If there were one word to describe the Cleveland Browns legacy it would be underwhelming. The fact that Browns haven’t won a playoff game since 1994 along with not having a reliable starting quarterback since Bernie Kosar is definitely disconcerting. On top of that, the Browns have been without a prestigious head coach since the mid to late 1980’s when they had Marty Schottenheimer. Unlike the Baltimore Ravens who appeared to have faired well ever since football returned to Charm City, the Browns have seemingly regressed from a team that was consistently in the playoffs throughout the 80’s into a franchise that has almost designated itself as permanent division bottom feeders.
With that being said, if the Browns were to ever make a comeback in their division, the timing couldn’t be more crucial. Between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens roster decimations, the Browns have a chance to find their grove in a division that has been unforgiving when it comes to inconsistency. Assuming quarterback Brandon Weeden can have a breakout sophomore season, the Browns need to contemplate how to utilize the talent they currently they have on their roster. Along with that, the Browns need to look to their young draft prospects to see if any of these potential superstars are able to avidly contribute at the start of the regular season.
To say that Brandon Weeden had an unimpressive first season would be an understatement. While Weeden threw for decent yardage as a rookie quarterback (3,385 during 2012 regular season), his accuracy and scoring capabilities were lackluster at best. During the 2012 season, Weeden completed only 57.4% of his passes and threw for only 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Although it may be unfair to condemn any rookie for having a shoddy season, this is where the Browns issues begin and end. The fact that the Browns haven’t had a standout franchise quarterback in over two decades is undoubtedly the main reason for their underachieving ways. While Weeden is not the only culprit that has contributed to the Browns losing ways, it is the crux of how and why the Browns haven’t been competitive in some time.
However, even with their numerous hindrances, the Browns have at least one reliable component to their franchise that could prove to be the spark that gives this team life again. Despite the fact that the Browns running attack didn’t garner them much yardage from game to game (99.6 yards per game, 24th in NFL), they may have found an up and coming rusher who is on the fast track to being one of the premiere running backs in the league. After the Cleveland Browns in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft drafted him, Trent Richardson immediately showed signs of being a game changer. In his first season with the Browns, Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. Along with this impressive feat, Richardson proved he could also be an equally talented receiver when he caught 51 passes for an average of 7.2 yards per reception and one touchdown. If Richardson gets more touches, he could easily become the browns franchise back that could contribute in every facet of the game and not just in the red zone.
However, while the Browns may have found the missing link to their woeful offensive ways, they are still without a reliable defense that is capable of preventing opposing offenses from scoring. Luckily, the Browns looked to the 2013 draft to replenish their shoddy defense that has time and time again relinquished points. In the first round of the draft, the Browns selected outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo from LSU. An explosive pass rusher, Mingo is solid against the rush and has the quickness and strength to pressure even the most confident of veteran quarterbacks.
The Browns didn’t stop there with drafting highly touted defensive weapons. In the third and sixth rounds of the draft, the Browns selected corner back Leon McFadden from San Diego State and safety Jamoris Slaughter from Notre Dame. Along with finding reliable talent to fill out their secondary that allowed 245.2 yards last season (25th in NFL), the Browns more specifically found a diamond in the rough with McFadden. Between his imposing physicality and overall swiftness, McFadden is a dynamic corner who can usually lockdown most receivers whom he comes into contact with.
When all is said and done, the Browns are still a franchise that is in the midst of rebuilding its roster from the ground up. While the Browns rookie prospects may offer some insightful intrigue into what this team could achieve in the next few years, any immediate signs of success are still clouded in mystery. The main question mark on the Browns roster is obviously their quarterback Brandon Weeden who needs to have a solid season if this team wants to have an optimistic outlook going forward. Even though the city of Cleveland may have to wait a few years before they see the fruits of their labor, if the Browns can continue to draft well year in and year out, they’ll be way ahead of the curve when perennial playoff franchises are forced to rebuild themselves.