Quarterback: The pecking order at quarterback was clear before training camp. It remains clear, and that will not change barring an injury. Tyrod Taylor has shown exactly why coach Hue Jackson tabbed him as the starter early in the offseason. Not only has Taylor’s leadership been on full display, but also his ability to make quick decisions and deliver the football accurately at all three levels. He has been the best quarterback the Browns have had in my six years with the team, and the players and coaches are firmly behind him. The top overall pick in this year’s draft, Baker Mayfield, has made huge strides since minicamp and doesn’t look like a rookie at all. He is hanging in the pocket longer, showing incredible zip on the ball and the pinpoint accuracy that made him so successful at Oklahoma. Mayfield has not turned the ball over during team drils through five days of camp. He has clearly been dedicated to the playbook, and the next step for will be identifying pressure and taking the easy completion when his protection breaks down. Drew Stanton has brought a steady, veteran presence to the third team and is relishing his role as the mentor to the No. 1 overall pick. From top to bottom, this is the most talented and complete quarterback room the Browns have had in a long, long time.
Running Back: It has been a strong start for the Browns remade backfield. Veteran Carlos Hyde, rookie Nick Chubb and the versatile Duke Johnson have all made big runs and big catches in the first five days of camp. Hyde has shown the ability to do it all for the Browns in terms of running (with good vision and power), catching the ball and has stood out in pass protection. He is the early favorite to lead this team in carries, and I would expect that the vet, who has averaged over 1,200 total yards and 8.5 touchdowns the last two years, has the best chance to open the season as the primary option in this committee. Chubb is the most natural runner of the bunch, possessing a rare combination of breakaway speed, explosive power, good vision and the ability to change direction on a dime. Chubb hit multiple big runs on Day 5 of camp and is one of the biggest reasons why both players and coaches have raved about the overall talent in the running back room. The old-school, no-nonsense Chubb has shown a good early understanding and willingness in pass protection, but that is the one area he must continue to improve if he wants to increase his playing time. Johnson has been lined up all over the field for offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the versatile weapon, who earned a nice new contract this offseason, is poised to once again be a mismatch machine for the Browns. Early in camp, it is clear that Haley envisions utilizing Johnson in the passing game much like he used Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh. Johnson has caught passes out of the backfield, in the slot and split out wide (sometimes after motion to get the defense to identify its coverage) in addition to showing his natural shiftiness as a runner. The biggest challenge with the running backs will be on the coaches, as there is only so much playing time and so many touches to go around.
Danny Vitale is the only fullback on the roster and has a great camp as a blocker. If he can haul in a few more of the passes thrown his way, Vitale could be a nice surprise offensive weapon for a play or two a game.
The Browns finish their fifth day of practice.
Wide Receivers: Uncertainty still surrounds this group with the absence of Josh Gordon (and the season ending injury to Ricardo Louis), but their absence has opened up opportunities for others and they have made the most of them. Jarvis Landry is the unquestioned top target for Taylor, as they have connected for big plays and touchdowns on a daily basis. Landry has been the best player on offense every single day. He knows how to get open and catches absolutely everything thrown his way. His work ethic, in terms of refusing days off, the manner in which he attacks every repetition and relentlessness as a blocker have made a major impact on the Browns’ talented, but youthful receiving corps. Corey Coleman is coming off his best back-to-back days of camp since the early part of his first training camp as a rookie. His route running has improved and he has repeatedly made difficult catches. Coleman is generating more separation than he has in previous years, and when he is asked to make a contested catch, he is high-pointing and fighting for the ball, which has led to some great plays. In speaking with him, it is clear Coleman has been humbled by his struggles in his first two years and that Landry and Taylor have both taken the former first-round pick under their tutelage with great effect. He looks like a different player and could be a real key piece of this offense in what Haley has called a “make or break” season for Coleman. Rookie Antonio Callaway knows he has first-round talent and it has been on full display early in camp as the third receiver in with the first team. Callaway has been a tough matchup in one-on-one situations and looks to be the most natural and speedy route runner the team has. Callaway can beat you vertically, but it is his separation, catch radius and after-the-catch ability that have really stood out early in camp. Callaway will have a very bright future, and you would not know he did not play football last year. If he can stay healthy (he missed time in OTAs and minicamp) and focused on football, he can make an immediate impact. No one has made more of their opportunity this offseason than Rashard Higgins. Higgins has emerged as the clear favorite target of Mayfield with the second team and is making plays daily. Higgins has added some muscle this offseason but has also improved his speed. He has shown vastly improved route running skills, and it’s hard to find anyone on the team who has done more in the first five days to help their respective stock than Higgins, who never wants to be cut at the end of camp like he was a year ago. Jeff Janis is likely to more of a special teams contributor but has shown the ability to stretch the field vertically and win on intermediate routes. Janis is currently sidelined with a knee injury. Sixth-round pick Damion Ratley has bounced back from a hip injury and has flashed exceptional speed with natural after-the-catch ability. He and Mayfield have connected for more than a few big plays, but Ratley is still raw as a route runner. C.J. Board doesn’t do anything flashy, but he just continues to make plays. It started in OTAs and has not stopped in camp. Board has a knack for getting open and also has made multiple tough catches in the red zone, earning the trust of the quarterbacks.
Tight Ends: Much like the running back room, the Browns effectively have three starting tight ends, as David Njoku, Seth DeValve and Darren Fells have all been a part of the first team in both single and multiple tight end sets. It should also be noted that you could see more two tight end sets under Haley than the Browns have seen in the past, and it’s not just Fells (blocker) with a receiver, as Njoku and DeValve have been on the field together extensively, especially in the red zone. So far, Njoku has had an up and down camp. There is no questioning his ability to get open, and Njoku has improved drastically as a blocker, but he has to become more consistent catching the football. Njoku has been putting in extra time with the Jugs machine to improve his hands, but his consistency as a catcher and ability to match his play speed with his true speed will go a long way to determining just how much of a breakout season he has in 2018. With Gordon sidelined, the Browns need Njoku because he is without a question their biggest and most athletic pass catcher. DeValve is the best route runner of the group and a mismatch weapon. DeValve can create separation from linebackers and safeties while overpowering smaller cornerbacks in both the pass and run game. He is currently sidelined with a quadriceps injury, but if early camp practices are any indication, DeValve, who has the second leading receiver on the team a year ago, will have a bigger role than most might anticipate. Fells is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-7, 270 pounds who has brought a bruising blocking style to the offense. He essentially provides Haley with an extra offensive lineman, and his blocks have already led to multiple second-level runs. He has not been used much in the passing game but has shown the ability to use his height in the red zone and down the seam. Devon Cajuste is a move tight end who put up 90 catches for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns at Stanford. He is a natural receiver who made some good catches, especially in the red zone, before suffering a concussion that cost him the last few days of camp. Cajuste must continue to work on his blocking and special teams abilities to force his way onto this roster.
Offensive Line: At no other position do the Browns have this combination of certainty and uncertainty. The Browns are set with four of their starters, RT Chris Hubbard, RG Kevin Zeitler, C JC Tretter and LG Joel Bitonio. Through five days of training camp, however, there does not seem to be any kind of answer for who will replace surefire Hall of Famer Joe Thomas at left tackle. Shon Coleman has received just about all of the “starter” reps at left tackle, but has had his ups and downs. Coleman is a natural mauler in the run game and has flashed his ability there, but pass protection has been a trouble spot. Corbett was the 33rd pick in this year’s draft and has received reps at both left tackle and left guard. When camp opened, Corbett was the third-team left tackle while working as the second-team left guard. While some have pegged Corbett as an interior lineman, including Thomas himself, the Browns will give their talented rookie every opportunity to compete for that left tackle job. Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has not lived up to his lofty draft status but is getting another chance to capitalize on his talents with the Browns. Robinson opened camp as the second-team LT and had a very impressive day and a half, where his physical dominance was on full display, before suffering a concussion that has kept him sidelined the last three practices. At 6-foot-5 and north of 330 pounds, Robinson is an imposing figure who has 48 career starts. Robinson could get a long look with the first team once he returns from his concussion. Desmond Harrison is an extremely talented rookie but has opened camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Beyond the LT question, the Browns have a solid starting core and good depth. Spencer Drango has started eight games for the Browns at both tackle and guard. Austin Reiter is fully healthy and provides a lot of stability as the backup center. He was impressive in his lone start a year ago and the coaches have praised his football IQ. The numbers game will certainly be in play for general manager John Dorsey because the Browns have more quality depth than in past years. The decisions will be tough.