The Cleveland Browns have gone from being the biggest laughingstock in the NFL to the talk of the town basically overnight, as the Browns have had a very busy offseason in which they have landed names such as Odell Beckham Jr., Kareem Hunt, Sheldon Richardson, and Olivier Vernon.
While Cleveland looks very good on paper, we have no idea how all of this talent is going to translate, so while the Browns certainly look good, we should all probably exercise some caution on Cleveland going into 2019.
Still, it’s hard to deny that the Browns have a very high ceiling, and if all goes according to plan, they could even be a Super Bowl contender.
Again, though, that is much easier said than done, and in a very deep AFC, not to mention a tough AFC North division, it is going to be tough for Cleveland to dominate right off the bat.
Here are four bold predictions for the Browns entering this season.
4. They Will Struggle Out of the Gate
I know Browns fans are already penciling in double-digit wins for this season, but has anyone taken a look at Cleveland’s schedule early on?
The Browns will open up the season against a tough Tennessee Titans team before going on the road to take on a much-improved New York Jets squad. They will then return home to battle the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams before back-to-back away games against the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
That is a brutal schedule, and it would not be the least bit surprising to see Cleveland start the year something like 3-4.
3. Nick Chubb Will Hold the No. 1 Running Back Spot
While the Browns signed Hunt, Hunt will be sidelined for the first eight games as he serves his suspension.
It might be natural to assume that Hunt will take the starting job from Nick Chubb once he returns, but I don’t think that will happen.
After all, Chubb had a very impressive rookie year in 2018, rushing for 996 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and there is something to be said for the familiarity that Chubb brings to Baker Mayfield and the rest of the Browns offense.
Hunt may have been one of the best backs in the league during his time in Kansas City, but he is going to have a difficult time supplanting Chubb.
2. Myles Garrett Will Total 15 Sacks
Myles Garrett has certainly lived up to his billing as the No. 1 overall pick from 2017, as he registered seven sacks in 11 games during his rookie campaign and then racked up 13.5 sacks over the course of a full season in 2018.
But now, with the additions of guys like Richardson and Vernon, Garrett will have a lot more help up front, which should free him up and prevent double teams.
That means Garrett should be able to get into the backfield more often, which could very well lead to Garrett finishing with 15 sacks or more in 2019.
The biggest problem with Cleveland this past year was its defense, and, going into 2019, its biggest question mark is, once again, its defense.
Garrett and the much-improved Browns defensive front could change that.
1. Baker Mayfield Won’t Take a Big Step Forward
This is the one that is probably going to raise some hairs: Mayfield may not take the big step that people are expecting this year, and for numerous reasons.
First of all, quarterbacks generally don’t improve much from Year 1 to Year 2. It’s pretty well-known that the pivotal season for most signal-callers is Year 3, and after having such a great rookie year, it seems hard to imagine Mayfield getting that much better in 2019, even with the addition of guys like Beckham and Hunt.
Second, there will be much more pressure on Mayfield in 2019 than 2018, as this time, he and the Browns actually have expectations. No one expected the Browns to be any good this past season, but with some considering Cleveland a Super Bowl contender going into 2019, Mayfield will have a pretty big burden to carry.
Finally, defenses are going to adjust. Mayfield took the league by storm this past year, but don’t think for a second that teams have not watched film on him and are not ready to challenge him in 2019.