RotoWire Partners

Team Previews: 2008 Browns Preview

Dustin Anaas

Dustin Anaas

Dustin Anaas writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


Cleveland Browns
By Dustin Anaas
RotoWire Writer



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE


What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the Browns were coming off a 4-12 season and were in major rebuilding mode. In 2007, the team walked away with a 10-6 record and is now considered a legitimate contender for the AFC North crown. What gives? One of the big reasons why the Browns were able to gain six wins was the much-improved play of their offense. There were plenty of new faces on the starting unit last year and some of them made big contributions. Derek Anderson emerged as the top quarterback in Week 2 after Charlie Frye failed to live up to expectations and was unceremoniously traded to Seattle. He finished the season with 3,787 passing yards and 32 total touchdowns. The Browns also found themselves with a new starting running back in Jamal Lewis, who got off to a slow start, but finished the season with 1,304 yards on the ground and 248 through the air, while scoring 11 total touchdowns. Joe Thomas, who was the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, provided an immediate boost to the offensive line, giving up only one sack on the year. His efforts were rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection. Collectively, they helped take the second-worst offense in the NFL from 2006 (at only 264.6 yards per game) and improved its production to 351 yards per game in 2007.


The Cleveland defense remained a weak point, however. It gave up 360 yards per game (230 passing, 130 rushing), which was the third-worst total in the NFL. General manager Phil Savage saw that there were issues and was very aggressive during the offseason to address them. He started by naming former defensive backs coach Mel Tucker as the new defensive coordinator and followed that with a wave of free-agent signings and trades. The defensive line was greatly improved by trading for tackles Shaun Rogers (Detroit) and Corey Williams (Green Bay) who are two big run-stoppers the Browns hope can turn around what was one of the worst run defenses in the NFL in 2007. There is still a pressing need at corner, and it could be an issue for the Browns as their pass defense was among the worst in the league last year.


Overall, the Browns are in good shape. They have a plethora of young offensive stars in Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr., Anderson, etc., and have made strides to fill some of their most pressing needs on the other side of the ball. Much of the credit should be given to Savage, as he has been the man behind the trades, free-agent signings and draft picks that have the team in position to make a serious run at its first division title since 1989.


OFFSEASON MOVES


2008 Draft


Round, Overall, Player


4. (104) Beau Bell, LB, UNLV
A strong tackler, who should compete for a starting spot right away.


4. (111) Martin Rucker, TE, Missouri
Good hands and a big frame; provides Kellen Winslow Jr. insurance.


6. (190) Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Iowa State
Could develop into effective run-stopper.


6. (191) Paul Hubbard, WR, Wisconsin
Big, athletic receiver has raw ability but needs polish.


7. (231) Alex Hall, DE, St. Augustine
Will likely end up as an outside linebacker in the Browns' 3-4 scheme.


Key Acquisitions


Shaun Rodgers, DT (Lions)
Has struggled at times, but could thrive with some help from Williams.


Donte Stallworth, WR (Patriots)
Will assume the role of No. 2 receiver in Cleveland.


Rex Hadnot, G (Dolphins)
Started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2007.


Cory Williams, DE (Packers)
Bolsters the line with his pass-rushing ability.


Key Losses


Leigh Bodden, CB (Lions)
Led the team in interceptions and was third in tackles in 2007.


Orpheus Roye, DE, (FA)
Oft-injured but worked well in the 3-4.


Chaun Thompson, CB (Texans)
The loss of two corners has the Browns lacking depth at the position.


TEAM NOTES


QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY?



Some Browns fans are getting anxious to get a longer look at Brady Quinn, after Cleveland traded its 2008 first-round draft pick (along with a 2007 second-rounder) to take him 22nd overall last year. The rub is that the team signed last year's pleasant surprise, Derek Anderson, to a three-year contract extension in February. It may seem that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but it's just the way GM Phil Savage wants it. If the Browns were to have dealt Quinn in the offseason, they would have needed to pick up another quarterback through the draft or free agency. Now they have a proven starter and a capable backup with some serious upside. Coach Romeo Crennel has made it clear that Anderson will be the starter in 2008 and he will not relinquish that role to Quinn unless he gets injured or unexpectedly goes into a major tailspin. It's a dynamic that will probably work in the short term but one that will likely be addressed, one way or another, before the 2009 season.


NEW LOOK DEFENSIVE LINE



The Browns had issues stopping the run last season. In fact, they had the sixth-worst run defense in the league. GM Phil Savage decided to make some big moves in order to help fix the issue by trading for Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. Rogers never really lived up to the hype in Detroit but he could find himself in a better situation in Cleveland playing in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Williams is in the same position, as he was effective in Green Bay but may be better suited lining up in the aforementioned formation. There will likely be a regular (and hopefully much-improved) four-man rotation on the line this season including Williams, Rogers, Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith.


YOUNG PLAYERS COULD MAKE AN IMPACT



Although the Browns did not have a selection until the fourth round of this year's draft, they believe that some of their picks are ready to make an impact right away. Linebacker Beau Bell, for one, will compete for a starting job on the inside. He was the Mountain West's defensive player of the year in 2007 and slipped to the fourth round because of a knee injury he suffered during Senior Bowl practices. He fits well into the 3-4 scheme. Another player who can make an impact is TE Martin Rucker, who broke all of Kellen Winslow Sr.'s receiving records at Missouri and could take over for Winslow Jr. if he continues to struggle with injuries or if a potential contract dispute becomes an issue. Wideout Paul Hubbard will also have the opportunity to earn playing time after impressing coaches during minicamp.


VALUE METER


Rising: Braylon Edwards has improved significantly every season since breaking into the league in 2005 and should benefit from a legitimate No. 2 wideout presence in Donte Stallworth.


Declining: Joe Jurevicius is nearing the end of his career and will now assume the No. 3 receiver role in Cleveland.


Sleeper: Donte Stallworth took a backseat to Randy Moss and Wes Welker in New England, but finds himself in a nice situation with the Browns.


Supersleeper: Martin Rucker could find himself on the field often if Kellen Winslow Jr. can't continue to play through his injuries at any point.


IDP WATCH


Shaun Rodgers, DT
Had a down year with the Lions in 2007, but the Browns believe he can make a big impact.


D'Qwell Jackson, LB
Led the team in tackles last year despite missing two games with an ankle injury.


Sean Jones, S
Was second in tackles and interceptions for the club last season.


Team Defense:
RotoWire Rank: 24


Article first appeared 6/02/08