For the first time in what seems like years the Cleveland Browns were almost a playoff team. The Browns finished this season 7-9—last place in the AFC North division; however, they did much better than their record might indicate. The AFC North was the toughest division in the league this season with the Pittsburgh Steelers winning it at 11-5, the Cincinnati Bengals earning the top Wild Card slot at 10-5-1, and the Baltimore Ravens slipping into the 6th seed of the playoff bracket at 10-6. The Browns certainly would have had an easier path to the playoffs in any other division.
The main issue the Browns faced in 2014 was the quarterback situation. After drafting Johnny Manziel in the 2014 NFL Draft, Mike Pettine announced that Brian Hoyer would retain the starting position that he had in 2013 before his season-ending knee injury. Pettine also made it clear that he did not like Manziel. Well, Hoyer started to decline rapidly; and Pettine was forced to start Manziel in a situation and offensive style which seemed set up to watch the rookie fail.
Well, needless to say Manziel did fail. But so did Hoyer. Now, with Hoyer’s contract up the Browns have to decide which quarterback they want to be the future of their franchise. Or maybe they’ll trade up from the 12th pick in the draft and grab a big name rookie. With that in mind, here’s the Cleveland Browns top needs heading into the 2015 NFL Draft:
Offensive Tackle: The Browns current right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has done little of anything this season. Sure, Cleveland allowed only 1.9 sacks per game over the season as a whole; but the average jumped up to 3.3 in the last three games of the season including sacks in the season finale. The Browns quarterbacks seem to struggle enough on their own, so having a solid offensive line is crucial. The Browns should have no problem finding a starting caliber lineman with the amount of talent available, so it may be time they start looking for a replacement for Schwartz.
Center: This may come as a surprise to Browns fans, as Alex Mack is arguably the best center in the NFL. The problem the Browns ran into this season, however, is that they have no talent behind him. When Mack was injured, the entire line struggled immensely. This is an easy spot to fill. The Browns simply need to use a late round pick on a solid backup for Mack, and this will hopefully prevent the line from collapsing if anything happens to Mack.
Defensive End: Cleveland certainly has a talented defense, but they could use a little bit of help getting to opposing quarterbacks. Desmond Bryant is a decent player, but the Browns could definitely do better. Armonty Bryant on the other hand is a bit of a concern both on and off the field. The 2015 Draft class features a lot of talent on the defensive line, so the Browns would be foolish to not take advantage of it with an early to mid-round pick
Wide Receiver: The Browns need to face the face that Josh Gordon does not love football enough to stay clean. Gordon failed yet another drug test recently, and as a result he will most likely be suspended for at least the entire 2015 NFL season. It’s a shame to see such talent go to waste. But, for the Browns it’s time to move on. Andrew Hawkins has been effective, especially at the slot receiver position; but with Gordon out the Browns will need someone who can really stretch the field on every down. Hoyer and/or Manziel could certainly use the extra help as well. The Browns claim that they would like to trade up to draft quarterback Marcus Mariota out of Oregon; however, they might be better off sticking with Manziel and drafting wide receiver Amari Cooper out of Alabama instead.