Season preview 2019
After going 0-17 in 2017, a 7-8-1 record in 2018 must be considered a rousing success for the Browns. And while the decision to start the year with head coach Hue Jackson still was highly questionable at the time, opting to finally part ways with him at mid-season was clearly the right call.
Freddie Kitchens would be promoted from running backs coach to offensive coordinator, while Greg Williams would be named interim head coach and Cleveland would go 5-2 over the remainder of the season. The progress of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was arguably the highlight and the season, with the young prospect leading the Browns to their best record since 2007.
The trade for Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants was one of the biggest surprises of the offseason and his arrival should give Cleveland one of the league’s better receiving duos when lined up across from his former LSU teammate Jarvis Jones. The deals with the Giants may have cost the Browns a valuable guard in Kevin Zeitler and a young safety in Jabrill Peppers, but it also brought them talented edge rusher Olivier Vernon.
The addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson during free agency should serve to further strengthen a group poised to one of the best in the NFL. Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Murray looks set to assume the starting role vacated by Peppers after he arrived via trade in return for defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. There will also be competition for the job from free agent signing Morgan Burnett.
Making a move to sign troubled Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt may have been a questionable decision, but he could well become a significant contributor over the second half of the season once his eight game suspension has been served.
Despite having lost their first-round draft pick as part of the trade for Beckham, the Browns were still able to land one of the more highly rated cornerback prospects with their selection of Greedy Williams from LSU. Offensive lineman Eric Kush and Kendall Lamm should also add some depth up front.
While Cleveland has traditionally lagged far behind the other teams in the division when it comes to star names on offense, it would be fair to say that the Browns have some of the most talented skill players in the AFC North this year. On paper, Beckham and Landry and as good as any duo the Steelers have fielded in recent years and a backfield containing Brandon Chubb and Hunt will be hard to stop.
With young prospects like David Njoku at tight end and Antonio Callaway at wide receiver poised for breakout seasons, the Browns could have one of the more dynamic offenses in the NFL in 2019.
Much will be expected from Mayfield after an impressive debut season, but the front office has surrounded him with most of the tools needed to be successful. That being said, the offensive line has been somewhat overlooked this offseason and question marks remain about the quality at both tackle spots and at guard in place of Zeitler.
An infusion of talent up front next to emerging superstar Myles Garrett should make it much harder to run on Cleveland than it was in 2018, while an improved pass rush should help a secondary that also struggled last season.
Former first-round draft pick Denzel Ward figures to even more impressive heading into his second season and will be helped by the arrival of veterans Murray and Burnett. Once Greedy has adapted to the pace of life in the NFL, he should give the Browns better young cornerback tandems in the league.
The weakness for Cleveland on defense comes from a relatively underwhelming group of names at linebacker. And while Joe Schobert is perhaps somewhat underrated, Christian Kirksey has not lived up to the contract he signed in 2017. The best chances of improvement from the group coming in the form of rookies Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson.
The Browns organization is in unfamiliar territory heading into 2019 as the favourites with the bookmakers to win the division and carrying a weight of expectation that has been unheard of since Bernie Kosar was at quarterback.
But while the additions on both sides of the ball are hard to ignore, it is also difficult to look past the decades of ineptitude that have come before. Focusing on recording their first winning season since 2007 might be more appropriate than chasing a Super Bowl this season and there is every chance that Cleveland will struggle to live up to the hype.
Kitchens takes the reins as head coach for the first time in his life at any level having never risen above the ranks of a position coach before last year. How well the rookie head coach manages a team of strong personalities like Beckham and Mayfield could well dictate the success or failure of his team.
Record Prediction: 8-8