For the first time in 2019, the Cleveland Browns have lost a game. In their third preseason match, the Browns fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 13-12. Even though (most of) the starting offense played the entire first half, Cleveland was unable to manage a touchdown.
It was a rough game all around, but there were a couple bright spots. Here are how the stocks of a few players are faring as the team enters the final week of the preseason.
DT Devaroe Lawrence
Signing Sheldon Richardson in free agency bolstered the Browns starting defensive line, but depth at defensive tackle was still a major issue. Trevon Coley was considered the third DT in the rotation, and he offers next to nothing in terms of pass rush. Lawrence suffered what was originally thought to be a serious knee injury during joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts, but has played in all three preseason games, logging three sacks and two QB hurries in those contests, along with an excellent pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus.
If he is able to continue this performance into the regular season, Cleveland will benefit greatly by not having to play Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi for the entire game, allowing them to rest and conserve energy for crucial passing situations.
DE Olivier Vernon
Vernon was always going to start opposite of Myles Garrett, and expectations for him are high, because of games like Friday’s. He finished with two sacks, one QB hit, and one hurry, while wreaking havoc against Tampa Bay’s Demar Dotson, one of the NFL’s better right tackles. Vernon did all this playing left defensive end, a transition that is not easy; he had primarily played on the right side his whole career but is switching spots because of the presence of Garrett. If this is a sign of things to come, the Browns could have the NFL’s most feared DE duo.
LB Joe Schobert
After Schobert led the league in missed tackles last season, many were calling for him to be replaced, especially following rookie Mack Wilson’s dominant first preseason game.
But Schobert is also one of the very best coverage linebackers in football, and he showed why against the Buccaneers. He earned an elite overall grade from PFF and did not allow a catch in coverage, breaking up one pass and also collecting a QB hit. Schobert made the Pro Bowl in 2017 but was snubbed last season after missing three games, during which the entire Cleveland defense suffered tremendously. Now healthy and playing behind a much-improved defensive front, Schobert is primed for a big season, and a big contract extension to match.
K Austin Seibert
Drafted in the fifth round, Seibert entered training camp with a de facto advantage in the coming kicker battle with the incumbent Greg Joseph, but neither player has been able to distance themselves from the other, and the reason for that is not because both have been stellar. But, even though head coach Freddie Kitchens said to not read too much into the decision and results, Seibert was given the entire third game to kick, and he took advantage of his opportunity, nailing all four of his field goal attempts, including a 54-yarder. Seibert likely hasn’t locked up the kicking job just yet, but his big game coupled with his status as a draft pick gives him the upper hand as the preseason winds down.
WRs Derrick Willies, Jaelen Strong, Ishmael Hyman, Dorian Baker
Baker Mayfield had an off night, but he still gave his targets plenty of chances to make plays, and they dropped the ball, literally. No player was safe from drops, even Rashard Higgins and TE Demetrius Harris, who both dropped perfectly placed touchdown passes, although they would have been difficult catches.
Out of 18 targets, the group of Willies, Strong, Hyman, and Baker caught just five passes. Those four players are locked in a fierce battle for the last two (temporarily three) WR spots, and their performance may have opened the door for 2018 sixth-rounder Damion Ratley, who hasn’t played in the preseason, and newcomer Braxton Miller.
The offensive line as a whole
Mayfield was under duress all night and was hit multiple times, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen to your franchise QB during the preseason, or ever, really. Joel Bitonio was the only starter who blocked well for Mayfield, with LT Greg Robinson, RG Eric Kush, and RT Chris Hubbard noticeably struggling. The line will miss Kevin Zeitler, but many fans thought that with improved coaching from James Campen and continued scheming from Kitchens and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, that the unit would be able to replicate its success from the latter half of 2018. But a weakness can only be covered for so long, and if a middling pass rushing team like Tampa Bay can throw the whole offense off with consistent pressure, this season is going to be incredibly disappointing and frustrating.
LB Mack Wilson
Wilson was about as close to perfect as a player can get in his preseason debut, intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown. Against the Colts, he came back down to earth, and against the Buccaneers, he struggled mightily. PFF graded him as the worst player of the game, as he missed a tackle and gave up two catches for 31 yards and a touchdown.
His inexperience was apparent, as he often seemed confused. He may have been a steal based on name recognition, but expecting first-round production out of the fifth-round rookie is unrealistic. He should end up being a solid player in the future, but right now he’ll see the field most on special teams, at least until his mental game catches up to the physical aspect.