Editor's Note: Over the next two weeks, Nathan Zegura, Andrew Gribble and Anthony Poisal will be giving their takes and predictions on some of the hottest topics surrounding the Browns as they prepare for training camp.
The Browns were busy this offseason, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Improvement in every aspect was the goal, and it continues to be the goal as the Browns look to build off last year's exciting ride to the AFC Divisional Round. For today's question, we're looking at which area of the team will benefit most from the offseason work of Andrew Berry and Co., who added a number of key pieces to some key spots all across the roster via free agency and the draft. There's also another factor to consider, especially on offense: Is there a position group set to improve at a high degree simply through experience?
Poisal: A strong case can be made for safety here, but I'm going with cornerback because the depth in that spot compared to last season can't be overlooked. The position was never at full-strength without Greedy Williams, and any games missed by Denzel Ward and slot corner Kevin Johnson last season took a toll on the entire defense. The group had to reach far into its depth chart for heavy reps at key points of the year, but the additions of Troy Hill and Greg Newsome II to go along with Ward and Williams give the Browns one of their deepest cornerback rooms in years. All four of those guys are capable of starting, and all four could be in for big seasons.
Zegura: You could legitimately make the case for any of the position groups on the defensive side of the ball here, but I am going with the cornerbacks. Ward and M.J. Stewart are the only two returning players who played meaningful snaps for the Browns in 2020 and they will now be joined by three big-time talents. Williams, who was the Browns' second-round pick and a full-time starter as a rookie in 2019, returns from a shoulder/nerve injury that cost him the entire 2020 campaign. He will bring much-needed size and speed to the cornerback room and looked great in the early portion of the offseason. In free agency, the Browns also added veteran slot corner Troy Hill, who led the NFL with three defensive touchdowns a year ago as the starting nickel for the top-ranked Rams defense. Then in the draft, the Browns selected Newsome II with the 26th pick after a 2020 season that saw the Northwestern corner lead the entire FBS in quarterback rating allowed. While Ward and Williams have thus far been exclusively outside corners, both Hill and Newsome have gotten snaps in the slot as well as on the boundary. The Browns now have four first- or second-round picks among their top five corners along with the productive veteran Hill, so this group has elite pedigree and the opportunity to be one of the best coverage groups in the NFL.
Gribble: I'm going to go just a little bit against the grain here and steer the focus to the offense. And then I'm going to go even further against the grain and pick a position that has already shown it can play at an elite level and was arguably the best at what it does in the entire NFL. Yes, I'm picking the offensive line, and there are two big reasons why. First, the continuity. We saw how much better the unit got as the season progressed last season. Now, think how much better it will be with a full year under its belt. Think how much improvement a player like Jedrick Wills Jr. can make after his first full season — a really good one, at that — at left tackle. Think how much higher a breakout player like Wyatt Teller can ascend. Second and perhaps most important — we really didn't get to see the offensive line at full strength much throughout the 2020 season. Injuries and other absences here and there limited the group to just eight full games together. Sure, the Browns' O-line finished first in both run and pass blocking grades by Pro Football Focus, so improvement may be hard to quantify but there's always room to improve, and this area of the Browns could be even more dangerous in 2021 because of it.