We have seen exactly one quarter of the 2017 NFL season. Currently, the Cleveland Browns stand at 0-4, and don’t have very much time to turn this thing around. Sadly, that narrative sounds all too familiar in Cleveland. But why exactly are they winless at the bottom of the AFC North? Let’s take a look, and give out some Browns season grades for the first quarter of the 2017 season.
I’m going to give rookie DeShone Kizer the benefit of the doubt here, and give him an optimistic B-. Although the patience of many Browns fans is starting to wear thin on Kizer, there are a few extremely important things to remember.
First off, you have to keep in mind that this guy is only 21 years old. He’s a rookie, and the youngest starting quarterback in the entire league. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind his receiver situation. More on that later. Kizer still has some rather large question marks with his accuracy, but he should give Browns fans enough hope to at least keep the faith with him. At least until he actually gets a couple of serviceable receivers.
Running Backs: C
Isaiah Crowell has been one of the Browns biggest disappointments this year. In 2016, he almost rushed for 1,000 yards behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. This year, he seems to be in I Just Want To Get Out Of Here mode. If Crowell was the only back Cleveland was using, their Browns season grade would probably be around a D. However, there has been a backfield savior of sorts for the Browns this season.
Duke Johnson has been quite the pleasant surprise for the Dawg Pound this season. After a good-not-great 2015 campaign, “The Duke” fell off last year. Thankfully, he seems to be getting back on track this year. Or rather, he seems to be seeing more touches. Johnson is a flat-out playmaker, and Hue Jackson might finally be starting to see that. In all honesty, he might be starting over Crowell by the end of the season.
Wide Receivers: F
Let’s not beat around the bush. This Browns wide receiver group is straight awful. Kenny Britt is basically just stealing money from the Haslam family. Corey Coleman might be injury prone to the point of being a bust. Sammie Coates has all the tools to succeed, except for the fact that he can’t catch a ball and is also injured. Rashard Higgins and Jordan Leslie could turn out to be bright spots, but even they need work. Oh yeah, and Josh Gordon is still out of the league due to stupid decisions on his own part. Don’t do drugs, kids. The wide receiver Browns season grade so far is an F, and it might take a lot to dig them out of that hole.
Tight Ends: C
The Browns tight ends haven’t been laughably bad so far. But don’t get it twisted, they haven’t been world-beaters either, not by a long shot. There are some positives to take away here, so let’s attack those first.
Seth DeValve seems to have a nice little connection with Kizer. Additionally, David Njoku seems to be settling in nice, at least for a rookie tight end. He is stupidly athletic, but again, he’s also very young. Moving on to the negatives. DeValve still needs to work on a problem with dropping the ball, but so does every receiver Kizer has. Also, Njoku can still look lost as a blocker sometimes. I can give that a pass this year, but he will need to work on it in the off-season.
Offensive Line: C+
The one thing that this offensive line does that annoys a lot of people is this. They are so, so good on paper. And yet, it just hasn’t seemed to click. For such a talented offensive line, they have allowed a staggering number of sacks through four games. Maybe I can give that a pass though, as some of that blame falls on Kizer. Once this line truly gels together, you should expect to see this grade really rise. The only position where this line truly lacks is the right tackle. If the Browns can shore that position up, either through the draft or free agency, this line could be the best in the entire NFL. For now, though, it’s painfully average for what it could be.
Defensive Line: B
From one line to the other, our Browns season grades move to the defensive side. So far, the Browns defensive line has actually done quite well without top pick Myles Garrett. Emmanuel Ogbah struggled at first, but it seems he could be returning to form in the coming weeks. Trevon Coley is looking to be a playmaker for seasons to come.
Additionally, the line has been without Danny Shelton. And yet, they basically shut down Le’Veon Bell‘s rushing attack in week one. While they have had some tough sledding since then, the potential is really there. Once Garrett comes back and gets some games under his belt, this meat grinder of a line could be really fun to watch.
Okay, sure. Christian Kirksey isn’t absolutely lighting it up in tackles like he was last year. However, this linebacker group has still shown some serious power, at least against the running game. Jamie Collins went down with a concussion earlier in the year. In that time, Kirksey, along with Joe Schobert, have at least been a serviceable duo.
This linebacking corps is mysterious. Once Collins comes back, they should be able to greatly improve. However, they’re a bit more average than Browns fans had hoped right now. Hopefully once this defense really gets its footing, Gregg Williams can cook up some great schemes for Collins and Kirksey.
God, this secondary is just so weird. First off, they haven’t missed Joe Haden maybe as much as a lot of people thought they would. Jamar Taylor has looked at least alright at times, but has struggled greatly at other points. Additionally, Briean Boddy-Calhoun has looked pretty serviceable, except for the rare blown coverage. Perhaps the weirdest thing about this secondary is the placement of safety Jabrill Peppers.
In the earliest weeks of the season, Peppers was lined up sometimes 25 yards behind the other defenders. While it’s understandable to want to eliminate the deep ball, it’s wrong to have Peppers just sitting there. He is a serious defensive playmaker, and like Njoku, possesses insane athleticism. If he’s not in there, well, making plays, what is he on the field for? In week four, this seemed to be fixed, but it was really weird to see in the earlier games. Either way, things could get really interesting once Ed Reynolds II comes back to the squad. Maybe, just maybe, he is the missing piece for this Browns secondary.
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