Browns QB Robert Griffin III

3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Cleveland Browns

Up next in our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2016 season is the Cleveland Browns, coming off a last-place finish in the AFC North last season.

The Browns continued their string of mediocrity in 2015, going 3-13 and facing controversy with QB Johnny Manziel, who has since been released. The 3-13 record was the Browns’ worst since 2000, when they finished with the same mark and a four-game decline from 2014. With Manziel out of the picture, the team signed QB Robert Griffin III to a two-year contract in March, and he is the leading candidate to begin the season as the starter heading into the preseason. Other quarterbacks on the roster who will likely compete for the job, and may get it at some point during the season, include Connor Shaw and Josh McCown, who played with the Browns in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Whoever ends up under center has a new target to throw to, in the form of first-round draft pick WR Corey Coleman. WR Josh Gordon, who was suspended for all of 2015, has been reinstated and will be able to play starting in Week 5, after serving a four-game suspension, if he doesn’t get into further trouble before then.

Griffin last played with the Redskins in 2014, going 2-5 in seven starts in which he threw for 1,694 yards and 4 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. His running game, which was one of his best traits in college and his rookie season in the NFL, was virtually non-existent. McCown, who is likely Griffin’s biggest competition for the starting gig, started eight games for Cleveland last year, throwing for 2,109 yards and 12 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. The running game was split pretty evenly last season between RBs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, who started nine and seven games, respectively, although neither rusher really shined in 2015. Crowell carried the ball 185 times for 706 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Johnson’s 104 rushes accounted for 379 yards and no touchdowns. Johnson put up good numbers in the passing game, though, with 61 receptions for 534 yards and 2 touchdowns. TE Gary Barnidge was the team’s leading receiver; he caught 79 balls for 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns. The defense was among the worst in the league, allowing the fourth-most points among defenses.

If the Browns hope to have any success on offense this season, they’ll likely have to rely on Barnidge to repeat his performance from last year and count on Gordon to return to the promise he showed early in his career before sitting out 2015. Barnidge underwent sports hernia surgery in early June, but should be ready for the start of the season. Coleman could jump up the wide-receiver depth chart early in the season if he can adjust to the pro game, but Gordon’s reinstatement could limit Coleman’s role on the team. Don’t be surprised if Johnson is a bigger part of the running game this year, to go along with the receiving stats he put up last year.

The Browns’ schedule isn’t going to be much of a help for a team that isn’t expected to be very good anyway, The Browns begin their season on the road against the Eagles. In addition to their usual games against division foes like the Steelers and Bengals, the Browns face the Patriots at home in Week 5 — in what will be QB Tom Brady’s first game of the season following his four-game Deflategate suspension — the Cowboys in Week 9, and the Giants in Week 12. It’s not an easy schedule, especially with it ending on the road at the Steelers. It’s going to be another bad year for the Browns, I’m not sure they’ll even match the three wins they got last season. At least the Cavs won the title this year, so Cleveland has that going for it.

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