Around the North: Browns closer to contenders

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 27: Baker Mayfield #6 of the North team reacts during the first half of the Reese's Senior Bowl against the the South team at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 27, 2018 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 27: Baker Mayfield #6 of the North team reacts during the first half of the Reese's Senior Bowl against the the South team at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 27, 2018 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Following an active offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals state and division rivals the Cleveland Browns are getting closer to contending.

While the Cincinnati Bengals are still the closest contender to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is another rival within the division that is working their way to contenders. The Cleveland Browns have had an active offseason with significant amounts of change following the hiring of general manager John Dorsey late last season. The former Kansas City Chiefs GM has made it a point to make noticeable changes within the organization including mass changes on the roster.

During free agency, the Browns were one of the biggest news stories as they traded for players like former Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry. They also brought in players through free agency like Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines and cornerback T.J. Carrie. This was only the beginning as they also shipped off last years draft quarterback DeShone Kizer to the Green Bay Packers for cornerback Damarious Randall who was last seen in Cleveland shutting down star wide receiver Josh Gordon.

Most of these moves were the bridge and developmental players aside from maybe Landry. Dorsey spent the 2018 NFL Draft selecting guys of the future for the Browns starting off with the selection of their hopefully future quarterback Baker Mayfield out of Oklahoma and cornerback Denzel Ward out of Ohio State with their first and fourth overall picks. Other notable players that could be significant players for the Browns in upcoming seasons are Georgia running back Nick Chubb and offensive lineman Austin Corbett out of Nevada.

There is still plenty of work to do for the Browns organization that has been the bottom of the barrel in the league for many years. There’s also still question on whether head coach Hue Jackson will make it to the end of the 2018 season if you ask me. Dorsey is making moves that he thinks will develop Cleveland into contenders and that could mean getting rid of Jackson and promoting offensive coordinator Todd Haley into the head coach position. Those are my opinions.

Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals /

Cincinnati Bengals

I wanted to take a more in-depth look at the Browns organization and see how close they were to contending and what the fan base thought of the moves in free agency and their new draft class. I caught up with Randy Gurzi, editor of the Dawg Pound Daily (Cleveland Browns FanSided), and he gave me some insight on the Browns draft. He seemed confident in the draft and how the team kept their picks and addressed their needs instead of acquiring more for down the road and that these players would help Dorsey get Cleveland in the right direction.

“What’s great is they addressed their biggest needs in free agency. They got a free safety, a couple of corners a wideout and a quarterback. That allowed them to draft the guys they thought were best — with of course the exception of Denzel Ward who they claim won a tiebreaker due to need. Still, they’re a lot stronger and have better depth now.”`

Gurzi stated how fans were split on the Mayfield pick as many were sold on USC quarterback Sam Darnold for the first overall pick. He told me that he thinks the Browns made the right choice in selecting Mayfield though with the high upside. I think that Mayfield has one of the highest ceilings in this years quarterback class. The only problem is that with all of his ego, I feel like he is either going to be a great quarterback or end up being a bust. The kid is a real winner, however, and I think that Dorsey knew what he was getting himself into when he grabbed him.

When I asked Gurzi about how much this draft class would affect the 2018 season it seemed that he felt they were mostly developmental guys that would contribute more in their second year. I agree as the Browns brought in plenty of bridge players like Tyrod Taylor and running back Carlos Hyde to allow their rookies to develop behind veterans instead of throwing them into the fire immediately week one.

“Mayfield is supposed to sit (which I hate doing with a No. 1 overall pick, but that’s for another day). They also think Chubb will be behind Carlos Hyde. That means if health provides Denzel Ward and Austin Corbett will provide the biggest impact. Both should start, and after a few growing pains, they should be fine.”

We both agreed that Cleveland was still a couple of years away from contending from the North. With Ben Roethlisberger still commanding the Steelers and the Bengals being all in this year, it’s still a long shot for the Browns to compete for the AFC North title. They could see themselves surpassing the Baltimore Ravens in my opinion with all of the controversies and rebuilding in the franchise, especially after selecting Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“I think they’re in a good spot. They’ll be a competitive team and could surprise some people. I still think they’re a couple of years away from vying for the AFC North. But they’re not going to look anything like that 0-16 club.”

Last but not least, I asked him who he thought was the best value pick in the later rounds that he believes could develop into a solid starter given a few years to sit behind veterans. John Dorsey has an eye for undeveloped or untapped potential in later rounds as he brought the Chiefs plenty of late round guys that turned out to be good starters years down the road.

“Toss up between Antonio Callaway and Genard Avery. The Florida wideout has big talent but has been in trouble a ton. I won’t bet on him for much, so I’ll go Avery. The Memphis linebacker can bring the heat when he delivers tackles and could become a starter in the near future.”

Next: How the Bengals secondary allows defense to be aggressive in 2018

Of course, we won’t know for a year or two whether or not this draft class will prove to be as high as their grades by analysts. It will take time for them to develop and build a team that is desperate to be a contender after many years of poor play and lack of leadership. If there is a general manager that can turn things around, I think it’s Dorsey. Turning the 2-14 Chiefs into going to the playoffs four out of the five years he was there if you count last season even though he stepped away after the draft.