In the first installment of our Browns Mailbag, Jeff Lloyd, Cory Kinnan, and Sam Penix will answer reader’s questions concerning the Cleveland Browns. This week’s questions address the hype surrounding the Browns outlook for 2020 and players who need to step up to fill holes on the roster. Which players will step up for the Browns both offensively, and defensively, and which players could enter the season as potential sleepers.
Heading into camp, who do you see as potential sleepers offensively and defensively?
In the hours leading up to Day 3 of the NFL Draft, it was leaked amongst league insiders that the Browns were interested in several wide receivers to aid in their passing game. Specifically, Donovan Peoples-Jones from Michigan. Head coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff admired Peoples-Jones’ athleticism and intelligence. Various mock drafts had the Michigan product going anywhere from a second-round to fourth-round pick.
However, some draft evaluators had mixed reviews on Peoples-Jones. Some evaluators felt that his game wasn’t refined enough, while others felt he was held back by an underachieving Michigan offense. In training camp, the rookie will be able to work with another elite athlete alongside Odell Beckham Jr., and a strong route runner with Jarvis Landry.
The Browns passing game could use a player that commands safety attention vertically. The former five-star recruit can provide that for the Browns while being the fifth option on the field in various offensive personal groupings. His rookie season should consist of the punt return job and contributing as a reserve wideout with big play ability.
After talking with various draft experts heading into the 2018 College Season, several were enamored with Porter Gustin, a defensive end/linebacker out of USC. Gustin is a sizeable, strong, and talented athlete, and showed the ability to get after opposing quarterbacks while being a force in the run game. His last two seasons at USC were marred by injuries, but his production was still very good even in a limited amount of games.
He was healthy and able to work out at the 2019 NFL Combine where he worked out with the linebackers and tested very well. The Browns, crippled by injury and suspension at the defensive end position, brought in Gustin and threw him into the fire. He was able to contribute somewhat, but now with the outlook for the Browns emphasizing pass rush and secondary play in 2020, the opportunity is there for Gustin to find a role as a pass-rush specialist.
With Schobert gone, who will be the play-caller on defense? With Kirksey gone, who will be the defensive captain?
Losing Joe Schobert, who wore the green dot on his helmet, signifying he was the player tasked with sideline communications on-field, is a big blow to the Browns in 2020. While understanding the reality of not paying the linebacker position over $10 million, a young and inexperienced player in that LB room will now have to take on that duty. The Browns outlook for 2020 has major questions at this position.
While Mack Wilson enters the season as the now-longest-tenured linebacker for the Browns, he enters the 2020 season with gaping holes in his game. Most of those holes are related to alignment and responsibilities in run defense. Unless Wilson makes massive strides, it’s unlikely he’ll become the Browns on-field communicative player in 2020.
B.J. Goodson, while the oldest in the linebacker room, faces a long shot to take on this role as well unless he wins the starting MIKE job. Sione Takitaki is another player who fought for table scraps last season and will likely have to fight for every rep this year as well.
This brings us to Jacob Phillips, the man who stood in the middle of the National Championship winning LSU Tigers’ defense as their vocal leader. He is heady, and intelligent with instincts to cover up various inadequacies. As linebackers coach Jason Tarver has already announced there will be an open competition entering camp, look for Phillips to win the green dot on his helmet and the role of sideline communicator.
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