NFL Preview '11: Cleveland Browns
Since re-joining the league in 1999 success has been elusive for the Cleveland Browns, who haven't made the playoffs since 2002. However, the pieces are slowly falling into place and the Browns have a window of hope in 2011.
The 2010 draft may turn out to be one of the more fruitful drafts in franchise history. Cleveland used a third round pick on quarterback Colt McCoy who looked shaky in the preseason but quickly developed. By the end of the year McCoy started eight games and looked more comfortable with each start. For McCoy to make the jump in year two a go-to receiver will need to emerge. Last year's leading wide receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi, is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. The Browns do have other youngsters in Brian Robiskie and rookie Greg Little but it's hard to say if either is a legitimate number one receiver at this point. Cleveland's running game was powered by Peyton Hillis who rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Browns are also hoping for a contribution from 2010 second round pick Montario Hardesty who missed all of last year with an ACL injury.
Also emerging from that 2010 draft was cornerback Joe Haden who snagged six interceptions in his rookie year. Free safety TJ Ward, another 2010 pick, led the team 123 combined tackles to go with a pair of interceptions. The concern is for the Browns defense is the front four as Cleveland switches to the 4-3 defense. Speedy Marcus Benard racked up 7.5 sacks as an outside linebacker last year but in the transition to defensive end picked up 25 pounds in the offseason and may have lost some of that quickness. Cleveland targeted depth upfront with the drafting of defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard.
Pat Shurmur takes over as coach in his first stint as head man in the NFL. Cleveland opted not to be active in free agency and continued to build depth through the draft so Shurmur has his work cut out for him. However if the youngsters continue to mold the Browns might be on to something. Breaking into the upper half of the AFC North is asking a lot in 2011 but the Browns are a team on the rise.