How many years away from the NFL playoffs are the Cleveland Browns?
The Cleveland Browns once stood as one of the NFL’s proudest franchises. Their history remains littered with great games, long runs in the NFL playoffs, and Hall of Fame players.
Unfortunately, when former owner Art Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore, the foundation of that organization left Cleveland as well. The reborn Cleveland Browns have produced just one playoff appearance in 17 seasons. During that time, they’ve gone through 26 starting quarterbacks and at least six rebuilds.
However, there is hope. The front office under former general manager Ray Farmer started making better decisions in the draft. The team also made several moves to stock up on draft picks. Now, under executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown, the Browns appear primed to finally make their move in the AFC North.
Starting over … again
Beginning with the 2014 draft, the Browns selected five players in the first three rounds in four consecutive years. They are set to do the same, barring a trade or two, in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns stuck to a strategy of building through youth, despite some misses in 2014.
The Browns roster still needs plenty of work, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The team may have struggled to a 1-15 record in 2016, but they exhibited a fire and resilience under new head coach Hue Jackson. It was a far cry from recent seasons when the team would roll over when facing adversity. The Browns have long struggled with a lack of discipline and talent, but the roster has finally started coming together.
The retooled offense
Looking at the current roster, the Browns have addressed their skill positions well, albeit with several failures over the last four years. They finally appear to have found their quarterback in the talented DeShone Kizer. The Browns drafted the former Notre Dame quarterback in the second round of the 2017 draft. He displays a maturity and willingness to learn that previous Browns franchise savior Johnny Manziel did not.
At wide receiver, Cleveland picked up deep threat Kenny Britt to team up with speedster Corey Coleman. While Britt is not a permanent solution as a No. 1 receiver, he adds an important element to the Browns’ passing game that has been lacking.
The tight end position was addressed with Miami’s David Njoku, who has the physical ability to develop into a Pro Bowler sooner rather than later. The Browns view him as the successor to veteran Gary Barnidge, who served as one of the team’s few weapons over the years, but was limited by injuries and age.
The improved defense
Defensively, the Browns still have cornerback Joe Haden manning one side of the field. One of 2016’s most improved players, Jamar Taylor, returns on the other side as the No. 2 corner. Couple that with the addition of the multi-faceted Jabrill Peppers and former first round draft pick Calvin Pryor, and the Browns’ secondary appears to be in good hands.
Cleveland fielded one of the league’s worst front-sevens last season. Still, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah led the team with 5.5 sacks and showed that he could, at times, dominate a game. Ogbah teams up with 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick Miles Garrett this season.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams specializes in working with defensive ends in a 4-3, which should mean a massive improvement in production from the defensive line. It also means that there will be less pressure on the linebackers.
Primed for the future
There are still several holes on this roster, but the pieces are in place for success. The Browns will likely win between four-to-six games this season, and they are loaded with 12 picks for the 2018 NFL Draft. Those 12 picks include 5 of the first 64 available.
The sky is the limit for this team. The question is only how long will it take for the roster to produce a playoff bid? The answer is sooner than most fans think.
The Browns did the smart thing by addressing the skill positions first in the last couple of seasons, which gives them time to develop while Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta fill in the roster around them. The development of players like Kizer, Coleman, and Peppers will be crucial to the team’s future. However, given how Hue Jackson established himself as the team’s leader in 2016, I expect the Browns to finally end the years of failure under previous head coaches. He will spearhead their growth.
The most important factor in the Browns’ success remains owner Jimmy Haslam, who finally made a long-term commitment to Brown and DePodesta in the last two years. The lack of long-term commitment to a plan was the biggest problem with the Browns since 1999. Haslam has settled in on this front office and given it a vote of confidence for the future.
The new stability provided by Haslam and his staff puts the Browns in position to win down the road. Given the current state of the team and the condition of the AFC North, don’t be surprised to see the Cleveland Browns win a playoff spot as soon as 2018. The Browns are finally heading in the right direction, and for their fans, it’s about time.