Browns Preview Capsule
CLEVELAND BROWNS (7-8-1)
New faces: Coach Freddie Kitchens, offensive coordinator Todd Monken, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, WR Odell Beckham Jr., RB Kareem Hunt, DE Olivier Vernon, DT Sheldon Richardson, S Jermaine Whitehead, S Morgan Burnett, TE Demetrius Harris, G Eric Kush, WR Jaelen Strong, rookie CB Greedy Williams, rookie LB Mack Wilson.
Key losses: RB Duke Johnson, G Kevin Zeitler, LB Jamie Collins, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, QB Tyrod Taylor.
Strengths: Beckham’s arrival and pairing with Jarvis Landry gives Cleveland a premier pass-catching duo. Landry’s most comfortable playing in slot and Beckham’s ability to stretch defenses deep will open up things underneath for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who broke rookie league record with 27 touchdown passes last season. Cleveland’s defensive line, led by Pro Bowl end Myles Garrett (13 1-2 sacks), could wreak havoc.
Weaknesses: Tackling was major issue last season, and while active, linebackers Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert are not prototypical run stuffers. Wilks favors 4-2-5 scheme, which will put emphasis on linebackers’ ability to get from sideline to sideline and on pass coverage. Wilson and fellow rookie Sione Takitaki will likely be in rotation.
Fantasy Players To Watch: RB Nick Chubb. Powerful runner with surprising breakaway speed finished with 996 yards rushing and eight TDs as rookie. Defenses will be geared to stop Cleveland’s aerial game and that may open huge holes for Chubb, who has good hands and could benefit from Mayfield on check-downs. He’ll be primary back while Hunt serves eight-game league suspension for off-field violent altercations.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl 16-1. Over/under wins 9.
Expectations: Through roof, if FirstEnergy Stadium had one. Mayfield has brought swagger and hope to franchise that could finally return to previous glory after two decades of losing and general dysfunction. Browns haven’t been in playoffs since 2002, league’s longest current drought. With abundance of talent, Kitchens will be under pressure to deliver quickly and must hope owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam display promised patience. Beckham seems reborn after drama-filled days in New York. Cleveland fans will be far more forgiving — as long as he performs.