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Zegura's Deep Dive: Analyzing the offense 1 week into Training Camp


Not many questions in this room for the second straight year. Baker Mayfield is your clear starter and looking to bounce back in Year 3 under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. It's been an up and down start to camp for Mayfield, who is coming off of his best day thus far (Thursday's practice) and has shown a real connection with new TE Austin Hooper. Veteran Case Keenum, who led the Vikings to the NFC Championship in 2017, is the top backup and has added some real veteran leadership to the room. Garrett Gilbert is poised to be the team's third quarterback for the second straight season. The only real question is if the Browns keep two or three quarterbacks on the final 53-man roster.

Stock Up: The quality of the room in general

Running Back

The consensus around the NFL is not only that the Browns have the best 1-2 punch at running back this year, but also it is the best we have seen in decades. Nick Chubb has missed the last three practices with a concussion, but even in limited early action it is easy to see that last year's second leading rusher in the NFL looks poised for another monster season in 2020. Kareem Hunt has been handling the vast majority of the first team work with Chubb out. Hunt is finally healthy and looks very much like the back who led the NFL in rushing in 2017 and posted 1,200-plus total yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018. Hunt's vision, especially on cutbacks, and his incredible speed have been on full display throughout camp in Berea. How Stefanski chooses to split the workload between these two elite backs remains one of the biggest questions headed into the season, but it can definitely be filed under the category of a good dilemma to have. Dontrell Hilliard and D'Ernest Johnson are battling to claim the No. 3 running back spot. Johnson has had a number of good runs, while showing excellent hands out of the backfield and tremendous grit in pass protection thus far. It should also be noted that both made significant contributions on special teams last year and would be tapped to do so again this year, although Hilliard could cede the return duties to either WR Donovan Peoples-Jones or JoJo Natson. Rounding out the tailback room is UDFA Benny LeMay, who was incredibly productive in college at Charlotte and won the offensive MVP in this year's Shrine Game. At 5-foot-8, 220 pounds, LeMay is a bigger back than either Johnson or Hilliard and has shown excellent burst on the ground and soft hands out of the backfield. He has made the most of his limited reps thus far and it will be interesting to see if he has earned more in the coming weeks. At fullback, Andy Janovich, has been on the field a lot and has made an impression with not only his lead blocking, but also his hands out of the backfield. Janovich, who averages more than 10 yards per catch for his career, seems to catch at least a ball or two per day. Johnny Stanton is the other true fullback on the roster for now.

Stock Up: Johnson, Janovich

Check out photos from the sixth day of Browns Camp

Wide Receivers

Despite being hampered by injuries in 2019, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry became the first Browns WR duo to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. Fully healthy headed into 2020, both expect to be much better this season, and if the early returns from Browns camp are any indication, they will be. A healthy Beckham has been a sight to behold in Berea, making highlight plays on an almost daily basis. He seems to be having a lot of fun out there and thus far, when the pass game is really clicking, Beckham has been at the center of the action, along with Landry and Hooper. Beckham looks more explosive than a year ago and has been creating a lot of separation, catching everything thrown his way and even beating the occasional double team. Landry is Mr. Reliable for Mayfield and looks exactly like you'd expect the man who has made five straight Pro Bowls to look.  

Beyond the dynamic duo, I would say things are wide open in the competition for the Browns third receiver. Now this is an offense that may not rely heavily on three receiver sets, but it will still be an important role. Rashard Higgins is back in the fold with the Browns and is looking to regain his 2018 chemistry with Mayfield. It has been a slow start to camp for Higgins, but he is the most accomplished receiver in the mix. If you were to design a prototype No. 1 receiver in a lab, he would look a lot like rookie Peoples-Jones. DPJ has been one of the early standouts at Browns camp and has proven to be a great hands catcher who knows how to use his combination of size and speed to get open and make plays. He has gotten some work with the starters and made the most of it, punctuated by a red zone team period touchdown catch from Mayfield against the No. 1 defense. Khadarel Hodge would be as close to a lock as you can have to make this team just as a special teams ace, but he has had a very strong start to camp as a receiver. He has been a part of two of the longest touchdowns in camp thus far and is looking to build on last year, when he averaged 19 yards per catch in limited action. Taywan Taylor is a former third-round pick of the Titans who did not see much action with the Browns in 2019. He has speed to burn and has looked like a reliable option early in camp with his ability to get open and make plays in space. Natson was brought to the Browns to help boost the return game, a job he held for the Rams for multiple seasons, including their 2018 trip to the Super Bowl. He has also gotten some work with the first team in camp at receiver and has shown good after- the-catch ability.  

Damion Ratley is coming off of a career-high 200 yards receiving in 2019. The former sixth-round pick has spent the majority of the first week of camp on the injured list and needs to get back on the field to get into the competition. D.J. Montgomery is hoping to replicate his excellent camp from a year ago and is competing for reps with other roster hopefuls J'Mon Moore and Ja'Marcus Bradley.  

Stock Up: DPJ, Hodge, Taylor

Tight Ends

This room has consistently been the best part of the offense through the first week of Browns camp. Hooper's chemistry with Mayfield is undeniable (thanks in large part to the work these two put in together in Austin, Texas this summer) and he looks poised for a third straight trip to the Pro Bowl. He has been a great target over the middle for Mayfield and will clearly be a focus in the red zone.  Hooper is a stout blocker but moves like a receiver and catches everything he gets his hands on. David Njoku's athleticism continues to stand out on a daily basis. His speed down the seam and his leaping ability in the red zone have led to some spectacular plays. For Njoku, continued improvement as a blocker and consistency at the catch point will lead to a very efficient and productive season in this tight end friendly offense. Rookie Harrison Bryant looks like a veteran, which is a testament to his offseason work, especially this year. He is a natural route runner, always seems to be open and has become an absolute favorite of Keenum with the second team. Like Hooper, he has caught everything in his vicinity and has demonstrated a massive catch radius and incredible body control, especially on some diving contested catches in the red zone. If Bryant's next few weeks follow the trends of his first week, it will be very difficult to keep the Mackey Award winner off the field, even early in the season. He has absolutely been one of the early camp standouts. Pharaoh Brown is healthy and moving better than he has at any time in his Browns career. He will do most of his work as a blocker (he is the team's top blocking tight end), but has shown the ability to use his massive frame in the red zone early in camp and has made some nice end zone grabs. "Stiff arm" Stephen Carlson played receiver in college and the second-year tight end continues to be an easy route runner. All five tight ends will be playing on Sundays, and it will be interesting to see how many land on the Browns final 53.

Stock Up: Hooper, Bryant, Brown

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Offensive Line

For the first time in a long time, the Browns enter the 2020 season with all five starting positions set on their offensive line. Rookie Jedrick Wills Jr. is the left tackle and is off to an uneven start in camp as he makes the transition to the left side. He is getting valuable reps and work against savvy veterans Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn, which will pay dividends down the road. Expect his improvement to be exponential over the next few weeks, said Joe Thomas, who knows all too well the difficulty of making the jump to the NFL as a first round LT. Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio will be the left guard, Wyatt Teller the right guard and former All-Pro Jack Conklin is the team's new right tackle. As tough as they come, NFLPA President JC Tretter has not missed a snap over the last three years and hopes to extend that streak into the 2020 season. He is one of the most underrated centers in the entire league but has not been able to participate in camp thus far due to a recent knee procedure. The Browns hope he will be available for Week 1 against the Ravens, but if he isn't, rookie Nick Harris will get the call. Harris, the team's fifth-round pick, is a two-time All Pac-12 center and has taken every first-team rep so far. The fact that you haven't really noticed him that much is a definite compliment for the rookie. He definitely has had his rookie moments, but the Browns have been very pleased by how quickly he is picking things up and avoiding repeating his mistakes. He is laying a valuable foundation for his NFL career, but the hope is that Tretter is ready and Harris will not have to make his debut this season. 

Chris Hubbard restructured his deal to stay with the team and is the top backup along the line. When Conklin got a veteran's day off, it was Hubbard who took his place at right tackle with the first team. Hubbard has started 29 games at tackle over the last two years for the Browns and has played every single position along the line in his NFL career. It is an understatement to say that Hubbard will provide valuable depth and experience. Kendall Lamm, who has made 15 starts over the last two years for the Texans and Browns, is the other top backup at tackle.  

Evan Brown seems to be the top backup to Harris while Tretter is out and has also gotten some work at guard with the second team. Depth at guard is definitely a question mark as the Browns had multiple players at the position opt out of the season. Willie Wright, who was on the team's practice squad last year, Michael Dunn and Casey Dunn, who just joined the team this week, are all in the mix. 

Stock Up: Harris