Breaking their 18-year drought from the NFL Playoffs, the Cleveland Browns enter 2021 as a team to be reckoned with in the AFC North and beyond. Thanks to diligent maneuvering of the salary cap and critical additions, the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart is loaded with talent at every level. With the first week of free agency behind us, how does the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart shape up as attention turns toward the 2021 NFL Draft?
Cleveland Browns Depth Chart
If the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart plays to their potential, there is no reason to believe they are not legitimate contenders to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVI.
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum, Kyle Lauletta
Running Back: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, John Kelly, Andy Janovich
Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, KhaDarel Hodge, Ryan Switzer, Derrick Willies, Ja’Marcus Bradley, Alexander Hollins, JoJo Natson
Tight End: Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, David Njoku, Stephen Carlson
Offensive Tackle: Jedrick Wills Jr., Jack Conklin, Greg Senat, Chris Hubbard, Alex Taylor
Offensive Guard: Wyatt Teller, Joel Bitonio, Blake Hance, Michael Dunn, Nick Harris, Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett
Center: J.C. Tretter, Nick Harris, Javon Patterson
Interior Defensive Line: Sheldon Richardson, Malik Jackson, Jordan Elliott, Andrew Billings
EDGE: Myles Garrett, Takkarist McKinley, Joe Jackson, Porter Gustin, Cameron Malveaux, Curtis Weaver
Linebacker: Anthony Walker, Sione Takitaki, Jacob Phillips, Malcolm Smith, Mack Wilson, Trevon Young, Elijah Lee
Cornerback: Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Troy Hill, M.J. Stewart Jr., A.J. Green, Robert Jackson
Safety: John Johnson III, Ronnie Harrison Jr., Grant Delpit, Elijah Benton, Sheldrick Redwine, Montrel Meander, Jovante Moffatt
Kicker: Cody Parkey
Punter: Jamie Gillan
Long Snapper: Charley Hughlett
Cleveland Browns Depth Chart Analysis | Offense
As with all NFL teams, their success depends on how well their quarterback can perform. In 2020, Baker Mayfield played some of the best football of his career. While throwing for just 3,563 yards, he was able to do something he struggled with in previous years — ball security. Mayfield threw a career-low 8 interceptions to 26 touchdowns while completing 62.8% of his passes (305 of 486).
The work under head coach Kevin Stefanski has paid off massively as Baker Mayfield looks like the player the Browns always hoped would lead their franchise.
As far as backups go, Case Keenum is perfectly adequate in relief. Keenum is a nine-year pro who has started over 60 games during his career. While a considerable decline from Mayfield, Keenum can keep the offense afloat.
Formerly of the New York Giants, Kyle Lauletta has yet to complete a pass on his 5 career attempts.
The heartbeat of the Cleveland Browns’ offensive depth chart is Nick Chubb. One of the NFL’s best running backs, Chubb is a constant threat to break off an explosive play. Since entering the league in 2018, Chubb is third in the NFL in rushing yards (3,557).
Paired with Chubb, Kareem Hunt gives the Browns the best running back duo in the NFL. A former 1,300-yard rusher, Hunt is also one of the best receiving backs in the league. He is entering the final year of his contract, and Chubb will be a free agent in 2022.
A bigger one-hit-wonder than The Baha Men, D’Ernest Johnson had 95 yards on 13 carries in Week 4 of 2020, quadrupling his career totals to that point.
While not a threat from anywhere outside the goal line, Andy Janovich’s value for the Browns offense comes in his superior blocking ability.
Odell Beckham Jr., 28, is a three-time NFL Pro Bowler and former NFL Rookie of the Year. He has eclipsed the 1,000-receiving-yard mark five times in his career. The Browns can only wait for Beckham to return as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in Week 7 against the Bengals.
Browns WR Jarvis Landry is coming off a down season based on his elite standards. Landry set career-lows in targets (101), receptions (72), and touchdowns (3) while putting the second-fewest yards (840) since his rookie season. However, outside his 2015 rookie campaign, Landry has seen at least 131 targets and recorded 975 or more yards in the five previous seasons.
Rashard Higgins signed a one-year deal to return to Cleveland this offseason. Higgins, 26, took over for Beckham on the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart following his injury, serving as the vertical threat. He finished the season with 37 receptions for 599 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Although never realizing his potential at the University of Michigan, Donovan Peoples-Jones could end up being one of the Browns’ best receivers. At 6’2″, 212 pounds, Peoples-Jones has the size to play outside and flashed on the field in his limited action. Seeing 20 targets, Peoples-Jones caught 14 passes for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Cleveland Browns made a massive addition to their depth chart in 2020 by adding Austin Hooper. Although the season did not live up to the lofty expectations many assumed, Hooper still enjoyed a solid year. He finished with 46 receptions, 435 yards, and 4 touchdowns in 13 games.
A Mackey Award winner in college, Harrison Bryant showed his skills as a rookie despite tight ends traditionally struggling their rookie season. Bryant made nine starts, caught 24 of 38 passes for 238 yards and 3 touchdowns while usurping David Njoku on the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart.
A first-round pick in 2017, David Njoku has never blossomed into the player the Browns pictured. Also, the two sides are at a bit of an impasse. Njoku has asked for a trade at least twice but remains on the roster. Over the last two seasons, Njoku has 24 receptions, 254 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
The Cleveland Browns look like they knocked it out of the park with Jedrick Wills. While he can still improve on his run blocking, no one is touching Baker Mayfield from his blindside.
Initially drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the first round, Cleveland signed Jack Conklin in 2020, a move that seemingly paid off. Conklin earned NFL All-Pro Team honors last season.
Chris Hubbard played in 73 games over the last five seasons, including 34 starts for the Browns in the previous three. He has experience at right guard and tackle.
The Dallas Cowboys selected Greg Senat in 2018 and is now on his fourth team, including his second stint on the Browns, where he was on the practice squad.
Playing in 11 games, Wyatt Teller proved to be one of the best guards in the NFL. Playing 694 snaps, Teller was called for only 5 penalties and gave up just 3 sacks. He was named to the 2020 All-Pro Team along with fellow guard Joel Bitonio who played 1,061 snaps, allowing 1 sack and committing 3 penalties.
Together, they are the best interior offensive guard combination in the NFL.
J.C. Tretter has started all 64 games as a member of the Cleveland Browns, capping off what is presumably the best offensive line depth chart in the NFL.
The Browns drafted Nick Harris in the fifth round last season. He made one start and appeared in 12 games.
Browns Analysis | Defense
On par with their dominant offense, the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart on the defensive side of the ball could win games independently and get even better this free agency.
Interior Defensive Line
Anchoring the middle of the defensive line are Sheldon Richardson and Malik Jackson.
Through two seasons with Cleveland, Richardson has recorded 78 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 7 passes defended, and 4 fumbles forced in 32 games. The 30-year-old DT is arguably playing the best football of his career.
One of the Browns’ many additions on defense is Malik Jackson. The former Eagle has appeared in 126 games, including 73 starts since 2012. This past year, Jackson registered 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks over 15 games. For his career, Jackson has 35 sacks and 99 QB hits.
Andrew Billings is back with the team in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding the pandemic. Jordan Elliott, a 2020 third-round pick, recorded 15 tackles in 16 games while making one start.
At this point, there is little to be said about how special Myles Garrett is for the Browns. He earned unanimous All-Pro honors, posted his best season yet in a Browns uniform, and finished sixth in the league with 12 sacks, all while missing two games. He even added 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries to boot.
Garrett was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Month for October, earned his second Pro Bowl honor, and was also named the Browns’ 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year. His next feat will be getting the most out of Takkarist McKinley.
McKinley, a 2017 first-round pick, had 13 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. However, production quickly fell off. In 2019, he recorded just 3.5 sacks, and the Falcons placed him on IR. He played in four games in 2020 before Atlanta ultimately waived him in November. The 49ers and Bengals each claimed him, but he failed physicals both times. The Raiders eventually signed him, but he remained on IR his entire time in Las Vegas.
Joe Jackson, Porter Gustin, Cameron Malveaux, and Curtis Weaver have made a combined three starts.
With B.J. Goodson remaining unsigned, the newly acquired Anthony Walker leads the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart. Starting 46 of 48 possible games with the Indianapolis Colts, Walker made over 100 tackles in 2018 and 2019 and finished second on the team with 92 tackles in 2020. He also recorded 5 pass deflections and has snagged 1 interception in each of the last three seasons.
Sione Takitaki started in 12 games as a second-year pro, recording 67 tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown.
Jacob Phillips had 25 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, and 1 pass defended in his rookie campaign last season.
The Browns brought back former Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith after a bounceback 2020 season. Smith finished second on the team with 72 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble in 15 games.
As the leading cornerback on the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart, Denzel Ward was phenomenal despite taking on every team’s best receiver. When targeted, he allowed the third-lowest passer rating (64.2). The only blemish on Ward’s career thus far is injuries. Through three seasons, he has yet to play a full 16-game slate. He played in 13 as a rookie and 12 in both 2019 and 2020.
Greedy Williams missed the 2020 season due to a “frozen shoulder.” It was an injury that took him out not only physically but also mentally. Something he opened up about in a recent interview. Williams will take back the starting role for the Browns in Week 1 of 2021.
Another significant addition to the Cleveland Browns’ depth chart is Troy Hill, who will take over the nickel cornerback role. He fills the hole vacated by the loss of both Kevin Johnson and Terrance Mitchell.
The backside of the Brown defense could look quite different in 2021 and might be the scariest part of their defense outside Myles Garrett.
Former Rams safety John Johnson was the Browns’ top free-agency target. Johnson is a versatile safety who can play free or strong and as a big nickel covering both tight ends and backs over the middle. He is also a candidate to wear the green dot as he served as the Rams’ defensive signal-caller.
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The Browns will also likely see Grant Delpit make his much-anticipated debut. Delpit, a second-round pick out of LSU, ruptured his Achilles tendon during preseason workouts in 2020. He won the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top defensive back.
He was one of three LSU players for the Browns to suffer season-ending injuries (Delpit, Williams, Beckham Jr). Delpit and Williams suffered their injuries during the same practice on August 24.
If Delpit is not ready to go at the start of the season, Ronnie Harrison Jr. would be the starter. Harrison Jr. played in 11 games in 2020, making seven starts. He recorded 38 tackles and 1 interception, which he returned for a 47-yard touchdown.
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