The Cleveland Browns open their 2017 season Sunday afternoon at First Energy Stadium against their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hue Jackson’s crew is coming off a 1-15 season, so hopes aren’t exactly high for a playoff spot, the first since 2002 for the brown and orange.
To some fans and people in the media, anything short of a post-season berth will be considered a failure, but we feel this will be a successful season, even without extra games, that is if the Browns, the youngest team in the NFL, start showing progress, and start to develop some star players.
First of all, the organization is seeing if they indeed have a young quarterback they can develop. Second round pick DeShone Kizer will be the youngest starter in the league this fall, and here’s hoping Jackson can bring him along slowly by running the ball and playing defense.
Gregg Williams may be the most important free agent signing of the off-season, coming to Cleveland to be the defensive coordinator. Williams has directed six top ten defenses (in terms of yards allowed) in 15 seasons heading up a defense.
He has brought an attacking style to the unit, and he has some potentially very good youngsters to work with, players like first overall pick Myles Garrett (who may not play in the opener), Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, and first round pick Jabrill Peppers.
The defense should be able to keep Cleveland in games this season, and that will ease the burden on Kizer, so he will not have to put the ball in the air 40+ times in many games.
Isaiah Crowell is another who should help in this regard. Crowell fell just short of 1,000 yards a year ago, and with an improved offensive line, bolstered by free agent signees Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter.
We should learn about progress from last year’s draft class, which many considered a bust at various times during last season.
The following players drafted in 2016 are considered starters this season: WR Corey Coleman, RT Shon Coleman, Ogbah, MLB Joe Schobert, and S Derrick Kindred.
Add Garrett, Peppers, Kizer, and K Zane Gonzalez to that quintet, and you have nine starters obtained in the last two drafts.
And that doesn’t take into account Peppers impact in the return game, another factor that should help an inexperienced passer.
We also expect TE Seth DeValve, WR Ricardo Louis, and DE Carl Nassib, three more players drafted in ’16 to get considerable playing time and make impacts.
If the Browns can get to five wins with these young players as central figures, the people hammering last year’s draft choices will have a lot of crow to eat.
The front office is still getting a lot of criticism from around the league, and we believe this is because they aren’t traditional “football guys”, and they are doing things a little differently.
For example, we’ve heard them getting toasted for making the trade for Brock Osweiler and a second round pick, the most important thing in the deal, because of the cap hit they are taking.
Then you realize the Browns are still over $60 million under that cap.
The key word for this Browns’ season is progress. Progress in the win column, and progress of the players drafted a year ago.
The 2017 campaign could be the beginning of the rebirth of a franchise that has been down for many, many years.