This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Browns failed to find the win column in 2017, but with the plethora of offseason moves orchestrated by GM John Dorsey, there's a justifiable feeling the team is on the rise. That hope is largely attached to No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, the future face of the franchise.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
FINALLY, A FRANCHISE SIGNAL-CALLER
Since resuming operations in 1999, the Browns franchise has yet to enjoy long-term stability and consistent production at the quarterback position. The team passed on the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in last year's draft before settling on DeShone Kizer in the second round. Kizer was so abysmal during his rookie season that he was traded to Green Bay after a mere 15 pro starts. He's just the latest on a Titanic-long list of failed Browns' signal-callers, but there may finally be a turning of the tide on that front. Not only did Cleveland acquire Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo in exchange for pick No. 65 in the 2018 NFL Draft, but they also tabbed Baker Mayfield with the top choice overall. Though that selection may have come as a surprise to some draft observers, the Browns are confident they have their man at long last. At 6-1, 215 pounds, the 23-year-old lacks ideal size for a pro at his position, but he completed more than 70 percent of his passes during his final college season, while throwing 43 touchdowns versus just six interceptions. Having said all that, will he helm the Browns' upgraded offense right away? Coach Hue Jackson has repeatedly said Taylor, who excels at limiting turnovers, will be the Week 1 starter, but the self-assured Mayfield will no doubt challenge his more experienced counterpart from the get-go.
Isaiah Crowell has moved on to the Jets, with Carlos Hyde, who led the 49ers in rushing in 2017, now on hand to help fill the void. Hyde averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry last season and, like Crowell, has never rushed for 1,000 yards in a single NFL campaign. However, injuries have played a role and his new team context should allow his reps to be managed. The Browns are clearly banking on Hyde holding up after handing him a three-year, $15.25 million contract this offseason. When he's on his game, the 6-0, 229-pounder has a knack for finding the end zone – he recorded 14 rushing touchdowns the last two years – and offers pass-catching ability out of the backfield. After adding Hyde, the Browns doubled down by selecting Nick Chubb in the second round of this year's draft. They'll form an early-down combo that should initially tilt in Hyde's favor. For a change of pace, Duke Johnson is on hand to see plenty of targets out of what now looks like a nicely balanced backfield. Cleveland's ground game has often been an afterthought in recent seasons, but with expected improvements in quarterback play and a solid arsenal of receiving weapons, it won't be so easy for opposing defenses to stuff the team's running backs.
WIDEOUT CORPS LOOKING UP
The Browns managed only 15 receiving touchdowns in 2017, four of which were caught by rookie tight end David Njoku. Some of that can be blamed on poor quarterback play, but a lot had to do with a lack of explosive playmakers among the team's pass-catching options beyond running back Duke Johnson. That critique is no longer applicable. This past offseason, the Browns traded a 2018 fourth-round pick and a 2019 seventh-rounder in order to pry Jarvis Landry away from the Dolphins. The 5-11 slot receiver is coming off a campaign in which he set career highs in receptions (112) and touchdowns (nine). While his end-zone production may regress a bit, Landry's target share shouldn't dip all that much. Landry joins Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman to form a receiving unit that could be primed to break out in a big way. When he stays focused and on the field, Gordon – who resumed NFL action last December – is arguably a top-10 receiver. Coleman's career is at a bit of a tipping point, but there's a reason the Browns made him the first wideout taken in the 2016 draft. Admittedly, the trio's initial upside could be dialed down a bit out of the gate with Tyrod Taylor as the looming starter, but it shouldn't be long before the dynamic Baker Mayfield takes the reins, which could really open up the offense.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Josh Gordon
After missing nearly three years due to off-field issues, Gordon is back with the Browns as a starting wideout, hopefully with the same degree of upside he showed in 2012 and 2013 en route to 14 total touchdowns. Kicking off training camp on the NFI list is a hurdle to overcome, but working with Jarvis Landry and Corey Coleman should distract defenses enough for Gordon to take advantage.
RISING: David Njoku
Njoku led the team in TDs last season but split time with Seth DeValve. That's unlikely to happen again, and with defenses paying attention to Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon, Njoku's quality red-zone targets could surge.
FALLING: Corey Coleman
Coleman has suffered a broken hand in both of his seasons in the NFL, and his production has been spotty when healthy. Landry's presence means less targets, plus draftee Antonio Callaway could challenge for a role.
SLEEPER: Nick Chubb
The Browns view Chubb's physical running style as an ideal fit for the rugged AFC North, and he should see a fair share of goal-line carries. If Carlos Hyde struggles at all, Chubb will take on a bigger role.
KEY JOB BATTLE – THIRD WIDEOUT
With Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry atop the depth chart as Cleveland's top two receivers, the battle for the third spot should be a tight one between Corey Coleman and rookie Antonio Callaway. Heading into training camp, Coleman – who was selected in the first round of the 2016 draft – should have a leg up on Callaway, but a poor camp could quickly change that. Whoever emerges from the competition could see a decent workload considering Gordon is opening training camp on the NFI list as he takes part in a treatment plan to uphold his health.
Baker Mayfield – QB (Rd. 1, No. 1 – Oklahoma)
Brings swagger and skill to a position the team needed to solidify.
Tyrod Taylor – QB (from Bills)
Likely a bridge to Mayfield; still a major QB upgrade, however.
Jarvis Landry – WR (from Dolphins)
Logged a league-high 112 receptions in 2017.
Isaiah Crowell – RB (to Jets)
Never reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark with the Browns.
Joe Thomas – OT (retired)
Future Hall of Famer allowed just 30 sacks during 11-year career.
DeShone Kizer – QB (to Packers)
Threw league-high 22 picks before being moved after one season.
THE INJURY FRONT
Jamie Collins, LB – Collins, who the Browns signed to a four-year, $50 million contract extension in advance of last season, tore his MCL in Week 10 against the Lions, effectively ending his 2017 campaign. He should, however, be a full-go for training camp after sitting out all of minicamp. The linebacking unit also includes holdovers Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert and newcomer Mychal Kendricks, who is poised to nab snaps from the trio.
Damarious Randall, S – Randall dealt with a right hand issue throughout the 2017 campaign with the Packers and underwent surgery in mid-January to address it. Acquired from Green Bay in return for DeShone Kizer, Randall is expected to play free safety – with competition coming from Derrick Kindred – after exclusively playing cornerback since being drafted out of Arizona State. He participated in the Browns' organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, so unless Randall suffers some sort of setback, he should be a full participant in training camp.
Antonio Callaway, WR – Callaway, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft, sat out minicamp with a groin injury, leaving his status for training camp up in the air. Once healthy, the speedster will compete with Corey Coleman for the team's third wide receiver spot.