As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
This is so frustrating. A year ago I wrote this article thinking a new dawn was about to happen in Cleveand and this was a super exciting young team. Then they lost every single game.
I want to write a similar article. I want to say there’s a ton of talent in place and it’s all about to happen. But I’m not sure I can. There are glimmers for sure but this is not a fairytale.
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The Browns showed us last season that they’re happy to rotate tackles. They also showed us they can be ruthless by chasing Danny Shelton out of town. Trevon Coley was the top player of the unit last year and should be again but he’s going to find it tough to produce enough to be a difference-maker in IDP leagues.
This is going to be controversial. The IDP world is desperate for Myles Garrett to be a superstar. But it’s been clear over many years that Gregg Williams likes to rotate his ends to keep them fresh.
Garrett was hurt as a rookie but only missed five games. He averaged 47 snaps per game. If he had played that much in those five games (and this is a tough thing to project -injuries are normal), he’d have played 754 total defensive snaps. That would still have finished behind 17 other ends, not even including some other players who averaged more snaps per game but also missed games through injury. Garrett is a fantastic talent. But he’s going to play limited snaps. And it’s really hard to outproduce players who are getting on the field more.
Beyond Garrett, there is likely to be a wide rotation. There’s been lots of hype for Emmanuel Ogbah and nominally he is a “starter”, but he’ll be kept fresh by being rotated in and out.
Ultimately, Garrett should have a good season but to be an elite option, he’ll need to be staggeringly efficient.
Sorry Joe Schobert owners. That asset you picked up last year lost a lot of value with the Mychal Kendricks signing. It’s entirely possible Schobert beats Kendricks out for the starting job next to Kirksey but contrary to popular opinion, Schobert did not have a good season in 2017. He produced a lot of tackles and IDP points but he was bad in NFL terms. As was Kirksey. It’s no surprise at all the Browns were in the market for another starting-quality player. This will be a key preseason battle as Gregg Williams has shown a marked tendency to keeping his starting LBs on the field as much as possible (in stark contrast to his DEs). Whichever player wins the job will likely be on the field a lot.
Jamie Collins was another player who was bad in 2017. On an 0-16 team, there are a lot of bad performances. Collins will walk back into his role where he played nominal outside linebacker but with plenty of snaps on the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher and in the slot playing in coverage. It’s a tailor-made role for him and very few players can do it in the NFL. If he can return to his New England form, he will be a giant boon for the Browns. Jamie Burgess was Collins’ replacement in 2017. He’ll battle rookie Genard Avery for the right to do so again. Avery was a hybrid pass rusher/LB in college but will need time to develop.
The Browns selected Denzel Ward at fourth overall in the off-season and he walks in as the top dog in the search for a player who can hold up against elite receivers. That search has been going on for a while. Ward could well be the solution but he’s very likely to have the typical rookie struggles we expect at the position, which will mean plentiful opportunities to make defensive plays. He’s well worth a late pick in rookie drafts trying to pick up this year’s breakout. Maybe you could use the pick you received when trading away Desmond King or Adoree’ Jackson. You did do that, right?
E.J. Gaines should play opposite Ward. He was impressive in Buffalo last year and could easily be a good option in leagues that heavily reward defended passes.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun will again man the slot. He’s a league-average player and is likely to play less than many slot DBs due to the browns tendency to keep three linebackers on the field in passing situations.
It should come to pass but Williams is an odd guy. He’ll fill his angel role first with whoever he thinks will perform best then decide on strong safety after that. It’s entirely possible Peppers beats Randall out for the job. And in that situation, Kindred will return as the strong safety over Randall.
Christian Kirksey. Kirksey is objectively not a good player. He allowed 80 catches from 97 targets in 2017. Every time he was targeted he gave up 6.2 yards on average. That’s on targets – not catches.
But we do know that he’s virtually guaranteed to be on the field. Williams’ LBs habitually play 1,000 snaps plus and we know Kirksey will be one of those two players, Kirksey should again be a top-five linebacker in snaps with the stats associated with that.
Joe Schobert. The IDP world tends to think that one good season denotes a new star. Schobert (and Desmond King and Demario Davis etc etc) had a fine 2017 based on volume but he could have that taken away from him in an instant. It’s risky trading away a player like him who does have the opportunity to have another good year but this is IDP. You should always be churning your roster when possible.
Denzel Ward. Ward could easily have one of those famed rookie cornerback seasons that seemingly “comes from nowhere”. The combination of high playing time (because he was drafted fourth overall and the Browns defense will be on the field a lot), the ability to make plays on the ball (because he’s got some skills) and the high degree of being targeted (because he’s not all-round good yet) should stack up to personal statistics.
The one thing I have to caution for Cleveland is that there’s unlikely to be much pass rushing productivity. Bad teams (and make no mistake, they’ll be bad) are behind most of the time by definition. As a result, they tend to face much more rushes than passes. That lack of opportunities to go after the quarterback combined with the Browns’ lack of ability to generate pressure efficiently means it won’t be a sack-heavy year for the Browns.
The old diktat of bad NFL team = good IDP scoring is pretty old fashioned, You owe it to yourself to think a little deeper than that.
Thanks for reading.