Better, worse or the same? Browns' offense primed for big jump

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Better, worse or the same? That's the question here about the Cleveland Browns, who, despite entering last season with plenty of hype, faltered to a 6-10 finish, extending the NFL's longest playoff drought to 18 years.

The disappointment prompted ownership to overhaul the front office and coaching staff yet again, as the Browns brought in first-time general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski.

And so, after a busy offseason, are the Browns actually better, at least on paper? A position-by-position look gives us a better feel of whether they are. First, the offense:


Additions: Case Keenum (free agent), Kevin Davidson (undrafted free agent)

Returners: Baker Mayfield, Garrett Gilbert

Better, worse or the same? Better

Mayfield has to be better, right? After a scintillating first season, in which he broke the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes, Mayfield scuffled last year. But his offensive line should be way improved in 2020, his pass-catchers are as talented as any in the league and Stefanski's schemes, which include a heavy dose of play-action while also getting the quarterback out of the pocket, seem to suit Mayfield's skill set.

"I feel confident [about] him in the system we're implementing," Stefanski said earlier this offseason. "I think we added some pieces to the offensive side of the ball, which can only help the development of a young quarterback."

To help Mayfield rediscover his touch, the Browns also added Keenum, who profiles as one of the league's top backup QBs. He knows Stefanski's system well from his days running the same offense in Minnesota.

"Just hearing how he visualizes certain things and certain reads has been great," Mayfield said. "A great guy and a great veteran guy to have in the room."

Running backs

Additions: Andy Janovich (trade), Johnny Stanton (free agent), Brian Herrien (undrafted free agent), Benny LeMay (undrafted free agent)

Losses: None.

Returners: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson

Better, worse or the same? Better.

What's better than getting Hunt for half a season? Getting him for an entire one. After serving an eight-game suspension, Hunt will flank Chubb from Day 1 this time around, giving the Browns arguably the top running back tandem in the league and the new staff plenty of options.

"Kareem is an extremely talented runner as a running back, and he is exceptional out of the backfield, as well," said offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. "He's fearless, and the selflessness of him blocking and lead blocking -- he's just a football player who loves to play. We have to find ways to get him the ball."


Additions: Donovan Peoples-Jones (sixth-round pick), JoJo Natson (free agent), Tony Brown (undrafted free agent), Ja'Marcus Bradley (undrafted free agent)

Losses: Shelton Gibson (Eagles)

Returners: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, KhaDarel Hodge, Damion Ratley, Taywan Taylor, D.J. Montgomery, J'Mon Moore

Better, worse or the same? The same.

OBJ and Landry both struggled through nagging injuries last season, leading to offseason surgeries. If they regain their health, then this position could be way better -- even if the players are largely the same.


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Tight ends

Additions: Austin Hooper (free agent), Harrison Bryant (fourth-round pick), Nate Wieting (undrafted free agent)

Losses: Ricky Seals-Jones (Chiefs), Demetrius Harris (Bears)

Returners: David Njoku, Stephen Carlson, Pharaoh Brown

Better, worse or the same? Better.

Tight end was a mess for the Browns last year, with Njoku getting injured in Week 2, then falling into former coach Freddie Kitchens' doghouse later in the season. Njoku has a clean slate under the new regime, which could help him regain the form that saw him grab 56 passes in 2018. The reason this position is better, though, is the addition of Hooper, who had 75 receptions and six touchdowns last season.

"I'm excited about what that whole room is capable of," said Stefanski, who starts two tight ends in his base offense. "Adding a veteran like Austin into that group who is only 25.

"I've seen [Njoku] do it. ... I have really high expectations for David."

Offensive line

Additions: Jack Conklin (free agent), Jedrick Wills Jr. (first-round pick), Alex Taylor (undrafted free agent), Drake Dorbeck (undrafted free agent), Nick Harris (fifth-round pick), Evan Brown (free agent)

Losses: Greg Robinson (unsigned), Justin McCray (Falcons), Eric Kush (Raiders), Lo Falemaka (unsigned)

Returners: JC Tretter, Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Chris Hubbard, Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett, Malcolm Pridgeon, Willie Wright, Kendall Lamm

Better, worse or the same? Better.

There isn't a more improved unit on the Browns. Tackle was a disaster last season for Cleveland. This year, it should be a strength, with the Browns adding the top right tackle on the free-agent market in Conklin, and expending the 10th overall draft pick on Wills.

"[Wills] came alive on tape," said new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who played a role in the Browns drafting Wills out of Alabama. "A lot of times, people talk about makeup and they talk about characters and all these other things, which are great -- which he does have -- but he has these intangibles that show up in tangible ways on film. You watch him finish. You watch the detail, the technique. You watch his consistent effort and his stamina throughout the course of the game from start to finish."

While Wills has big potential, Conklin is already a proven performer at 25 who should slide into Cleveland's young core nicely, as well as Stefanski's zone-blocking schemes.

"He's built for it," said Bitonio, a Pro Bowler himself last season. "He's tough. He's strong. He can move well. ... He's a great addition. Anytime you can add a piece -- he has been an All-Pro in his career and he is one of the better right tackles in the game -- to an offensive line, you are going to help the team."