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Cleveland Browns 2021 Season Preview: Expectations sky high this season

The Cleveland Browns 2021 season preview is one for the ages. They've struggled since returning to the city, but now could be their time.

No team has expectations for their 2021 season preview quite like the Cleveland Browns. After years of tanking and acquiring high-end draft capital, the team is finally in a place where division titles and conference championship appearances are expected. Last year was their first winning season since 2007. They haven’t had repeat winning seasons since 1987-1988.

Cleveland Browns 2021 season preview

What makes the Browns’ season preview so darned optimistic is their lenient strength of schedule. They play four games against teams projected to win double-digit games in 2021: Ravens twice, Packers, and Chiefs.

However, their schedule still projects as the third-easiest in the league. Games against the Texans, Bears, Lions, and Bengals (twice) should all be penciled in as probable wins. Moreover, their roster should be favored in games against the Vikings, Chargers, Cardinals, Broncos, Steelers (twice), Patriots, and Raiders.

The state of Ohio (sans Bengals fans) should collectively lick their lips seeing that.

Offseason additions and losses

The Browns always seem to stay busy in the offseason, no matter who’s calling the shots. The 2021 offseason is no exception. They added some integral pieces to the defense and retained a nice offensive piece as well.

The acquisitions of John Johnson III and Troy Hill were phenomenal additions. Johnson is one of the most versatile safeties in the NFL, while Hill has been a good nickel cornerback over the past few seasons. Their additions don’t just bring talent to the back end, but it also provides depth. Last season, the Browns lost Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams early and were unable to recover. Now, it appears the Browns are three safeties and four cornerbacks deep.

Takk McKinley and Jadeveon Clowney slide into Cleveland on one-year deals to play opposite resident cyborg Myles Garrett. Things never clicked for McKinley in Atlanta, but he did enjoy at least a little production for them in his rookie and sophomore seasons. Clowney looks to bounce back from two straight underwhelming years. Playing opposite the best pass rusher in the league could do wonders for both players.

Anthony Walker and Malik Jackson round out the defensive free agents signed by Cleveland during the offseason. Neither player really moves the needle from a starting perspective, but both provide depth at their respective positions.

2021 NFL Draft

The Browns followed the same recipe in the NFL Draft as they did in free agency. They attacked the defensive side of the ball early and sprinkled in some offense along the way.

Greg Newsome was an outstanding addition to the Browns late in Round 1. He’s a fluid corner with outrageous cover skills but with a worrisome injury history. However, the upside is fine to covet because they have Williams, Denzel Ward, and Troy Hill all in-house.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was the LB1 for many on the internet in 2021, even though he was more of a hybrid safety/linebacker at Notre Dame. Like Newsome, he fell in the draft because of injury concerns. Still, JOK has the ability to immediately elevate what has been a weakness on the Browns now for years. Hopefully, he grasps playing as a box linebacker quickly.

Anthony Schwartz and James Hudson were the offensive sprinkles added in the 2021 NFL Draft for the Browns. Schwartz immediately becomes one of the fastest players in the league. Baker Mayfield was one of the league’s best deep-ball passers last season, and the Browns should try and use Schwartz’s speed and Mayfield’s arm to utilize that speed. Hudson is a nice developmental piece behind two Pro Bowl-caliber tackles.

Day 3

In Round 4, the Browns went with the local kid: Ohio State’s Tommy Togiai. He was great value where they got him. He won’t bring much from a pass-rush perspective, but he should contribute early as a run defender. They followed that up by dipping into the linebacker pool with their selection of West Virginia’s Tony Fields. They tripled down on defense with the selection of Georgia free safety Richard LeCounte.

Their final selection was UCLA offensive weapon, Demetric Felton. Felton played running back for the Bruins, but he played as a wide receiver at the Senior Bowl. He tested poorly, but his tape was outstanding.

Where do Cleveland players rank in PFN’s Top 100?

The Browns certainly aren’t light on PFN’s Top 100 NFL Players list. They have six players on the list for their season preview and could have even more after 2021.

98) Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End

Clowney made the list, but we really haven’t seen the top-100 version of Clowney for a few seasons. He’s still an outstanding run defender, but since 2019, he’s struggled to produce as a pass rusher. With a clean bill of health in 2021 and an alien playing opposite him, he should see an uptick in production.

91) Baker Mayfield, Quarterback

Mayfield still gets a lot of vitriol, but he’s shown steady improvement since the departure of Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield highlighted his deep passing last season, but he proved more comfortable working around pressure in 2021. Steady improvements on the offensive line have supplemented his growth as well. However, without a healthy Odell Beckham, Mayfield really didn’t have great weapons to work with through the air.

77) Wyatt Teller, Guard

Teller came out of nowhere in 2021 to have one of the best seasons of any offensive lineman — if not the best. Teller’s physicality has been his calling card since coming out of Virginia Tech. His technical improvements are what got him to an All-Pro level last season.

76) Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle

Conklin left Tennessee and immediately made a drastic difference on the Browns’ offensive line. He’s a physical blocker that fits the Browns’ run style and excels as a pass protector. He is one of the best right tackles currently in the game.

42) Nick Chubb, Running Back

Chubb is the best runner in the NFL. His vision, patience, balance, and explosion are unbelievable. He averaged a ridiculous 5.6 yards per attempt in 2020. Nobody had a higher 10-plus-yard run rate than Chubb in 2020. He’s a great mix of big-play monster and traditional bell-cow back. Luckily, the Browns also have Kareem Hunt, so they don’t have to put a full workload on Chubb.

10) Myles Garrett, Defensive End

Garrett could easily be higher than No. 10 on the list. He’s the best defensive end in the game, and he’s the only player in the league with the potential to be his position’s Aaron Donald. They don’t make humans like Garrett. His high school photos could be used on late-night shows, as he appeared as a chiseled giant at 17 years old. The term “built different” was probably coined the first time someone with influence saw Garrett.

Browns 2021 prediction

Kevin Stefanski leads the Browns in his second season as head coach. That continuity is massive for the Browns’ offense heading into 2021. The offense has the talent to take the next steps, but they were already top 10 in efficiency in 2020.

Alex Van Pelt also heads into his second season in his current role. Cleveland’s offense improved from 2019 to 2020, and with an improved Mayfield in Year 4, this offense could be one of the most well-balanced in the league between rush and pass efficiency. The play-action wrinkles will be massive toward the team’s offensive success.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods won a ring with the Broncos as a defensive backs coach. His defense was bad in 2020, but the team suffered catastrophic injuries on the back end that they could not recover from. He must find better results in 2021, given the resources allocated to the defense.

Offense

If Odell Beckham Jr. remains healthy in 2021, this offense could be part of a Super Bowl-contending team. The Browns’ offensive line has improved into one of the best in the league. They have what is possibly the best two-headed monster at running back in the league. A healthy OBJ elevates them to a different level if he can find his groove with Mayfield.

Defense

The defense must improve this season — it was the team’s Achilles heel in 2020. Now, they have the talent at all three levels of the field. Furthermore, their talent goes deep in the secondary, something they could not claim last year.

2021 Browns record prediction

The Cleveland Browns won 11 games in 2020 and should have an improved team in 2021, at least based on their season preview. The easy schedule helps breed overwhelming optimism about what their season could look like. A 12-5 season is easily in the realm of possibilities, but a conservative 11-6 estimate seems fair. Their playoff success is what matters at the end of the day.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch

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