Browns Mailbag

Browns Mailbag: How have Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams performed in 1st year together?

It's a festive, holiday edition of the Browns Mailbag, and we're in the giving spirit as always.

Instead of five golden rings, we've got five golden answers for you.

Where did Denzel Ward go this year? How many passes were targeted toward Ward, breakups, tackles, misses, etc.? How about same on Greedy Williams? Even with coverage being harder with no quarterback pressure there seemed to be breakdowns. Thoughts? - Elmer L., Bangor, Maine

Let's start with Ward, who had a good enough of a rookie season to make the Pro Bowl and garnered a ton of praise from Cleveland's top receivers throughout training camp and the preseason. He wasn't really tested much the first two weeks of the season and then went down with a hamstring injury that cost him four games. Since his return, Ward has been described as playing "lights out" football by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and recorded the first pick-six of his career. Neither he nor Williams had their best day in a tough loss at Pittsburgh, but that kind of performance has been the exception, not the norm, for the former No. 4 overall pick.

Ward's numbers, according to Pro Football Focus: 57 targets, 26 receptions, 370 yards.

"As a coach, when I look and break down the tape, he is doing a lot of great things in the run game and coming up and supporting the run, really taking his receiver away at certain times playing man coverage," Wilks said.

"I am not surprised, and as I said before, he practices that way. Each and every day he comes in and really tries to put the time and effort in so it is showing on the field."

Williams, meanwhile, has been targeted a lot because of Ward. When opposing quarterbacks see a Pro Bowl cornerback on one side of the field, and a rookie on the other, where do you think their first choice is going to be? Even still, Williams has largely held his own despite missing the same four games Ward did because of a similar hamstring injury. For a second-round selection, Williams has been Cleveland's top option alongside Ward from the start of the season and, when healthy, hasn't given the team any reason to look elsewhere on the depth chart.

Williams' numbers, according to Pro Football Focus: 47 targets, 28 receptions, 373 yards.

"I like the competition that the teams give me, and hopefully, I can make some plays," Williams said. "That is my main thing is I am trying to make some plays."

Any word on Kareem Hunt returning next year and beyond? It's a different team since he's returned from suspension. - Luke W., Nova Scotia

Hunt has truly changed the Browns offense and has given the team everything they could have hoped since returning Week 10 from his eight-game suspension. He runs angry and is a legitimate weapon in the passing game. In six games, he's already caught 30 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown to go along with 167 rushing yards and two scores. He's also been a great blocker for Nick Chubb, whose production hasn't diminished a bit since Hunt's return.

Hunt is a restricted free agent in 2020, meaning the Browns can place a first-, second- or regular tender on him before he hits the market.

"When you can run the ball to either side, there really is no strength to the formations from a run game standpoint, and then you can release both guys out of the backfield and both of them have good hands and are able to make plays with the ball after the ball is in their hands," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. "Not to mention the fact that I would mention that goes unnoticed is the both of them are excellent pass protectors so now if you need to throw the ball down the field a little bit, you can do it because they can hold up in pass protection."

What does next year's free agency market look like for guards and tackles? -- Vincent V., Toronto

This is never a plentiful group, and early indications are 2020 will bring more of the same. Teams don't like letting good players at these positions hit the market, and odds are a handful of names I list now won't be available by the time Cleveland starts looking in March. 

There are a couple of notable, older tackles that could hit the market. Indianapolis' Anthony Castonzo and Green Bay's Bryan Bulaga are poised to be free agents. Both are in their 30s but are playing at a high level. Cleveland's Greg Robinson is also set to be a free agent.

At guard, the biggest name is probably Brandon Scherff from the Redskins. Some others of note are: Joe Thuney (Patriots), Graham Glasgow (Lions) and Quinton Spain (Bills).

My top five, which does not include Die Hard because it does not qualify: 

1) Christmas Vacation
2) Home Alone
3) The Muppet Christmas Carol
4) Bad Santa
5) Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas (After watching it 500 times, it will make your top five, too.)

Walking in the doors for the start of another day. This has been a great place to work for the past five years, and it's never felt like a job. A close second is entering a new stadium for the first time. And, of course, the most obvious best part is answering everyone's questions in the Browns Mailbag.

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