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No matter what additions the Cleveland Browns made in Free Agency and the NFL Draft, the upcoming season was always going to be tough in the talent rich AFC North division, a division which played host to three of last season’s playoff teams.
As it was, the Browns did well in the draft, snagging top running back, Trent Richardson, as well as quarterback, Brandon Weeden, in the first round. They bolstered their offensive line with Mitchell Schwartz in the second round while also adding underrated defensive players, Billy Winn and Trevin Wade, in the later rounds, both of whom could well make the final roster.
Although Peyton Hillis had a poor season for the Browns last year, they will miss the physical style of running he brought to the team, and much of Cleveland’s hopes for the coming season will be pinned upon whether or not Richardson can remain healthy for the entire season. No one doubts that Richardson has elite potential, and is arguably the best running back to come into the NFL in the last few years, but there are concerns over his durability.
Rookie quarterback Weeden also offers the unique quality of entering the league later in life, something Browns’ fans will be hoping helps his acclimatisation to the professional game, but there are worries that they lack the necessary receiving corps to help him shine. Mohamed Massaquoi can be great on his day, but often lacks consistency, and while Greg Little offers great potential, it remains to be seen whether he has refined his skills enough from his rookie year. Josh Gordon, a second-round pick out of Baylor in the Supplemental Draft, could yet prove to be the key to the Browns’ offense after performing very well in the preseason.
Cleveland has a young defense which is continuing to grow and develop, but they will need defensive stars, Joe Haden, T. J. Ward, Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor, to step up if they are to have any chance of stopping the increasingly potent offenses of the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
It is almost a certainty that the Browns will finish at the bottom of the AFC North, but they should be targeting an improvement on their 4-12 record from 2011. The playoffs will seem like a far-off notion for many Cleveland fans, but they have certainly taken steps towards improving their roster for the long term, hopefully ensuring they can challenge the division heavyweights of Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the coming years.
Image Courtesy of The Official Cleveland Browns