By Brendan DeVenney
Are the Browns on the rise!? Well, know they aren’t on the rise. But they aren’t on the downhill slope either, because, well, they’re already at the bottom of the hill. However, they do have fans more hopeful now more than ever because of the first major moves new general manager John Dorsey made on Friday, March 9.
From March 9 of last year to March 8 of 2018, the Cleveland Browns, currently under the managing of Sashi Brown, made a total of just four trades. Four trades! That was until March 9 and March 10, where they made a total of four trades within 24 hours! Four trades in one day for the Browns! And they were major trades for the future of the franchise.
The first move by Dorsey was a trade with the Miami Dolphins to receive veteran wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and they send a 2018 4th round pick and a 2019 7th round draft pick to South Beach in exchange. Landry adds a better presence to the wide receiver position, as the Browns can potentially have Landry, Josh Gordon, and Corey Coleman all out in the slots on one play, adding better weaponry for whoever the quarterback will be at the start of the season.
Landry was about to become a free agent if no one picked him up. But instead, he’s with the Browns. What adding Landry means for the Browns is that it allows guys like Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell to act specifically as running backs. Johnson, specifically, was asked to do more tight end work as a receiver later in the 2017 season than he’s used to. Landry caught for 987 yards in 2017 on 112 receptions and 9 touchdowns for the Dolphins. Landry has great capability to make himself open, especially in the end zone and in red zone situations. He has great hands against defenders, and his ability to gain yards after the catch are what draws him to general managers in need of receivers, specifically a huge highlight reel play against the Jets in Week 6 in a come from behind win for Miami.
Since entering the league in 2014, Landry has averaged 1,009 receiving yards per season, and he led the league in receptions with 112 this past year with Jay Cutler as his primary quarterback. In addition, he’s made the Pro Bowl the past three seasons with the Dolphins and has stayed healthy enough to play in every game in his four seasons with Miami.
There’s so much there for Browns fans to have hope in a guy like Landry. He’s strong and he’s quick. He runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, and he’s a strong 5’1″, 208, a great size for any receiver in the NFL. However, he was on a 6-10 team last year, and a 6-10 team in 2015, both in Miami. He’s played with more than one quarterback as well, with Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, and Jay Cutler being his “starting pitchers.” That’s something Cleveland has had in common with the Dolphins, instability at the quarterback position. Landry needs to have a primary, consistent quarterback to succeed. Well, that’s an area the Browns made an impact in with the trade movement.
Dorsey also made a trade with Buffalo, bringing in veteran quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. The Browns sent a 2018 3rd round pick to the Bills in exchange. Now, Taylor has not been a primary starting quarterback. He was drafted back in 2011 in the 6th round. For the first four seasons in his NFL career, he sat as a backup quarterback to future Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl Champion Joe Flacco with the Baltimore Ravens. He has witnessed winning in his career, both with the Ravens, being apart of the Super Bowl XLVII Champion club, and as the starting quarterback of the 2018 AFC Wild Card Bills this past year.
Taylor would, as of now, be the starting quarterback for the Browns at the all-so-important position, the one position Cleveland hasn’t been able to solve forever. Let’s be reminded of the number. 27. 27 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. There’s no escaping that past, but only the future. Back to looking at Taylor, he outplayed Browns’ starting quarterback DeShone Kizer last season, completing 62.6% of his passes to Kizer completing 53.6% of his throws. And not to mention, Taylor actually won 9 games last season. How many did Kizer win? Exactly.
Taylor does have his weaknesses. He has predetermined reads, eyeing his target before the ball is even snapped. He doesn’t have great footwork when he slings the ball. And he isn’t great under pressure. But is he a step up from Kizer? Definitely. Is he a proven winner? For sure, and you can see that with Buffalo. Maybe Dorsey sees something in Taylor that many other experts don’t. He has been waiting his turn having watched under Flacco. He has gotten better through his time with the Bills. He could now put all of that together and bring a winner to Cleveland.
The third trade on Friday the 9th was a deal with Green Bay to acquire cornerback Damarious Randall, a 4th round pick this year, and also a 5th round pick, and deal quarterback DeShone Kizer, and a 4th round and 5th round pick this year to the Packers. Randall has been in the league for three seasons now, all with Green Bay. He’s a reliable defensive back that locks down his receivers and is a stealthy defender deep down field. He recorded four interceptions last season with the Packers. He also brings playoff experience, having played on the 2015 Green Bay team that got eliminated in the Divisional Round, and on the 2016 team that fell short of making it to the Super Bowl in the NFC Championship.
Randall adds a much needed veteran, winning presence to the defense, something that has lacked on the Browns for as long as anyone can remember. That means that, along with Randall, the Browns will have Jabrill Peppers, Kai Nacua, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Jamar Taylor, and Jason McCourty in the secondary. These guys did not play awful last season, but there were signs that showed that they have a lot of work to do in order to become a steady, lockdown group. You can only hope Randall can bring that mentality to this team.
Also, the Browns made a deal with the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots on Friday (the fourth trade), sending defensive tackle Danny Shelton and 2018 5th round pick to New England, and will receive a 2019 3rd round pick.
After all of that, the Browns have 10 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. They have the 1st overall pick in Round 1, and the 4th overall selection in Round 1. Those are the two picks that everyone will be focusing on come April 26. A lot of signs are pointing towards the Browns selecting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the top pick in the draft. At the combine, he passed all of the tests to be taken number one in the draft, or at least the top running back taken. He ran a 4.4 40-yarder, and ran a 1.54 10-yarder. At Penn State this past season, he ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons, and ran for 18 touchdowns in both 2016 and 2017. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year last season, and broke multiple records for the Nittany Lions. He now holds the record for most rushing touchdowns at Penn State with 43, most rushing yards by a freshman with 1,076, most yards by a sophomore with 1,496, and broke the record for most yard ran in a single game with 358 this past season against Iowa.
Barkley would be a great addition to the offense. You have a solid running back already in Duke Johnson, and solid wide receivers. Adding another tailback for whoever the quarterback will be would not be a bad move for the Browns. It would actually be a safe move by John Dorsey, because rookie running backs typically have more success than rookie quarterbacks or wide receivers.
With the fourth overall pick, you’d like to see the Browns pick a quarterback, and they would have all of them available to choose from. The New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts both are in need of positions other than a quarterback. With the Giants sticking with Eli Manning and the Colts hoping Andrew Luck has a bounce back year, they can go for other prospects. The Giants need a running back, and with the Browns possibly taking Barkley from them, backs like Louisiana State’s Derrius Guice, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Georgia’s Sony Michel, and Southern California’s Ronald Jones II are all there for grabs. Meanwhile, Indianapolis could be taking a defensive back, such as North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb, which sounds like it’s a lock with him and the Colts.
So, there’s all of the quarterbacks for the Browns to choose from. Sam Darnold? Baker Mayfield? Josh Allen? It sounds like Josh Rosen is not interested in handling the pressure that is being the Cleveland Browns quarterback. Darnold, Mayfield, and Allen have all been high on John Dorsey’s list, and at this point, it sounds like it really doesn’t matter who they take, mainly because they just need to win games. Now, Mayfield has been noted to have off the field issues, acting immature, getting in trouble with law enforcement, and not being a great leader in the locker room. Darnold and Allen are both safe picks at this moment, and both have had great combines and Senior Bowl performances.