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With the 2020 NFL preseason games now cut in half, the Cleveland Browns will see more urgency in their position battles going forward. While players like quarterback Baker Mayfield and left end Myles Garrett are locks for their respective positions, there’s several positions on the field that could see what was originally a battle turn into a war.
What are these positions and who will win? Let’s find out!
3rd Wide Receiver: Rashard Higgins vs. Donovan Peoples-Jones vs. Damion Ratley
On paper, Higgins looks like the clear cut winner. He and Mayfield have had a great connection since Mayfield was drafted and he’s seemingly on the bubble to break out. Who could possibly challenge him?
Not so fast: rookie wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones could make this a real battle. While he struggled at Michigan, much of that was due to poor quarterback play. Many believe he’ll make for a better pro player but it’s going to have to start at camp. People forget he was a five-star recruit going into college: that has to mean something.
Perhaps a dark horse in this regard is Damion Ratley. The Texas A&M product has seen some field time due to injury and wide receiver rotation, racking up a decent 300 yards and one touchdown. He won’t get a great look but at least it’s a look.
Prediction: Rashard Higgins
His chemistry with Mayfield aside, Higgins has been an underrated receiver in this Cleveland offense. Peoples-Jones should see significant playing time but not to the point of being the third wide receiver. Ratley also is more a rotational guy at this juncture. Could it change? Sure but it’s unlikely.
2nd Tight End: David Njoku vs. Harrison Bryant
Barring a clinic from Stephen Carlson, David Njoku is seen as the favorite for this job. After losing his number one spot to free agent Austin Hooper, Njoku has a bit to prove. He’s been Mayfield’s safety valve option and for the most part has been productive.
However, going into his fourth year, he’s had problems blocking as well as some issues dropping passes.
Enter fourth round pick Harrison Bryant from the University of Florida Atlantic. Bryant received early comparisons to San Francisco 49ers’ tight end George Kittle and Seattle Seahawks’ tight end Greg Olsen. He’s seen more as a receiver but does have some blocking ability, as he switched between offensive tackle and tight end in high school.
Prediction: Harrison Bryant
Let’s put aside the fact that Cleveland picked up Njoku’s fifth-year option and the fact that he was injured/in former head coach Freddie Kitchens’ dog house last year. He just hasn’t developed into the star many projected him to be. If Bryant catches any kind of fire, he could push Njoku out quickly.
Right Guard: Wyatt Teller vs. Drew Forbes vs. Chris Hubbard
Cleveland could realistically sign another player and maybe should consider making a move, since it’s the weakest point on the offensive line. However there are three candidates available here. Teller started last year after they acquired him from the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately he hasn’t been that great, as his pro football focus score of 56.7 has shown.
Chris Hubbard had his struggles at right tackle the last few years. However his past has seen him play a little bit of guard. Can he make the transition to guard more full time? He could do well but the sample size is so small that it does beg the question.
Then there’s the name that former general manager John Dorsey drafted last year, Drew Forbes. Sports Illustrated called him “prospect x,” which is designated as the deepest sleeper pick in the draft. Injuries hampered his development in his rookie season. He’s also a bit raw which could pose an issue.
Prediction: Drew Forbes
Forbes is an interesting pick only because he’s been viewed as a massive sleeper by his peers. While raw, playing next to right tackle Jack Conklin should definitely help. Teller will most likely be the back up but he showed why Buffalo traded him after one year. Hubbard will challenge but his value is higher as a back up with versatility.
Right End: Olivier Vernon vs. Adrian Clayborn
Last year was hard year for Olivier Vernon. He played in just ten games and garnered 3.5 sacks. While he was injured, his lack of production has led to the pursuit of free agent Jadeveon Clowney.
Clayborn makes things interesting as he’s stepped up in a rotational roll with the Atlanta Falcons and carved out some decent numbers. Included was a really good 2017 campaign where he had 10 sacks, earning himself an 84.4 PFF score.
Prediction: Olivier Vernon
Let’s be honest, if they released Vernon earlier, then Clayborn would be taking over the reins. However, unless they sign Clowney or Everson Griffen or someone else, it’s Vernon’s job to lose. If he struggles again this year, expect the hook and expect them to make a run at a free agent or one of the highly coveted edge rushers in the draft next year.
Linebacker: B.J. Goodson vs. Jacob Phillips vs. Sione Takitaki
Right now, the only linebacker that’s a safe bet to start is Mack Wilson, who has some developing to do but has shown strong potential. That leaves at least one spot open. Between three names, this linebacker corps is going to have to show that they can play well to stay in games.
Goodson is the veteran of the group and he’s been a rotational guy for all of his career. If given the chance, he’ll have to step his game up radically. There’s been crazier things but he’s going to have a decent sized mountain to climb.
Takitaki is seen as a very hungry player and someone who looks for every opportunity. Last year Cleveland used him exclusively on special teams. Early word has been that he’s attacked the playbook quickly and has impressed coaches but it needs to translate on the field.
Phillips caught a lot of flack early when he was drafted over local favorite Malik Harrison. However when researched, he was one of the best tacklers in college and could go sideline-to-sideline. If he can add onto that, Cleveland may something here.
Prediction: Jacob Phillips
If Cleveland goes with a more traditional three linebacker set, expect Takitaki to be the third man and switch out with Goodson on occasion. However if they stick with the two linebacker set like what’s being suggested, Phillips will see significant playing time.
Dime back: Terrence Mitchell vs. Tavierre Thomas vs. Donovan Olumba vs. A.J. Green
At this juncture, Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward are the outside cornerbacks, with Kevin Johnson covering the slot receiver. However, with more defensive backs being on the field, the fourth cornerback role will be huge. The early favorite is veteran Terrance Mitchell, as he enters his third year in Cleveland.
Donovan Olumba has seen limited opportunities and has not taken the bull by the horns. In 32 snaps last year, he recorded no stats. He’ll have to look absolutely brilliant if he wants to see the field more.
A.J. Green provides a very intriguing option. Many figured he’d be drafted in day three of the draft but instead went undrafted. If he can cash the chip on his shoulder in and develop, he could see a lot of action.
Prediction: Terrance Mitchell
While it would be great to see Green beat him out, Mitchell has more experience and has been a consistent voice in the Cleveland locker room. Green needs more time to develop.
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