Disappointing does not adequately describe the Cleveland Browns’ 2017 campaign. They became just the second team in NFL history to lose all 16 regular season games. The Browns finally hit rock bottom. Quite literally, they can only go up from here.
Luckily, such a torrid season granted them the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, while they also owned the fourth pick in the draft via a trade with the Houston Texans the year prior (a trade which landed the Texans superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson).
With the first pick, after much public debate about who the correct choice should be, the Browns went against popular sentiment and selected the Oklahoma Sooner star and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is a competitor who played with a chip on his shoulder in college. Given the quarterback struggles the Browns have had for two decades, there was a lot of pressure on General Manager John Dorsey to get this pick right. Mayfield is a proven winner, something the Browns have lacked throughout their organization for a long time. There was much debate about who the most talented quarterback in the draft was, but Mayfield is a great choice for a franchise that needs someone who can go out and win games. When his time comes, he will do just that.
But Mayfield will not start right away. The Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor, an experienced quarterback who took the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs last season. Head Coach Hue Jackson gave Taylor the starting nod for the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Taylor is a solid quarterback and is the correct starter for opening day. He does not throw many interceptions and is accurate at short and intermediate throws, but he won’t make explosive plays. Additionally, he is a great mentor for Mayfield and will give the rookie time to develop without costing the team games.
As mentioned earlier, the Browns also had the fourth pick, which they used on cornerback Denzel Ward from Ohio State University. Ward will provide much needed help to a secondary that lacked talent at the position last year. And in a division that touts two of the best receivers in the league in Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, his pass coverage skills are a necessity. To help bolster the defensive back unit, the Browns also traded away quarterback Deshone Kizer for safety Damarious Randall from the Green Bay Packers. On the defensive line, Myles Garrett will look to continue to wreck offensive lines in his second year in the league and will emerge as a top-10 edge rusher in the league this year. Likewise, they added offensive weapons Jarvis Landry at wide receiver and Carlos Hyde at running back.
While these are notable additions, this is still not much different from the team that a year ago failed to muster a single victory. And although the defense looked stout in the preseason, nobody knows if that will transfer to the regular season. Undoubtedly, the 2018 Browns will secure at least one victory this year. But should their fan base expect significant improvement? Probably not. My prediction is the Browns will finish the year with a 5-11 record and will again have a top-10 pick in the draft. But fans will see a budding talent base that, with continued development and additional talent, will compete in years to come. Just not this year.