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.
Round, Overall, Player
4. (104) Beau Bell, LB, UNLV
A strong tackler, who should compete for a starting spot right away.
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.
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.
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.
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.
RotoWire Rank: 24
Article first appeared 6/02/08