Five questions? Why not? It’s a two-Mailbag week at ClevelandBrowns.com, and we’re covering all of our bases.
Who will be the five or six receivers that make up part of the Browns offense in 2019? -- Bryon W., Detroit
Needless to say, I feel good about the projected starters. That would be perennial Pro Bowlers and best friends Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, a duo that is already one of the most accomplished in the NFL. The next two in line feel pretty solid, too. Antonio Callaway enters his second season after a rookie campaign that featured its share of ups and downs but ended with him leading the team in touchdowns (five) and third in yards (586). His upside is tremendous. Rashard Higgins also figures to have a role after a breakout season that saw him finish with 39 catches, 572 yards and four touchdowns.
There’s just nothing certain beyond that quartet. There are plenty of options, though, and training camp will determine who grabs one of the final spots in Adam Henry’s wide receivers room.
Two members of last year’s group, Damion Ratley and Derrick Willies, are back for their second NFL seasons. Ratley shined in expanded action Week 6 against the Chargers (six receptions, 82 yards) but didn’t see the field all that much the rest of the way. Willies shined in Cleveland’s overtime win over the Ravens but was lost for the season a few days later after an injury in practice. Both were contributors on special teams, and that will be a must from Cleveland’s fifth or sixth (if the team keeps six) receivers.
The February signing of Jaelen Strong was an intriguing one. A former third-round pick, Strong was out of football in 2018 because of a knee injury he suffered late in the 2017 season. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he has the size teams covet at the position, and he’d stand out among a Browns receiving corps that skews a bit on the shorter side.
Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, one of the most off-the-radar offseason signings you’ll ever see, has a chance to land a spot as a return man (more on that later). Ishmael Hyman had a strong showing in the AAF. Blake Jackson has been around the Browns program for nearly a year. The options are there. Competition will separate who’s worthy of one of the final spots.
It appears that John Dorsey has done a phenomenal job of building a competitive roster. I see backup tight end as a need. Any chance that we pick up Kyle Rudolph? There is speculation that Minnesota will release him due to salary cap concerns. Thank you. -- Joe S., Avon
This isn’t the place to speculate about acquiring players who are currently employed, so we won’t go down that alley. The tight end room is currently six-deep with David Njoku and offseason signing Demetrius Harris featured as the headliners. Seth DeValve, who is entering his fourth season, is looking to have a bounceback season after injuries kept him out of a good chunk of the preseason last year. Orson Charles is listed as a tight end but was primarily used as a fullback last season. Pharaoh Brown and undrafted rookie Stephen Carlson will look to impress in training camp in their fight for a roster spot. It’s maybe not the deepest position group on the roster, but it’s not worthy of sounding the alarm bells, in our opinion.
We drafted Howard Wilson two years ago. I know he has dealt with the kneecap injury. Is there any word on his return this year? He could be another valuable corner if he is healthy. -- Gavin N., Celina
Wilson, a former fourth-round pick, was waived in March and has yet to land with another team.
Nick Shook covered Sheehy-Guiseppi’s wild story in-depth in this great feature. In a football world where seemingly everything is known about every possible prospect, Sheehy-Guiseppi was a true outlier.
Sheehy-Guiseppi is among the numerous options Cleveland has as potential returners. The Browns simply want to be better in all areas on special teams in 2019 after being among the worst in the league the previous year. Along with Sheehy-Guiseppi, I’d keep an eye on Dontrell Hilliard and Antonio Callaway as potential options on punts and kicks.
“We are going to be better on special teams,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said last week. “Personnel-wise, we will be better. We will be better on special teams. I promise you that.”
I do because I think Dorsey went above and beyond to ensure the group would have significant options after trading right guard Kevin Zeitler to the Giants in the Odell Beckham Jr.-Olivier Vernon mega deal with the Giants. Austin Corbett will get his shot to fill the void at right guard, but he won’t be the only option. Veterans Eric Kush and Bryan Witzmann will push the second-year lineman while also providing position versatility that could prove valuable if an injury or two hits the offensive line. Kendall Lamm, a regular starter for the Texans last year, will push Chris Hubbard at right tackle. Desmond Harrison has another year of experience under his belt and is a solid No. 2 option behind Greg Robinson at left tackle. Sixth-round pick Drew Forbes will get his first shot at tackle and could be a solid option at guard if that’s where the Browns project his best fit.