5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make the Cleveland Browns' Final 53-Man Roster

Will BurgeContributor IJuly 7, 2014

5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make the Cleveland Browns' Final 53-Man Roster

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Some players enter training camp knowing full well they are not guaranteed a roster spot. They will have to catch the coach’s eye and make an impression to bump someone else off of the team. The Cleveland Browns enter training camp with plenty of those candidates.

    For those trying to steal a roster spot, there is one major factor leaning in their favor. The Browns have a brand new coaching staff that has almost no allegiances to any current players. This should make for a training camp full of surprise endings.

    With Mike Pettine as head coach, defense will be a main focus for him. Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator, will be the one monitoring the offensive side of the football closely. They will eventually decide the fate of the 53 men who will make the final roster.

    Here are five dark horses Pettine and Shanahan should take a close look at during training camp.

Isaiah Crowell

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    I have written about running back Isaiah Crowell repeatedly this offseason, and with good reason. He has the natural ability to not only steal a roster spot from someone but also make an impact on the field.

    If Crowell did not have his off-the-field issues at Georgia, he probably would have been drafted in the first two days. Unfortunately, those issues happened. He ended up finishing his career at Alabama State and now faces an uphill battle to make the Browns roster.

    “It was kind of a wake-up call. I felt like I should have been drafted,” Crowell told George Thomas and Nate Ulrich of the Akron-Beacon Journal. “I can’t let it worry me. I can’t dwell on it. I just have to move on and work hard and just prove myself on the field.”

    I like the fact that Crowell still has confidence in his abilities, and hopefully he can turn his draft snub into fuel to power his trip to an NFL career in Cleveland.

Chandler Jones

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Through rookie camp and OTAs, one of the unknown wide receivers stood out above the rest. Chandler Jones, just 5’9” tall, made impressive catches and showed polished route-running ability.

    Receiver Josh Gordon, who was already facing a possible suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for the second straight season, was also arrested for DWI this weekend in North Carolina.

    The troubled receiver will leave a monumental void on the Browns roster if he is suspended for an extended period of time. The Browns will need options, and Jones could be one. With Nate Burleson and Miles Austin still fighting to bounce back from injuries, the Browns do not have a reliable pass-catcher available.

    If Jones can continue to impress during training camp, he could be in line for a roster spot and some playing time.

Ray Agnew

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    The Browns have been trying to move tight end MarQueis Gray into the backfield and make him a fullback. While he certainly has the inside track for that job, it is not an easy transition. If he cannot make a smooth transition during training camp, then Ray Agnew could steal the job out from under him.

    Agnew, an undrafted rookie from Southern Illinois, is a prototypical fullback. Listed at 5’10”, 247 pounds, he is a human battering ram. He was the lead blocker in an offense that averaged 153 yards per game last season.

    Gray is probably the guy the coaches want to win the job. He adds versatility and a pass-catching ability that Agnew simply does not possess. The problem is that Gray needs to gain weight and prove he can sustain being a lead blocker in an NFL offense.

    If he can’t prove those things, then the Browns have a nice option to keep on the team in Agnew instead.

Jacobbi McDaniel

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel was one of the most hyped prospects in the country heading into Florida State in 2009. However, because of injuries, he never quite lived up to the hype.

    While he was certainly productive, he missed most of 2011 and all of 2012 with an ankle injury and never posted the stats many thought he would. McDaniel is trying to finally realize the potential that most scouts envisioned.

    Now totally healthy and ready to prove that he should have been drafted, McDaniel will try and steal a roster spot on a team that is deep on the defensive line. Luckily for him, Mike Pettine will enter this training camp with a clean slate for all players, meaning McDaniel has a chance.

    McDaniel is a big man. At 6’0”, 306 pounds, he is big but has great feet and moves very quickly. “I came to Cleveland with one thing on my mind — to turn my dream into reality,” McDaniel told Ira Schoffel of the Tallahassee Democrat.

    McDaniel could be the type of guy who makes the cut because he is a cheaper alternative to more expensive veterans. Guys like Ahtyba Rubin, who will count for $8.175 million against the Browns’ salary cap in 2014, according to Spotrac.com, need to be very weary of McDaniel, as he could send them into free agency ahead of schedule.

Connor Shaw

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    The most likely scenario for the Browns is that they start Brian Hoyer, have Johnny Manziel as the backup and keep Tyler Thigpen as the inactive veteran who roams the sidelines on Sundays. That does not mean that Connor Shaw cannot steal Thigpen’s roster spot, however.

    If the Browns decide that Hoyer, who has just four NFL starts under his belt, has enough veteran savvy, then they may opt for the younger, cheaper and more talented Shaw. The other possibility is that Manziel wins the starting job and Hoyer is placed on the sidelines, meaning Thigpen’s experience would not be as necessary.

    Kyle Shanahan could use a guy like Thigpen and his experience with the offense, but the Browns will also need to figure out if they want to weigh the risk of letting Connor Shaw pass through waivers. If they cut him in the hopes that he will end up on their practice squad, then they will be doing so at the mercy of every other NFL team that may need a young developmental quarterback.

    That might just be enough to keep him on the 53-man roster.