After their best season in recent memory, the Cleveland Browns are getting ready for the 2019 season with the hope of winning their division, the AFC North, and earning an ever-elusive playoff berth.
The Browns finished the 2018 season with a 7-8-1 record. For the first time in eight years they did not find themselves at the bottom of the division. However, after a midseason firing of then Head Coach Hue Jackson, Cleveland began the offseason trying to find a new coach to lead their dynamic young core.
General Manager John Dorsey decided to not offer interim coach Gregg Williams the permanent position, opting instead for offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens as the new head coach for the Browns. From Kitchens’ early interviews, he appears to be a great representative of the city: hard-nosed, no-nonsense and dedicated to the job. He’s not flashy; he’s productive. After he took over the offensive coordinator job in week nine, quarterback Baker Mayfield’s numbers improved dramatically: his quarterback rating jumped from 36 to 70, and his completion percentage improved 10 percentage points to 68 percent. Those numbers are precisely the reason why Kitchens earned the job, and the organization hopes the team can continue to build a lethal offense.
The next step for the Browns is to attract more talent to the roster. Offensively, they have a few cornerstones already. Mayfield is the franchise quarterback; he proved that last season. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is one of the better pass catchers in the league and is a reliable target for Mayfield. Running back Nick Chubb demonstrated his abilities as an effective runner. Tight end David Njoku has the athleticism to be great but has struggled with drops in his short career. Additionally, the Browns made the controversial decision to sign running back Kareem Hunt who is currently under investigation after a video surfaced of him violently kicking a woman. From a strictly football perspective, Hunt is as good as it gets and could be a dynamic force in the backfield.
On defense, defensive end Myles Garrett is one of the best pass rushers in the league, while cornerback Denzel Ward showcased his amazing coverage abilities last year as a rookie. Defensive back Damarious Randall had a solid year as well. On both offense and defense, there are plenty of young players for the Browns to be excited about the future.
Now, heading into free agency and the NFL Draft, the question is: how do they improve from here?
One glaring area of improvement is in run defense. Cleveland surrendered the fifth-most rushing yards in the league last season and were top 10 in rushing yards given up per attempt. They’ll definitely need upgrades along the defensive line and improved linebackers to strengthen their defense against the run. The retirement of Joe Thomas two years ago has left a hole at the left tackle position that still needs to be addressed.
However, the top priority for the Browns is not on the defensive side of the ball, and it’s not even at left tackle. Yes, those are crucial positions that need attention. But it is clear that the strategy this offseason has been to build one of the best offenses in the league. They hired a new coach, who specializes in offense. They signed one of the best running backs in the league even with an inexcusable off the field issue. So, the Browns should look to add a dominant wide receiver to their already impressive offensive core.
Currently, Mayfield only has two capable options in Landry and Njoku, and Landry is the only one who can truly be trusted. If Mayfield can have an excellent season without high-end weapons on the outside, imagine what he could do next year if, for example, the Browns draft a wide receiver in the first round of this year’s draft. There are plenty of potential dominant receivers available that Cleveland should strongly consider adding even more weapons for their star quarterback. If they do, Cleveland will have a top five offense in the NFL by this time next year, and would definitely be playing at least one more game than Browns fans are accustomed to.