Training camp can't get here soon enough. By then, we'll have plenty of answers to all of the loose ends surrounding the 2020 Browns.
For now, we simply have some questions.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be discussing those queries and analyzing the variables that accompany them. We've narrowed our list to 10 but there are certainly many more that will need to be answered by the time Cleveland opens the season against the Ravens in Baltimore.
We're continuing today with a look at the return game, where the Browns will look to be much more dynamic than they were in 2019.
The question: Who will emerge as the Browns' top returner, and will it be more than one person?
Overall, Cleveland's special teams units in 2019 were much improved from the previous season. Rookies Austin Seibert and Jamie Gillan held their own at kicker and punter, respectively, while the coverage units were largely stout.
There just wasn't enough improvement in the return game for special teams coordinator Mike Priefer's liking. He's vowed for that to change in 2020.
"We're still not where we need to be," Priefer said in February. "At the end of the day, I think we need to hold up better, hold up on punt return better, protect with our drops better on kickoff return. We have to have more production from our returners. We left some yards on the table, whether it was not hitting the seam right or going down too easy on an arm tackle."
Check out photos of wide receiver JoJo Natson
The biggest highlight of the season came Week 6, when Dontrell Hilliard returned the game's opening kick 74 yards to set up an easy touchdown. D’Ernest Johnson had a 47-yarder later in the year but that was about it for Cleveland's kick return game. On punts, Hilliard and Jarvis Landry each topped out at 18 yards for their best return of the season. The Browns finished the year 16th in punt return average and 20th on kickoffs.
"We had a huge one in Seattle, we had a huge one against Cincinnati last game of the year and two guys that have never returned before," Priefer said. "Obviously, those were the two bigger plays that we had, and we had a lot other returns that were not very good."
Ultimately, the Browns want to change the outcomes of games on special teams. A dynamic option at returner could make that a reality.
Hilliard and Johnson are expected to get another crack at the jobs, but they'll have some new competition.
JoJo Natson, who served as the Rams' main punt and kick returner over the past two seasons, signed with the Browns in March and is expected to be a top competitor at both spots. Natson set a career high with an average of 22.2 yards per kickoff return, while adding 7.7 yards per punt return this past season with the Rams. His career long punt return came in 2018, when he ran one back for 60 yards, and his longest on a kick came in 2017, when he took one 32 yards.
Another player who has a track record of changing games joined the roster through the draft.
Sixth-round wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones was electric as a punt returner during his three seasons at Michigan. He took back two for touchdowns and averaged 8.7 yards on his 83 returns. He did not return kicks, but that shouldn't eliminate him as a possibility in that area for the Browns.
In a post-draft conference call, Browns scout Colton Chapple confirmed Priefer met with Peoples-Jones at the NFL Combine. His value in this area certainly provided a perk few possess that late in the draft.
"Whenever you do have an added skill set – whether it is a returner or whether it is a cover player on special teams – where you can help the team not only on the offensive or defensive side of the ball but you can help in the special teams game, that definitely adds value to the pick and to your roster position," Chapple said. "He was a Freshman All-American as a punt returner so he does have that big play ability. That is almost another added bonus to what he will be able to provide for us in the offensive passing game."