We predict it every year.
“The NFL will produce a team that endured a rotten ‘last season’ but will somehow have a winning record this season.”
Every year, we also note:
“It has happened with so many different teams, it is as if they were taking turns.”
Every year, we beg the question:
“Isn’t it the Browns’ turn, after all these years?”
Of course it is.
The Browns haven’t had a winning season since Joe Thomas, now retired, was a rookie in 2007. In the 10 seasons since then, they have been 5-11 three times, 4-12 three times, 7-9 once, 3-13 once, 1-15 once and 0-16 last year.
They are long past due to be the NFL’s “surprise team.”
General Manager John Dorsey has stoked optimism with a bold wave of player acquisitions. But now his work for the year is done, or nearly so.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley arrives with credentials and self-assuredness. But all he can do is try to make X’s and O’s dance.
With spring practice in the rear view and training camp approaching, it’s up to the players to pull off that overdue surprise. Here is one view of the 10 most pivotal among them.
Some of the names are obvious, but the details aren’t, necessarily.
1. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor
He will turn 29 on Aug. 2. His career to date has been OK, but hardly enough to suggest he can make a franchise stuck in a 4-49 slump snap awake.
He will have to be more than he has been in posting a 22-21 record (0-1 postseason). It would be asking too much for him to pull a Rich Gannon.
Yet, rather than assuming Taylor is all he will ever be, it is worth noting that when Gannon was Taylor’s age, he had been in the league roughly as long as Taylor, with a career record of 20-19.
It is highly doubtful Taylor can improve so much that he delivers a three-year run in which his record is 43-15 and he is a league MVP, as Gannon did during a twilight awakening. But isn’t there a chance Taylor can get better, even much better, than he has been?
2. Defensive end Myles Garrett
Garrett identifies to Julius Peppers, and why not?
The year prior to the Carolina Panthers picking Peppers at No. 2 overall, they were 1-15. The year before the Browns spent a No. 1 pick on Garrett, they were 1-15.
Garrett’s scouting profile when he came out of Texas A&M was as strong as Peppers’ when he came out of North Carolina. Garrett has the talent and now the experience (518 snaps in 2017) to be a pass-rushing force. The Panthers won the NFC title in Peppers’ second season while using a new quarterback (Jake Delhomme) who turned 29 before the Super Bowl, having started just two NFL games before his arrival.
3. Running back Carlos Hyde
Running backs his age (27) don’t suddenly become superstars, but he was one of the reasons the San Francisco 49ers forged a 5-0 finish behind new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and he is an upgrade over Isaiah Crowell. His new coaches and teammates have been impressed with his drive and leadership. He’ll be kept fresh. Dorsey and his people talk as if they know something about rookie Nick Chubb that you don’t.
4. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks
The 2017 linebacking group lacked depth even before Jamie Collins missed the last 10 games. Collins is back, and the “depth” is a guy who started in the Super Bowl less than five months ago, Kendricks.
Kendricks is really fast and seems really driven to prove he is really good.
“He is a very competitive, passionate, hard-nosed player,” coordinator Gregg Williams said. “It’s the circle of life. I wanted to draft him when he was coming out, but we did not get him picked soon enough.”
The Eagles took Kendricks midway through the 2012 second round. The Rams, Williams’ team at the time, were up five picks later.
5. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi
Some of the less obvious draft picks made by the previous regime need to start panning out.
The interior of the defensive line could be trouble. It will be less so if Ogunjobi, the first pick of Round 3 from last year’s draft, rises.
He played a modest 301 snaps as a rookie. Trevon Coley, cut by two teams since going undrafted in 2016, led the interior with 656 snaps, followed by departed Danny Shelton’s 467.
Ogunjobi’s scouting reports said things like “fires out as if ready to hurt someone, finishing with a nasty punch.”
With Shelton not panning out, he’ll need to be more than just a theory.
6. Wide receiver Josh Gordon
It’s safe to assume Jarvis Landry will be a producer. He was for four years with the Miami Dolphins. It’s unsafe to assume Corey Coleman will live up to his first-round draft status. His first two years with the Browns were odd.
Gordon has been away, mostly, for a long time. Yet, the intrigue generated by his 1,649-yard year when he was only 22 years old has been rekindled. What if his hard-knocks lessons have left him with a mature approach to expressing talent that hasn’t gone away?
Based on what he showed in the spring, we’re saying there’s a chance.
7. Offensive lineman Austin Corbett
Offensive line coaches hate double moves. That’s why Shon Coleman stayed at right tackle after Joe Thomas got hurt. Spencer Drango came off the bench to play left tackle, allowing Coleman to stay in the comfort zone he was building on the right side.
New regimes love making moves. Coleman will either be the new left tackle or be on the bench. Left guard Joel Bitonio might move to left tackle, in which case rookie Corbett would plug in at left guard. Corbett wasn’t drafted at No. 32 overall to do much sitting. When Bitonio was a rookie No. 35 overall pick in 2014, he played every offensive down during the Browns’ 7-4 start.
8. Tight end David Njoku
He was a 2017 first-round pick amid a highly touted tight end crop. He won’t turn 22 until July, making him more than a year younger than rookie Baker Mayfield.
9. Safety Jabrill Peppers
Forget how deep he lined up last year. It’ll be as if he’s playing a different sport in 2018. Having proved nothing as a rookie, though, he’ll have to prove he’s good at that spot. The rookie cornerback, No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, of course figures into the discussion of what young talent in the secondary might mean.
10. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah
The Ogbah-Myles Garrett tag team was in place last November at Detroit. On one play, Garrett pressured Matthew Stafford into an interception. On two others, Ogbah brought down Stafford with sacks.
Ogbah soon wound up in the X-ray room with a foot injury. He missed the last six games. At 24, in his third pro year, he needs to kick up some tag-team dust.
Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP
The 10 most pivotal Browns heading into training camp
We predict it every year.