Browns temper expectations, all eyes on QB Mayfield in 2020
By The Associated Press undefined
CLEVELAND BROWNS (6-10)
New faces: Coach Kevin Stefanski, RT Jack Conklin, rookie LT Jedrick Wills, TE Austin Hooper, LB B.J. Goodson, S Karl Joseph, CB Kevin Johnson, QB Case Keenum, DE Adrian Clayburn, S Andrew Sendejo, WR Jojo Natson, F Andy Janovich, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, LB Malcolm Smith, rookie WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, rookie TE Harrison Bryant, rookie S Grant Delpit.
Key losses: LB Joe Schobert, LB Christian Kirksey, S Damarious Randall, LT Greg Robinson, S Morgan Burnett, WR Antonio Callaway.
Strengths: Multiple weapons on offense and Stefanski, who was Minnesota’s coordinator last season; he plans to let quarterback Baker Mayfield use them all. Star receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry both slowed by injuries in 2019 and still managed to go over 1,000 yards. Duo is healthy now after surgeries. Hooper gives Mayfield dependable middle-of-field target. Nick Chubb has quickly become one of league’s best backs and Kareem Hunt gives Browns 1-2 backfield punch as good as anyone’s.
Weaknesses: Losses of Schobert and Kirskey as free agents debilitated linebackers, who took another hit when expected starter Mack Wilson suffered left knee injury during training camp. Goodson brings some interior toughness and attitude. Sione Takitaki will get more snaps than as rookie, and third-round pick Jacob Phillips from national champion LSU may have to play more than initially thought. This group needs to grow up quickly.
Pandemic Development: Stefanski was deprived of any on-field work with his team due to COVID-19 outbreak. Every team in NFL was affected, but it’s much bigger challenge for new staff having to install schemes and build chemistry on Zoom calls.
Fantasy Player To Watch: Hooper. He caught 75 passes last season with Atlanta and could bump up that total significantly playing in Stefanski’s tight-end friendly system. Mayfield has loved throwing to tight ends since his days at Oklahoma, and he and Hooper have already developed solid bond after spending time together in Texas during pandemic.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl: 40–1. Over/under wins: 8.
Expectations: Tempered and then some. Preseason hype in 2019 strangled Browns, who had playoff aspirations collapse into cold, 6-10 reality. Cleveland’s postseason drought stretching to 2002 is league’s longest, and playing in one of league’s most physical divisions makes things that much tougher. All eyes will be on Mayfield, who regressed in Year 2 but worked on body in offseason and has spent career silencing critics. This is huge season for him and Browns.
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