After watching every minute of the first five Browns training camp practices, Senior Media Broadcaster Nathan Zegura relays what he’s seen and examines each position group on the offensive side of the ball and identifies whose stock is up.
Finally this can be the shortest paragraph of the bunch! Baker Mayfield is your unquestioned starter, Drew Stanton is your unquestioned backup and Garrett Gilbert, who is coming off a strong season in the now-defunct AAF, is the strong leader in the clubhouse to be your third quarterback should the team elect to keep three. David Blough, an undersized rookie out of Purdue, has had an up and down camp thus far.
Stock Up: Those who have yearned for a Franchise Quarterback
Nick Chubb has made massive strides as a pass catcher since his rookie season, as he looks so much more natural and comfortable running routes, catching the ball and making plays in the open field. Chubb has been a bright spot for the offense day in and day out in camp and looks poised for a huge second season. This is the one room with multiple injuries thus far as Kareem Hunt, Duke Johnson Jr. (who had been featured heavily alongside Chubb with the first-team offense before his injury) and Trayone Gray have all missed significant time. Dontrell Hilliard has stepped up in their absence as the No. 2 running back and has produced as both a receiver and runner thus far, and his long touchdown scamper in the live period on Sunday has been the biggest play of training camp thus far. D'Ernest Johnson has flashed some potential and young A.J. Ouellette has shown good hands and a lot of grit. This is a top-heavy room right now with Chubb, Johnson, Hunt and Hilliard the clear top quartet.
Stock Up: Hilliard
Check out photos from the fifth day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
What a difference a year makes! This is arguably the most talented receiver room in the NFL following the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., who has already made multiple highlight reel plays in just five days of camp. Jarvis Landry, who has been catching everything thrown his way, works alongside his best friend in two-receiver sets and typically kicks into the slot role in three-receiver sets, when Rashard Higgins joins the lineup. Thus far, Higgins, who has an undeniable chemistry with Mayfield, has been the exclusive third receiver with the first-team offense in camp and seems to have a firm grip on that job, because of his precise route running and consistency both mentally and physically. Antonio Callaway has had an up and down camp with some mental errors and drops mixed in with huge plays as both a pass-catcher and runner (he scored on an end-around in Monday’s red zone period). It has been a little surprising Callaway has not received many reps with the first-team thus far, and it seems that he will have to earn his way into those three-receiver sets going forward.
No one in the receiver room seems to have helped their stock more over the first five days than Derrick Willies. At 6-foot-4, Willies is the tallest and longest receiver on the roster and has been incredibly reliable, showing the ability to get open and make plays day in and day out. On Monday, when Beckham did not participate in the team periods, it was Willies who stepped into his role as the starter and hauled in multiple passes from Mayfield against the starting defense. That, combined with his special teams prowess, has Willies in strong position right now. Damion Ratley, a sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft, has looked good when he’s on the field but unfortunately was injured while making a tough touchdown catch and has not been able to practice since the very beginning of camp. Getting back on the field will be critical for Ratley, who hopes to hold off a surging group of young receivers that have been the early stars of camp. No one has worked harder or spent more time on the field before and after practice thus far than Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, who has made multiple big plays and even earned a shoutout from Beckham and Landry on NFL Network. Sheehy-Guiseppi was the runaway camp star before dropping a few easy passes Monday that could have been huge plays.
Blake Jackson was the star over the weekend and continues to get open, make catches and fight for a shot at the 53-man roster. Jaelen Strong has the best pedigree of the receivers competing for the fifth and sixth spots and has demonstrated the ability to make tough catches in traffic, especially in the red zone, where he is able to use his big frame (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) to shield defenders. Strong will have to show the ability to consistently create separation and contribute on special teams if he is to make this roster. Ishmael Hyman was a surprise star of OTAs and minicamp and has continued to get work with the second-team offense as the slot receiver in training camp. Hyman has a knack for getting open over the middle of the field and has even received some reps with the first offense. He is definitely in the mix for the 53-man roster as well. Rookies D.J. Montgomery and Dorian Baker have shown promise but face a steep uphill climb in this very deep and talented receiving corps.
Stock Up: Willies, Sheehy-Guiseppi, Jackson, Hyman
David Njoku has been a red zone touchdown machine early in camp and the Browns have had a lot of success utilizing two-tight end sets with Njoku alongside newcomer Demetrius Harris, especially in the red zone. Harris is the clear No. 2 tight end and has the size to be a dominant in-line blocker but also the athleticism (as a former college basketball player) to make plays in the pass game as well. Seth DeValve was the team’s leading receiver in 2017 and is attempting to show versatility as a lead blocker in addition to his route running skills. Orson Charles is in the mix once again as a fullback/tight end hybrid who brings an unmatched physicality and intensity to the position. The potential sleeper here is Pharaoh Brown, who is an incredibly smooth athlete at 6-foot-6, 258 pounds and has flashed the ability to make big plays down the seam. The top two tight ends are clear, but the battle behind them will be an interesting one to watch.
Stock Up: None
Much like last year, the Browns enter camp with four starting line positions set and a battle for the fifth. LT Greg Robinson, LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter and RT Chris Hubbard are all firmly entrenched in their roles, but RG is up for grabs in a three-way battle between last year’s 33rd overall pick, Austin Corbett, free agent signee Eric Kush and second-year player Kyle Kalis. All three have received first team reps thus far, all three have G/C versatility, but none have separated themselves, Freddie Kitchens said Monday. Corbett is the draft pick and will get every chance to win the job, but Kush has looked strong in the early going, especially in pass protection. Kendall Lamm has been the top tackle (primarily at RT) with the second unit thus far, which is not surprising considering he started 13 games a year ago for the Houston Texans. Bryan Witzmann has been the second team LG thus far, but has not received any starter reps in the RG competition. Brad Seaton is the tallest member of the roster at 6-foot-9 and has been working as the second-team LT early in camp. He has incredible size and some raw attributes, but technique work will be key to his development. Sixth-round pick Drew Forbes has been getting work both as a G and at LT with the third team as he makes the adjustment to the NFL from Southeast Missouri State. Typically, the Browns carry eight or nine offensive linemen into the season and had nine on their initial 53-man roster a year ago.
Stock Up: Seaton