Predicting the Browns starters for next year

Although training camp hasn’t even begun it’s time for my first prediction of the Browns starters in week one.
Offense
QB Brian Hoyer
RB Ben Tate/Terrance West
WR1 Miles Austin
WR2 Nate Burleson
WR3 Anthony Hawkins
TE Jordan Cameron
LT Joe Thomas
LG John Greco
C Alex Mack
RG Joel Bitonio
RT Mitchell Schwartz

Defense
DE Desmond Bryant
NT Phil Taylor
DE Rubin
ROLB Paul Kruger
ILB Karlos Dansby
ILB Christian Kirksey
LOLB Jabaal Kirksey
CB1 Joe Haden
CB2 Justin Gilbert
FS Tashaun Gipson
SS Donte Whitner

Special Teams
LS Christian Yount
K Billy Cundiff
P Spencer Lanning

Notes- contrary to popular belief, Johnny Manziel is not the Browns starting QB and more than likely won’t be at any stage this season as he is currently third in the depth chart.

Ben Tate and Terrance West are expected to share the snaps at running back although Isaiah Crowell and Dion Lewis may see significant action as well.

Only change on the line sees rookie Joel Bitonio slot in for the departed Shawn Laouvo.

Miles Austin looks set to be the number one wide receiver until Josh Gordon returns whenever that may be. Behind that is unclear with Nate Burleson and Travis Benjamin returning from injury.

On defense the only changes were rookies Christian Kirksey and Justin Gilbert going straight into the team.

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Todd Gurley, top RB in the 2015 class

If the 2015 NFL draft were to be held today it is likely that Todd Gurley from the University of Georgia would be the first RB selected. The star along with Aaron Murray of the a Bulldogs team that was five yards away from a spot in the BCS National Championship berth after falling just short to eventual champions Alabama.

Coming out of high school he was named North Carolina HS player of the year after he finished the year with 2600 yards and 38TDs and lead his team to a 2A State title. A highly regarded recruit he was a four star recruit by both Rivals and Scout with Rivals having higher at #5 at his position while Scout had him at #13. He received 8 scholarship offers from Georgia, Auburn and Clemson among others and was convinced by friend and fellow NC high school star and #1 RB Keith Marshall to choose Georgia over Clemson. He then gave a verbal commitment to Georgia before signing his letter of intent despite visits to Clemson and instate NC State.

While he was expected to get a decent amount of playing time in his freshmen season, no one expected him to explode as he did as he was the named the backup running back behind Redshirt Sophomore. Right from the start he was dominant with 100 yards in his debut against Buffalo on only 8 carries averaging a staggering 12.5 yards a carry as the Bulldogs dominated Buffalo 45-23 in Athens. Georgia and Gurley kept rolling getting 436 yards and 7 TDs as the Georgia rattled off 4 more victories including over SEC Championship game losers Missouri. The highlight of this run was a win over Tennessee when he combined with fellow true Freshmen Keith Marshall for 294 yards and 5 TDs on the ground and were awarded SEC Freshmen of the week award along with Johnny Manziel. Gurley slowed down a bit in the next two games as Georgia lost to South Carolina and Aaron Murray took over against Kentucky with 400 yards passing. He then got red hot again as he ripped off three 100 yard games in a row in a wins over Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn. Then in the SEC Championship against Alabama he ran for 125 yards against the best defense in all the NCAA but Georgia ended up coming up five yards short from scoring the go ahead touchdown on their final drive and lost out on a place in the BCS Championship game. He finished up with another 100 yard rushing game against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. After the season he was named Freshman All-American and 2nd team All-SFEC behind Eddie Lacy. His strong power running style was the perfect compliment to Aaron Murray’s passing abilities and meant that the opposition couldn’t pack the box and or drop numbers back into coverage with these two threats. These two helped along with defensive stars Jarvis Jones and Alex Ogletree helped to bring the Bulldogs to another level. After his break out season he was often compared to Georgia legend Herschel Walker and had one of the best Freshmen seasons since Adrian Peterson’s at Oklahoma back in 2004.

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Gurley breaks throw tackles in his freshmen season

Coming into his second season he was named a consensus preseason All-American and got off to unbelievable start taking his first carry 75 yards for a score in front of 22 NFL scouts on night in which he stood out as the best player on the pitch. For his performance he won his first SEC Offensive Player of the Week award but Georgia ultimately fell short in a shootout 38-35. Next week against South Carolina and Jadeavon Clowney Gurley rushed for 132 on 30 despite a hip flexor injury to give Georgia their first win in four attempts against South Carolina. He played well in the next game against North Texas but after that he struggled with injuries for a while before getting back to top shape with a peak of 122 in a double overtime win against Georgia Tech.

With Aaron Murray moving on to the NFL Gurley will have to carry more of the load offensively but this could work to his advantage to show case his talent to the NFL. A strong down runner, Gurley needs to be stopped before the line or he’ll have three yards in a flash. Contact doesn’t faze him either, in fact he thrives on as often the defender comes off worse. He has deceiving speed as well as seen in his 74 yard run against Clemson and he also is a receiving threat out of the back field being Georgia third leaving with 441 yards. With a trend emerging the last two years of not selecting RB until the second round due to durability concerns it will be difficult to break the cycle but I feel if anyone can next year it is Gurley who really could be the second coming of Herschel Walker.

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Draft of a decade

Coming into this off season we heard a lot from Browns owner Jimmy Haslam about this being a crucial off-season and that it would setup the franchise for years to come. He wasn’t far wrong as the Browns were the winners of the draft and managed to get three picks for next year’s draft as well. It all started off with there first pick at #4, with Clowney,Robinson and Bortles gone the top player left was Sammy Watkins and many expected the Browns to snap him up to play opposite Josh Gordon. Instead the Browns managed to broker a very one-sided deal with the Bills, they switched first round picks this year and the Browns got Buffalo’s 2015 first and fourth round picks. While Watkins has elite potential, he would have to have a hall of fame type career to justify two top 15 picks and it looks like the Browns have gotten the better end of the bargain. With the Browns back at nine now no one was really sure what the would do and we’re a bit surprised when they traded their fifth round pick with Minnesota to move up a spot and take Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. Gilbert was the consensus number one cornerback in the draft and will make a nice pairing with Joe Haden on the other side. It was a bit surprising that Browns spent their first pick on cornerback but it was a wise as he was the best player available and with his man coverage skills will allow Mike Pettine to run his Blitz heavy defensive scheme but one hopes he less of a bust than the Browns last Oklahoma State player, Brandon Weeden.
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Justin Gilbert onstage in Radio City Music Hall in New York with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

With the Browns first pick in the books it was time for them to turn their attention to their second pick and potential QBs and there was plenty of choice with Bortles the only one gone in the top ten. This looked like it was going to change when Dallas came on the clock though as hype levels surrounding Johnny Menziel to the Cowboys reached all time highs after he still on the board when many expected him to be gone but at the last minute Jerry Jones made the sensible decision and selected Zach Martin out of Notre Dame instead. It was all quiet at QB until the Eagles were on the clock and some suggested that Chip Kelly might consider Manziel and the Browns pulled off their third trade in the first round sending their third round pick to Philly in exchange for switching picks. That’s when all he’ll broke loose, as the Browns draft party exploded into noise and all the fans in Radio City Music Hall broke into chants of “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny” as the commissioner walked on stage to announce the Browns pick. The with the moment everyone was waiting for Johnny Manziel was selected. Fans in Cleveland started dreaming of a Manziel to Gordon and 2300 season tickets were sold on the Friday but these were premature.
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Johnny Manziel after being drafted

On Friday evening before the second round ESPN broke news of Josh Gordon possibly being suspended for the entire year because of a failed Marijuana test. This lead for many fans to call for a wide receiver to be drafted but Ray Farmer resisted by shoring up the line by picking Joel Bitonio out Nevada in the second and Christian Kirksey out of Iowa in the third. He then traded back into the third and grabbed RB Terrance West out of Towson. Bitonio is expected to slot in at right guard as a rookie and replace the departed Shawn Lauvao who signed with Washington in Free Agency. Kirksey is expected to compete for a starting role along Karlos Dansby with Chris Robinson and many have West tipped to be the sleeper at RB and some reckon that he may end up being the best back in his class. West scored 38TDs and had 2295 yards rushing last year at Towson and some believe West could beat out Ben Tate as the starting RB this year. Kirksey played inside linebacker his first year in Iowa before moving to outside linebacker but is expected to move back inside for the Browns.

Then in the fourth round the Browns grabbed a steal in small school prospect Pierre Desir out of Lindenwood. Desire was an elite prospect coming out of High School but academic problems meant he couldn’t play division I. A tall CB with a lot of range and who spent the last four years shutting down the opposition best receiver he could potentially see a lot of playing time this year as a nickel CB. The Browns also traded their 7th round pick to Baltimore in exchange for their 6th round pick next year.

Although Josh Gordon’s suspension cast a disappointing shadow on the Browns draft, GM Ray Farmer excelled in his draft and addressed all of the Browns needs bar WR. After the draft Farmer said he was confident he could address the need in Free Agency. Despite this I would give the Browns an A for their draft and I was very impressed with Ray Farmer particularly in getting a first round pick from Buffalo to move just five places.

Final Grade: A

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Could the Browns select Mike Evans at #4?

When the Browns select at #4 many expect that Clemson’s Sammy Watkins will have already been taken off the board or that he would be selected by the Browns if available but if he weren’t would the Browns be willing to take Mike Evans. One of the positions the Browns seem to want to upgrade is the second wide receiver behind Josh Gordon. Although Josh Gordon lead the league in receiving yards the supporting cast behind was a real problem with Greg Little and Devone Bess both regressing badly. Greg Little really went back not even reaching 500 receiving yards and not proving to be a reliable number two and Bess who was brought in to be an experienced third down receiver but issues with drops and mental issues that caused him to be suspended for the final two games and eventually forced his release from the team. Deep threat Travis Benjamin is due to be back for training camp after missing 11 games last season after a torn ACL against Buffalo and is expect to contribute more although it is likely he will be eased in rather than start straight away. This has caused the Browns to stock up on wide receivers in an effort to improve an offense that struggled with bad quarterback play from Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell and a poor rushing attack from Willis McGahee. The Browns have already signed the experienced Nate Burleson and slot receiver Anthony Hawkins during Free Agency but still want to get an upgrade in the draft. Cleveland’s Positional Coaches seem to want Watkins and Head Coach Mike Pettine and Owner Jimmy Haslam seem to be leaning towards Johnny Manziel but what if they went in a different direction and choose Manziel’s teammate Mike Evans.

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Evans playing against Sam Houston State this year

Evans was an elite receiver and took the SEC by storm last year in an explosive A&M offense and came to national attention after exploding to the tune of 279 yards and a TD against defending champions Alabama in College Station. He broke his receiving record against Auburn later in the season with 287 yards and 4TDs. With a jaw-dropping combination of height and speed 6’5” and 4.53 40 has all the foundations to be a truly elite receiver in the NFL. With Josh Gordon on one side it would leave Evans with plenty of space to operate in on the other side and would be a big target for a rookie QB should the Browns draft one. He would be a big threat in the red zone as well with his height and the opposition already having to worry about Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron and would be a big threat with his height and would help Cleveland improve in a statistic which they really struggled last year. The extra room that having Gordon, Evans and Cameron on the pitch would leave extra space for Ben Tate to run into as the defence couldn’t afford to stack the box against three such talent receivers and not expect to get burnt with all the Play Action that Kyle Shanahan is expected to run. If Johnny Manziel is selected as well it would give him a nice safety net and a sense of familiarity. Though selecting Evans at #4 would be a sensible option it would be a bit of a reach and the Browns may look at trading back a few spaces with someone like Atlanta or Minnesota and still grab Evans and get some extra picks while still getting who they wanted all along. While the Browns may not end up drafting Mike Evans if they did it would an intriguing prospect.

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