“Off the Matt” 2016 Browns Preview – Checklist to Staying Sane
It just got easier being a fan of Cleveland sports. The drought is over, and a new light replaces the gloomy clouds that had been previously cast over the Cleveland sports scene. The championship that the Cavs brought back to Cleveland has given the city hope and motivation. Shortly after Game 7, Joe Haden put this article out that should get the blood pumping of any Browns fan.
Fans have to love Haden’s positive attitude. Speaking of attitude, I think it is important that Browns fans have the right attitude/expectations going into this season. Haden closed the article by saying, “I am just so ready to go win a championship right now.” You can’t fault a guy for aiming high, but lets slow down on the championship talk.
The Attitude/Expectations Checklist for a Cleveland Browns Fan in 2016
Forget about wins and losses: But wait….
Sorry Herm, I know this goes against everything you stand for, but I think Browns fans need to approach the 2016 season differently. Instead of sweating over if they finish up at 4-12 or 6-10, shift the focus to finding consistency and improvement. Keep an eye out for who the new team leaders are going to be. With it being such a young team, they will need to find the players who are going to be the keystone pieces that will propel this team to bigger and better things in the coming years.
Find a quarterback: If I could point at one statistic that sums up the Browns struggles, it would be that they have started 24 different quarterbacks since 1999. Robert Griffin III was brought in this offseason, and while some thought he would be handed the keys to the offense, coach Hue Jackson has remained amendment that the quarterback position will be an open competition in training camp. My biggest issue with RGIII as a franchise quarterback is his durability. I know that isn’t an earth shattering outlook but it is a major hurdle for him. Take a look at some of the top quarterbacks in the league, they all have one thing in common.
Tom Brady: 16 games played in 13/14 seasons
Aaron Rodgers: 15 or 16 games played in 7/8 seasons
Drew Brees: Three games missed over the last 12 seasons
Philip Rivers: 16 games played for 10 consecutive seasons
Eli Manning: 16 games played for 11 consecutive seasons
The easy solution to achieve the consistency and longevity that the above have sustained is to keep RGIII in the pocket. The problem is with those limitations in place he is no longer “RGIII;” as in the RGIII who was an explosive play-maker in the early part of his career. RGIII has a knack for drawing media attention, and camp quarterback competitions are always a popular story to run with. With that said, I am sure the public will have a front-row seat for how this will play out.
Be patient with Hue Jackson:
It is a good sign when nine-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas says “I don’t think the Browns can be any better off,” in regards to the hiring of Hue Jackson. When a team leader comes out and takes the coaches back like that, it is a good sign that the team will buy in. Players have had nothing but great things to say about Jackson, and the general feel is that Jackson has brought hope to the Browns organization. He has pushed all the right buttons thus far. However, it is easy to be popular in June-August. When the losses start to pile up, it will be interesting to see how both the players and the public respond.
Develop young talent:
The Browns had the most picks in the 2016 draft with 14. Three of those selections made “The Best 16 Picks in the 2016 NFL Draft” article featured on PFF. If all 14 selections end up making the 53-man roster that means 26% of the team will be first year players. Factor in free agents brought in during the offseason and there is a ton of new blood in the Browns organization.
While it will be important for all of these selections to make contributions, the two that need to hit the ground running are Cody Kessler and Corey Coleman. Whether people want to believe it or not, Kessler will push RGIII for the starting job. Kessler demonstrated pinpoint accuracy at USC, throwing 88 touchdowns to just 19 interceptions. Kessler doesn’t have the strongest arm, but being smart with the ball goes a long way at this level.
You never know how receivers that produce gaudy numbers coming from uptempo spread systems will translate to the NFL. However, there are two things that I know will translate:
The offense needed a play-maker, and they got one in Coleman. At Baylor he did most of his work outside of the numbers on vertical plays. He will need to fine-tune his route running to develop into a complete receiver, but with his blazing speed he will make plays for this offense from day one.
Expect the secondary to improve: It begins and ends with Haden. 2015 was a disaster for Haden who suffered a myriad of injuries including a second concussion that ended his season for good in Week 8. Haden had offseason ankle surgery but said he will be ready to play Week 1. When he is healthy he is one of the best corners in the league and will elevate the entire secondary.
When you feel like throwing your remote through the television after a 1-4 start just keep this checklist in mind. I think this team will show flashes in 2016. Stay patient.
Patience will be key, because the beginning of the year is tough. The Browns will play five of their first seven games on the road. The two home games in that stretch are against the Ravens in Week 2 and the Patriots in Week 5 which will be Tom Brady’s first game back from his suspension. The good news is that from Week 8 to Week 14 they only go on the road once. Having their bye in Week 13 isn’t exactly ideal.
Undervalued: Gary Barnidge (ADP 82)
Barnidge came out of nowhere in 2015. Since entering the league in 2009, he had yet to have a season in which he recorded more than 13 receptions. He finished his breakout year with a line of 79/1043/9. Despite the new faces in the Browns offensive huddle, Barnidge will remain one of the first options in the passing game. Sign me up for being able to get a tight end in round 7 who had eight or more targets in nine games last year. Playing in a potentially explosive Hue Jackson led offense could help those numbers. One thing to monitor will be how quickly he recovers from sports hernia surgery. He is expected to be back for camp, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on to make sure he doesn’t have any setbacks.
Overvalued: Duke Johnson (ADP 100) – STANDARD SCORING
The scoring format can make all the difference in determining a player’s value. If it was a PPR league and I was getting Duke at 100, I would strut to the board a la Rick Flair feeling like I came away with the steal of the draft. However, in standard scoring this is a completely different situation. Simply put, he doesn’t touch the ball enough to be a reliable standard play.
Last season, Johnson had more than 10 touches in only half of his games. He posted double digit fantasy points just once using standard scoring. Jackson has spoke glowingly of both Crowell and Johnson. He envisions Crowell as the bell-cow back, while Johnson will be a versatile back who can do a number of things for the offense. He will be a valuable player for the Browns, but in the fantasy world he should only be considered a low-end flex option in standard formats.
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