Predicting the Cleveland Browns Starting Lineup After the Start of Free Agency
The Cleveland Browns are changing right before your very eyes. After the first wave of free agency, they have added a linebacker, safety, cornerback, tight end and wide receiver. With all these additions and 10 draft picks still in the future, the Browns will certainly have a very different look next season.
The Browns offense was in desperate need of a face lift. Last season they were 29th in the league in passing yards per attempt and tied for 21st in the league in rushing yards per attempt. The changes on that side of the football were inevitable.
The defense, however, had a good season statistically in 2013. They were tied for eighth in the league in opponent’s yards per attempt. The problem was they faded down the stretch and allowed over 28 points per game while losing 10 of their last 11.
So who will be the group that will hopefully change the Browns’ losing ways? Let’s take a look at what the starting lineup would be as of today.
Starter: Brian Hoyer
As of now, the starting quarterback job is Brian Hoyer’s to lose. Of course that is also because they have not drafted a quarterback yet. The Browns will definitely select one in May, and how early that happens could determine if Hoyer keeps the job.
If the Browns select a developmental quarterback after the first round, then Hoyer will probably win the job. If they take a quarterback with the 4th or 26th pick, however, then Hoyer would be the backup next season.
Starter: Ben Tate
When the Browns committed just over $6 million to Ben Tate for two years, it was a sign they think they have their feature back for next season. The deal was a relative bargain, and the short length of the contract ensures Tate stays hungry.
As of now, Dion Lewis will get some carries at running back too. I fully expect the Browns to add another back to that stable through the draft. With Tate’s injury history the Browns need to make sure they have multiple options in case he goes down again.
Starters: Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Andrew Hawkins
Obviously Josh Gordon, who arrived as one of the best receivers in the NFL last season, is the cornerstone of the receiving corps. Andrew Hawkins, who the Browns officially signed to a four-year deal on Tuesday per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, will be locked in as the slot receiver.
The only question mark is Greg Little. He once again underperformed in 2013 and will most likely be replaced by a high draft pick come May. Travis Benjamin will also be in the mix as a fourth receiver and unique weapon.
Starter: Jordan Cameron
The Browns may have signed Jim Dray for depth at tight end, but he will not unseat Pro Bowler Jordan Cameron as the starter. Cameron caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
He started off as one of the hottest receivers in the league but cooled down the stretch. Over his final seven games he caught just one touchdown pass and eclipsed 50 receiving yards just twice. The Browns need him to be more of a consistent threat next season.
Starters: Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Jason Pinkston and Mitchell Schwartz
The interesting thing about this projected starting lineup is that it will probably be completely different by training camp. The Browns struggled mightily on the offensive line last season. They could not rush the ball effectively and gave up the third most sacks in the NFL.
The Browns have done nothing to improve in this department during free agency. This means they will likely draft multiple starters come May. John Greco, Jason Pinkston and even Mitchell Schwartz could all possibly be replaced.
Starters: Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin
This is still the deepest portion of the Browns roster. Desmond Bryant was cleared to return to football activities after missing the end of 2013 with an irregular heartbeat.
The Browns depth will be important in head coach Mike Pettine’s defense because it is a true hybrid. He will use three and four linemen formations so Billy Winn, John Hughes and Armonty Bryant will all be utilized as well.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (h/t Cleveland.com) reported that the team is interested in former Buffalo Bills defensive end Alex Carrington. If the team lands him, then there will be stiff competition in training camp.
Starters: Barkevious Mingo, Craig Robertson, Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger
The Browns made a clear upgrade when they released veteran D’Qwell Jackson and signed Karlos Dansby. They still have to address the other inside linebacker position because Craig Robertson was an obvious weak link on defense last season.
Barkevious Mingo played most of the downs late in the 2013 season as Jabaal Sheard struggled with injuries. The Browns will look to Mingo to make huge strides this year. He had a solid rookie campaign but faded hard at the end of the year.
Starters: Joe Haden and Buster Skrine
The Browns, who are currently trying to work out a contract extension with Joe Haden, are in an interesting position at cornerback. They have an All-Pro in Haden, and Buster Skrine is coming off of his best season as a professional.
While they could certainly enter the 2014 season with Skrine as their second corner, they would be much better served to move him to the nickel back position. Skrine is better inside and would instantly improve their coverage on third receivers.
The Browns signed cornerback Isaiah Trufant for depth, but they will probably look to add a starter in the draft.
Starters: Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson
The Browns brought back a hometown kid in Donte Whitner and will rely on him to continue the impressive play T.J. Ward had at the safety position last season. He is coming off of one of his best seasons in which he had 63 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Tashaun Gipson took everyone by surprise last year when he not only won the free safety position but performed very well. He had 63 tackles and five interceptions. At just 23 years old, he looks like a long-term starter for the Browns defense.