How the Browns Stack up in the AFC North

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The hysteria regarding the Browns is nearing an all-time high. The franchise is steeped in tradition but the glory days are a distant memory with the team not winning a playoff game since 1994. Finally, there is a promising future. General Manager John Dorsey has changed not only local optimism but the national perception as well.

The pressure on the combination of a first year head coach and 2nd year quarterback will be immense. It is certainly not a given the team will be in the playoffs but make no mistake their talent level is good enough to win the division and that is where greatness begins – in the division.

How the Browns stack up at each positon/positional group:

Quarterback:

Baker Mayfield set rookie records despite not starting out of the gate. He threw for 3,725 yards with a rookie record 27 TD passes while completing 63.8% of his passes. Is he the top dog in the division? The future appears to be his but Ben Roethlisberger still gets the slight nod.

Player Rank: 1st Roethlisberger, 2nd Mayfield, 3rd Jackson, 4th Dalton

Positional Rank: 1st Pittsburgh, 2nd Cleveland, 3rd Baltimore, 4th Cincinnati

Running back:

Nick Chubb started only nine games in his rookie campaign. He was sensational compiling 996 yards with a 5.2 YPC. Midway thru the season he will be joined by former Chief Kareem Hunt who was one of the league’s best in KC. Duke Johnson could be gone by opening day – if so he won’t be missed.

The Ravens grouping led by Mark Ingram will be solid but the key to their rushing attack will be Jackson. The Steelers have potential with the grouping of James Conner and rookie thumper Bennie Snell. Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon is a talented runner with explosive feet who can catch the ball.

Player Rank: 1st Chubb, 2nd Mixon, 3rd Ingram, 4th Conner

Positional Rank: 1st Cleveland, 2nd Baltimore, 3rd Cincinnati, 4th Pittsburgh

Wide Receiver:

The acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. has the potential to swing the power in the division to the Browns. He is an elite talent who makes the game easier for his quarterback and the WR corps as a whole. JuJu Smith-Schuster was very good last year but the path won’t be as easy without Antonio Brown. AJ Green possesses as much natural talent as any wideout in the league but injuries and inconsistent QB play have hurt him. Tyler Boyd is a very good number two target. The Ravens added rookies Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin but have a long way to go at the position.

Player Rank: 1st Beckham Jr., 2nd AJ Green, 3rd Smith Schuster, 4th Jarvis Landry

Positional Rank: 1st Cleveland, 2nd Cincinnati, 3rd Pittsburgh, 4th Baltimore

Tight End:

David Njoku is somewhat unheralded but despite some key drops has shown progress. He will only get better with more attention focused on the outside. Pittsburgh’s Vance McDonald had a nice year for Roethlisberger. The Ravens have a full stable of talent at the position with sophomores Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst along with Nick Boyle who they re-signed this offseason. Cincinnati still hopes for a healthy Tyler Eifert but that is likely wishful thinking. CJ Uzomah showed flashes last season. He will be joined by 2nd round head scratcher Drew Sample.

Player Rank: 1st Njoku, 2nd McDonald, 3rd Andrews, 4th Hurst

Positional Rank: 1st Baltimore, 2nd Cleveland, 3rd Pittsburgh, 4th Cincinnati

Offensive Line:

The Browns traded guard Kevin Zeitler in the blockbuster Beckham Jr. trade. The pressure will be on 2nd year player Austin Corbett. Overall the Browns o-line played very well last year with Freddie Kitchens calling plays. The unit does not have marquee names but with Mayfield and the talent at the skill positions – should perform well in 2019. The Ravens have a punishing line that can maul opponents in the run game. They mirror the strategy employed with Lamar Jackson under center. Pittsburgh is a bit long in the tooth and were inconsistent last year but should be good enough in the short term. The Bengals have struggled mightily the past few seasons. The addition of Jonah Williams on the right side will help but expect the line to have issues against better defenses.

Positional Rank: 1st Baltimore, 2nd Cleveland, 3rd Pittsburgh, 4th Cincinnati

Defensive Line:

For purposes of this exercise, teams that use a 3-4 front will have their edge rushers included in the d-line portion. Cleveland struggled rushing the passer last year and against the run game. Their weaknesses resulted in too many blitz packages which put the secondary in precarious situations. They added Olivier Vernon in the OBJ trade and Sheldon Richardson via free agency. Myles Garrett is the best defensive player in the division and tackle Larry Ogunjobi is a solid football player.  The Ravens lost a familiar piece in Terrell Suggs. Although Suggs was past his prime his presence will be missed. Za’Darius Smith also hit the road – he was an ascending player who could have been a key piece. Tim Williams will be heavily relied on from a pass rushing perspective for a team that ranked first in total defense last year. Pittsburgh’s defense tied for the league lead in sacks and were 6th in the league versus the rush. Cincinnati fielded one of the worst defenses in the history of western civilization.

Positional Rank: 1st Cleveland, 2nd Pittsburgh, 3rd Baltimore, 4th Cincinnati

Linebacker:

For purposes of this exercises, edge rushers are not included in this positional review. The Browns struggled versus the run and pass at the linebacker position. A bevy of injuries did not help. They added Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson via the draft – both will compete for starting roles. The Ravens use several young players at the position including Kenny Young who showed glimpses. The unit lacks firepower and relies heavily on their front to protect them. The Steelers addressed the unit by trading up for speedy backer Devin Bush. Watt does more than just rush the passer which helps their defense as a whole. The Bengals backers struggled mightily last season. Projections are no higher for the 2019 campaign.

Positional Rank: 1st Pittsburgh, 2nd Cleveland, 3rd Baltimore, 4th Cincinnati

Secondary:

The secondary struggled for a variety of reasons last season. The lack of a consistent pass rush and injuries to Denzel Ward and Terrance Mitchell resulted in an underachieving group. They traded safety Jabrill Peppers to the Giants and cut Derrick Kindred. Dorsey added Eric Murray and Morgan Burnett via free agency then a bigger move in the draft with the selection of LSU corner Greedy Williams. Baltimore was 5th against the pass last year. The lost Eric Weddle but added Earl Thomas via free agency. Their corners are solid but must have a very good pass rush to protect them. Surprisingly the Steelers were tenth against the pass but 16th in TD passes allowed. They selected Justin Layne in the draft. He will earn snaps early. Cincinnati ranked 32nd in the league versus the pass. They did little to address the position which could result in similar results.

Positional Rank: 1st Cleveland, 2nd Baltimore, 3rd Pittsburgh, 4th Cincinnati

Summary:

Eight positional groupings were ranked – the Browns finished no lower than second. They garnered four top rankings and finished runner-up four times. There is room to debate some of the rankings but the point stands true – this roster is as talented if not more talented than any team in the AFC North. They are primed for their best team since 1994. Stay tuned Browns fans – it is going to be a thrilling ride.