it is a relaxing stop if you have free time through out your day. They of course talk about all things Cleveland sports but their daily Chow can get upwards of 1000 comments a day. If you can handle that there's ample room to banter about any subject you'd like. It's a very welcoming community, I give two thumbs up.
The build up to the draft was... Interesting to say the least. I've never seen so many people with so many different opinions in one place. But there was no love lost. Just a fantastic community. I could use a thousand words just on this alone, but for the sake of the post let's leave it at that :) Shout out to DBN. If any of you have the free time and want to chat you can head over there any time. It's very active. (Just dont use the subject line!)
A quick history of Cleveland football
The team was formed in 1946 by Arthur McBride. The team played in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) and was coached by their namesake, the legendary Paul Brown. He is considered the father of Modern Football with ahead-of-the-game thinking such as hiring a full-time staff of assistants, instituting strict organization of practices, setting a hard discipline for players and setting guidelines, as well as analyzing game film to get an edge on opponents.
The Browns won each of the four league championships from 1946-1949, at which point the AAFC disolved and the team joined the NFL. The Cleveland Browns made the NFL championship the next 5 years in a row, winning it 3 times.
McBride sold the team to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Art Modell) in 1953. Before the 1963 season Modell fired Paul Brown, but the team still found success behind legendary running back Jim Brown (no relation to Paul). They won yet another championship in 1964, and followed it up with another appearance in 1965 only to lose to the Packers.
They made the Playoffs in 1971, 1972, 1979, and 1980. The last great Cleveland quarterback, Bernie Kosar, led the Browns to three AFC championships in the late 80s, but they lost all three and never made the Super Bowl.
Having found little success in recent years, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named decided to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. The fanbase outraged over this decision and they were allowed to keep their name, colors, and records for the future expansion team. Modell brought the entire staff and all the players to Baltimore and founded the Balitmore Ravens franchise.
The Cleveland Browns became an expansion team in 1999. Since then they have only made the Playoffs one single time and have had the worst of luck finding a franchise quarterback (Here's to hoping Baker turns around their luck!).
To make matters worse, the Rat Birds have since made the Playoffs 10 times and have won the Superbowl twice, in 2001 (using Cleveland's players) and 2013.
Just imagine how dominate of a team the Browns would have been if they hadn't moved. One of the better teams in Nfl history for sure.
Entering this off-season the Cleveland Browns had the most available Cap Space in the league. Over the last two seasons the staff traded back picks and worked their magic. Entering this draft they had a deep collection of first and second round picks, including two top 5 picks (which hasn't been done in over twenty years).
Needless to say, GM John Dorsey has a treasure trove of resources to play with. Dorsey has been extremely active this off season and the media affectionately calls us #offseasonchamps. And they still have the most Cap Space in the nation! They have approximately $70 million left to spend, which is $10 million more than anyone else.
Dorsey has made notable off season moves such as acquiring Quarterback Tyrod Taylor,
Wide Receiver Jarvis Landry, CB E.J
Gaines, CB T.J. Carrie, and
DB Demarious Randell. As well as drafting Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward.
From this moment on I'm going to be using player grades from ProFootballFocus. I'm going to make some needed points and then I will move on to position grades.
Cleveland wasn't nearly as bad as the record shows. Yes, they lost 16 games. But they were 16 hard fought loses. In any given game just one lucky play can be the difference between a touchdown or not. Or one lucky first down that sets up a touchdown.
All close games are decided by luck. Last year Cleveland had 6 games that were within 7 points and two went to overtime. As every Sooner fan should know, just one single play had to go right and they could have won every won of those games.
And they also had Deshone Kizer. Absolute turnover machine. He had the lowest passer rating for a full-time starter since 2002. That's how bad he was :/
Tyrod is the anti-turnover. He is consistently ranked anywhere from 12-15 in the league every year. If they had either Baker or Tyrod last year they wouldn't have allowed those other teams as many points off turnovers. If the difference between the worst Nfl starter in 15 years and an annual top 15 quarterback is somehow only one extra touchdown a game, then they were still capable of winning all but 5 games last year.
6 were decided by less than 7 points.
1 was decided by 9 points.
1 was decided by 12.
3 by 14.
1 by 16.
3 by 17.
1 by 24.
They didn't really get blown out in any game except one. Plus the three others that were decided by 17 points, which is 3 possessions. But every other game is winnable if they didn't have Deshone Kizer.
Kizer is the reason they went 0-16. Well... Kizer and horrible, horrible luck. This video explains it all, lol. (Notice the score and time in those clips).
90% of those plays were because of Kizer. The other 10% was because of just horribly bad luck. You can't account for that. Every close game is decided by luck. Cleveland just didn't have any last year.
DoctorPa's position grade
Tyrod Taylor will be the starter. Listed at 6-1 and identical weight to Baker there's not a better quarterback for him to sit and learn from. Tyrod is consistently a top 15 Quarterback. He won't ever be a Wilson or Rogers, but he hardly ever makes a bad throw or interception. His play style is eerily similar to Baker's. The main exception being Baker is more accurate and made more big plays than anyone else in college OR the Nfl last year. IJS. (True story. Read PFFs draft profile on him.)
Baker sits and learns for a year, then he takes over.
Running Back: B
Nice solid rotation. They were the 6th best team at rushing yards per carry last year. Plus they drafted Nick Chubb (yes, THAT Nick Chubb). If he can do to the Nfl what he did to our defense last year then Cleveland is in good shape. He almost surpassed Herschel Walker as Georgia's all time rusher and he beat Todd Gurly by a good amount. College stats aren't the be-all-end-all but it's a good indicator for your potential.
I give this position a B because all the backs have shown promise, but they lacked finishing power last year. Given the depth and the addition of Chubb I would say a B is a fair grade. If we get pre-injury Nick Chubb back then this group turns into a solid A.
Tight End: B-
David Njoku shows promise, as he was just drafted in the first round last year. Even though he only posted average stats last year, I will cut him some slack. He was pitted against seasoned pros his rookie season and his quarterback was Deshone Kizer....
B- grade based on his average stats with a bump for having a better quarterback this year and a full season under his belt. If he has a breakout season give this position whatever grade you want :)
Wide Receiver: B
I'm struggling where to grade this group honestly. You have three good targets, but not much solid depth after that.
The receiving corps, in general, has struggled with dropped pass for several years. However, recently acquired receiver Jarvis Landry is one of the most sure-handed receivers in the league.
WR1- Josh Gordon, fittingly nicknamed "Flash" (He's the Savior of the Universe!) is a speedy and exceptionally gifted player. He was drafted in the second round in 2012 and was one of the best receivers in the country in his rookie year. Following it up in 2013 he led all receivers in the Nfl in receiving yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Not without a hitch, he has faced multiple suspensions and off field incidents.
Following a substance abuse violation in 2014 he was suspended for the remainder of the season and spent two years in rehabilitation. He was reinstated midway through the 2017 season.
I hate to see young kids throw themselves away like that, but the good news for both Gordon and the team is that he's back. Healthy and ready to kick ass.
WR2- Jarvis Landry. Landry was acquired this off season via a mega-contract agreement of $15million, which makes him the 5th highest paid receiver in the country.
In his 4 years as a pro he has made the Pro Bowl 'three' times and was graded as the 42nd overall best player last year.
Since his arrival Landry has over 400 career receptions, which is the highest in Nfl history for any player in his first four years. He also had more touchdowns and almost as many receptions as all Cleveland Browns wide receivers combined in 2017. He is an ultra-efficient slot receiver that is the perfect go-to guy on 3rd and 7.
His one downside is that he's not a deep threat. At all. His 8.8 yards per catch last year was the lowest average by any receiver with more than 100 receptions in Nfl history. Arguably the best receiver in the country on short to medium passes, arguably the worst receiver in the country on deep passes. What's not to love?
WR3- Corey Coleman was the best receiver in the 2016 draft. Over the last two seasons he has battled injury, problems with dropped balls, and several instances of serious off field incidents. When he was healthy and not dropping easy catches he was a top target and definitely shows reason why he was so highly touted coming out of college. Like Gordon, if he can stay out of trouble he will help anchor this deep receiving corps.
The rest of the cast is a question mark. Running back Duke Johnson is a receiving threat, but there's not much else on the roster. Hopefully recent draftees Antonio Callaway (7th ranked receiver) and Damion Ratley can add some depth in case of emergency.
I would give this unit a solid A for the sake of the Gordon/Landry combination plus Coleman. All three are complete badasses that add value to an offense. All three on the field at once provide a nasty force of weaponz for a skilled quarterback. Also, making a defense focus on these three frees up Njoku to maximize his potential as well.
But you can't ignore the lack of solid depth in case of injury or, God-forbid, one of our top receivers decides to rob a bank or mug an old lady. So they get a mark against them for being naughty.
Offensive Line: C
Last year when Joe Thomas was healthy (7 games) the OLine was easily a top 10 or better group. When he was not playing the OLine fell apart. Given that, they still managed to be ranked as the 14th overall OLine.
Expect them to finish ranked about the same again. Thats a solid C. Maybe C+.
Offense Grade: B
Solid quarterback depth and talent. Bounty of targets for them. A backfield that had the 6th most yards per carry last year to help limit the burden for the quarterback. I would give that a high grade. B+ maybe. But the OLine is only average. It's solid, but you won't have enough time to pass or holes to run through to be a top tier offense. So give them a slight bump down because of this.
Defensive Line: A-
Yea... Their DLine is filthy. That's why so many people were pushing for Bradley Chubb. This would have all but guaranteed to have been a top 5 DLine, wrecking havoc on the poor souls of the AFC North and beyond.
Standouts include 2017 first overall pick Miles Garrett, who had a PFF grade of 88.9 last year, Larry Ogunjobi, who had a grade of 82, and Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah sets the edge well and when both he and Garrett are on the field nary a soul gets past.
Despite missing five games with injury, Garrett still finished with a team-high seven sacks, which was second among all NFL rookies and the third-highest sack total by a rookie in franchise history.
Couple that with a deep, deep rotation of players with anywhere from 75-80 Pff grades and you get an A- ranking! Oh, and they also only allowed 3.4 rushing yards per carry (2nd best) and 97.9 rushing yards per game (7th best). That might get you an A grade too ;)
They still need to add pass rushers next year, but as these things go this DLine is rock solid.
I'm fuzzy on this one. Pick your own grade on this :) Read this article for a quick assessment of their linebackers. They have four talented players to work with, which is solid enough depth.
In just his second year Joe Schobert took over at Middle Linebacker. He tied for the most tackles in the entire league with 144 and made the Pro Bowl.
Christian Kirksey had 138 tackles as well. Add on Jamie Collins (had to sit out 2017 due to injury) and James Burgess who played well in his first year covering for Collins and you got yourself a nice group.
The entire front seven was good at stopping the run last year. The LBs are probably the weakest unit on the defense though. Not bad, but besides Joe-Scho and Captain Kirksey there's not any stud talent. Collins does have a $50 million contract though. I haven't seen him play but that must mean he's good, right?
This one is also really tough to figure out. We lost our best corner to trades, but received two top 25 corners in return (who are both better than he is), T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines.
This one is hard to figure out because of all the moving parts. First, you gotta know about Demarious Randell and Jabrill Peppers. Both are former first round picks. Randell was drafted in 2015, Peppers in 2017. But here's what's weird. Randell played Safety in college and was a ball hawk. The Packers drafted him, but needing a corner they put him at that position. He has been average every year and was given a 70.9 grade last year by PFF.
Jabrill Peppers was a jack-of-all-trades at Michigan, but he was best when he was closer to the line and could make a play on the ball. Once he was drafted to the Browns they moved him to Free Safety because they had no one else to play the position. He had an abysmal 45.4 grade at FS. As a DBNer explained it, Peppers is at best when he can be aggressive in an aggressive position. We made him play passively at a passive position.
But here's the catch, Cleveland is moving Randell back to Free Safety. He flourished at that position in college. He will be a far better FS than Peppers. Even if he somehow lost his edge at FS in the past three years (I doubt it), he would still be an average graded FS, which is far better than Peppers 45.5 grade.
And I need to point something out on Peppers. Hes not a bust. Far from it. He was real bad at FS the start of the year, but over the last 7 weeks he graded as the "25th best safety". He sucked really, really, really, bad at the start. But he was turning it around.
And due to injury elsewhere, they had to use him at multiple positions the last two weeks of the season and he only played FS 32% of the time. In week 16 he had a run-defense grade of 83.0(!) and in week 17 he had an overall grade of 81.5(!). Jabrill can play!! Just not at Free Safety lol. He will likely primarily play SS where he can crowd receivers, help stop the run, and be called to do blitzes. With the addition of Randell they can afford to play both former first round picks to their strengths.
Both safety spots are solid now. Corner is just absolutely set up. We still return Jason McCourty, PFF's 27th ranked corner (but for sake of argument he's a top 25 guy). McCourty had a grade of 83.9, Gaines had an 86.6, and Carrie had an 84.3. Carrie was also the second best corner in the nation on yards per cover snap, only allowing .46 Y/CS.
That's three guys that were top 25 last year. Peppers was the 25th ranked FS (his worst position) the last seven weeks and posted far better grades at SS the last two weeks when they switched him. Randell is maaaybe at that level, it's TBD.
Still, 4 guys with grades over 80 and all 4 being in the top 25 of all players at their position. Add in 4th overall pick Denzel Ward, who has a 91.2 PFF grade. That's 5 top 25 secondary players ...... That's some depth. The deepest depth.
Overall defense grade: B+
Deep rotation of talented defensive linemen that were top 5 against the run. A linebacking unit that stops the run well and has two of the leagues top tacklers. Peppers who is a monster every time he gets near the line and is an absolute run-stopping machine. And a secondary that would have been ranked in the top 5 going into last year based on talent alone... Hmmm
As long as nobody gets injured or mobs old ladies on buses this season Baker is set up just fine for 2019. Plus this season we could have several wins. DBN is guessing anywhere from 4-8 wins, and I say 8 is the O/U. Next off season they need to add some more depth to every position and replace those who underperformed and they are set. Get a nice Defensive Lineman from Clemson with your first rounder.
As long as everything goes perfectly to plan you have a very solid and well rounded team. With next season's additions Cleveland honestly could make Playoffs. Thats if everything goes to plan, lol. Someone's going to get injured. Someone is going to not play to their potential. Something.
But they do have nearly every position at a great spot. If these 22 players can stay on the field all year this is a team that can go toe to toe with any team in the country. Just hope tragedy doesnt strike and the starters can play all year long.
Their biggest need was, of course, quarterback. Hopefully Baker is their franchise quarterback, but if something goes wrong they still have Tyrod Taylor.
They need depth at the skill positions, but have plenty enough talent to make waves with. If someone doesn't develop they will have to make that position a priority to fix right away.
The OLine is the team's worst unit. They need to replace sure-fire future Hall of Famer LT Joe Thomas, as he just retired a month or two ago. But the bright side is they were still in the top half of the league, albeit barely, finishing ranked 14th.
The defensive line lacks pass rushers but this line returns all of its starters, and unlike last year they are all in full health (at the moment). If Garrett can continue his strong rookie season and perhaps get better with a full year under his belt this could arguably be a top 3 run-stopping DLine.
Linebackers are pretty good. Two of the league's top tacklers. When they are all healthy and working together they stop the run well. The entire front seven is great at run defense.
The secondary could either be a top 5 or top 10 unit depending on how well all the new players work together in their first year here in Cleveland. Lots of new faces. This was the primary focus for GM John Dorsey this off-season. If they all stay healthy this could arguably be the best unit at Cleveland next year. Lots to be excited for.
I'm speculating here, but my best guess is that the FO's goal over the next two seasons is to worry about the immediate starters. Every year after that you will replace those who underperformed and slowly stock up on depth in thin areas.
Cleveland Front Office
Owners: Jimmy and Dee Haslam.
General Manager: John Dorsey
CSO: Paul DePodesta
Head Coach: Hue Jackson
Offensive Co.: Todd Haley
Defensive Co.: Gregg Williams
(Rip Gregg. He verbally challenged Baker to "come get some" on Friday and now Baker is going to have to embarrass Gregg's shiny new toys in practice. Pick your battles Gregg!)
That's my wrap up :) Please let me know in the comments what you think this team's chances are going forward. Do you feel a little better about Baker's new home or still full of doubt about one of the league's worst teams?
Also, if anyone has issue with the grades I gave any unit please let me know. The player stats and PFF grades are from credible sources, but the grades on each unit as a whole are my best guess. If you feel I over/undervalued any unit let me know in the comments and we can discuss it.
I, for one, am excited for this team's future. I was under the impression coming in that Baker was going to join a team full of below-average players, but it turns out ranking low every year and getting top draft picks helps! I would have been a fan regardless, but it's most definitely a bonus seeing the potential and clear path for this team.
Baker is a generational quarterback and the stuff he did in college has never been done by anyone else. Amazing story. It sounds a bit strange, but I am extremely happy he got drafted to the NFL's worst team. If he can lead this team to several Playoffs and the Superbowl several years from now.... Legend. But first we just gotta rebuild :) It's a work in progress, but one I'm happy to watch unfold.