Amongst the Cleveland Browns fan base there has been a ton of optimism for a playoff appearance happening in the very near future. When you look at the roster and the overall talent that is there, the optimism is definitely warranted. It would not be a stretch to say that this is the most talent laden team the Browns have had since returning to Cleveland. There are 5 guys on this team that are solidly in the top 3 of their position in the entire NFL, with 2 of them being the unquestioned best at their position. With that said we are breaking down the ten best Browns players currently on the team.
The Ten Best Current Browns Players
Honorable Mention. Paul Kruger, OLB: Kruger came over to Cleveland after having an awesome season in Baltimore. He was an absolute terror as a pass rusher while playing for the Ravens but benefited from all the attention opposing teams gave to Terrell Suggs. He should return to his old form with the help of a coaching change and better scheme fit for his talents. He is somewhat of a liability against the run but if he can get back to his 2012 playing level the Browns will greatly benefit from it.
10. Ben Tate, RB: For the first time in his career Ben Tate has the opportunity to be a teams featured running back. He’s proven to be a capable runner despite playing second fiddle to Arian Foster while in Houston and constantly battling injuries. If he can stay healthy there is absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t be able to rush for at least 1,000 yards this season. Tate is a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s rushing attack and should benefit from playing behind a very good offensive line. The other X factor that Cleveland fans have to be excited about is that the contract Tate signed with the Browns is basically a “prove it” deal. He has a ton of incentive to have a great season in order to sign a longer term deal worth more money.
9. Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB: Sheard has been a solid player for the Browns from day one but he took a big step forward last season. He proved that he has extreme versatility by making a seamless move to OLB despite being a career defensive end. Pettine has raved about Sheard since he got there which will be great for the defense, us as fans, and Sheard’s bank account. He is in the last year of his deal and will look to have a pro bowl season in order to maximize the money he gets next off season. In this new defensive scheme Sheard will play defensive end primarily with a little OLB mixed in. Expect big things from Sheard this coming season.
8. Karlos Dansby, ILB: Dansby was the leader of a Cardinals defense that was one of the five best in the NFL last season. The biggest improvement he brings to the Browns inside linebacker position is his ability to be effective in pass coverage. He led all NFL linebackers last season in passes defended. He brings a strong veteran presence that will benefit an already talented, though young, Browns defense. Dansby was a great addition this off season for the Browns. I would never say a bad word against DQ, who played his heart out for Cleveland while he was here, but Dansby is an improvement at the linebacker position.
7. Donte Whitner, Safety: If you follow Whitner on twitter you have seen that he is pretty vocal about his spot amongst the elite safeties in the league. There’s no denying that Whitner is in the top 10 of his position and is probably the hardest hitting safety in the NFL. He brings a nasty attitude to the defense that will be very fun to watch this year. His experience playing in one of the best defensive units last season will be of great help to a young and talented Browns defensive backfield. Whitner’s presence should help Tashaun Gipson improve even more than he did last year. This is yet another case where the front office lost a great player (TJ Ward) and replaced them with a better player.
6. Phil Taylor, DT: Phil Taylor is easily one of my favorite players on the team and one of the most underrated defensive lineman in the NFL. He is an absolute freakish mix of size, speed, and power. He has developed in to an every down lineman with his ability to get after the QB as well as being a phenomenal run stopper. Linebackers love having a guy like Taylor on the line because he demands double teams which allows them to go virtually untouched in to the backfield. Taylor reminds me a whole lot of BJ Raji, who has had an exceptional career in Green Bay. I expect Taylor to be a pro bowler this season in Pettine’s system.
5. Jordan Cameron: Cameron had a breakout season in 2013 where he qualified for his first Pro Bowl. He amassed 917 yards receiving with 7 touchdowns. He has developed in to an extremely reliable pass catching threat and with his size is a huge asset in the red zone. Cameron has a good chance of being the Browns leading receiver this season with the impending suspension of Josh Gordon. The hybrid TE/WR is a hot commodity in the NFL right now and Cameron is exceptional in that role. Cameron is another one of those guys who will be highly motivated to have a solid year because he is looking for a new contract as well.
4. Alex Mack, Center: The best center in the NFL hands down. Mack has been Mr. Reliable since he was drafted by the Browns playing almost every single snap. He is the anchor of what should be one of the best offensive lines in the league this coming season. Mack has exceptional athleticism for a big guy and is very intelligent about the game of football. Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme is going to benefit a lot of people on the team but none more so than the offensive linemen. Mack will absolutely thrive in the zone blocking offense because of his elite athletic ability.
3. Josh Gordon, WR: In just two years Gordon has gone from supplemental draft pick to the second best receiver in the NFL. Unfortunately for him, and us, he’s also the league’s biggest dumb ass and seems hell bent on throwing his career away. He has a mix of speed and size that only one other player in the NFL, Calvin Johnson, has. Gordon was an absolute monster last year where he lead the league in receiving yards. Add in the fact that he caught passes from three different QBs and missed 2 games because of suspension and you can see that Gordon is a special talent. Hopefully during his suspension, however long that may be, he is able to get his head on straight because there is no reason that Gordon shouldn’t be a perennial pro bowler for the Browns.
2. Joe Haden, CB: There is not a single fan in the Dawg Pound that doesn’t love Joe Haden, and for good reason. He has developed in to a top 3, maybe even number 1, corner back in this league. With the way the NFL has evolved in to a passing league, having a shutdown corner is essential. Shutdown corner may be an understatement when describing Haden. Every week he is tasked with going 1 on 1 with the oppositions best receiver and every week he delivers. Guys like Megatron, AJ Green, and other top tier receivers had their worst games of the season going against Joe Haden. He is a machine at knocking down passes and had his first pick 6 last season. Haden will thrive in the new man press coverage that Cleveland will play this coming season. Under Mike Pettine, Revis elevated his game to be the best corner in football and I fully expect something similar to happen with Joe Haden. That is scary for other teams considering how good Haden already is.
1. Joe Thomas, LT: Joe Thomas is the perfect embodiment of the city of Cleveland. A tough, no nonsense, shut up and do your job player who has not only been the best left tackle in the NFL every year he has played, but also may be the best at his position of all time. He is undoubtedly a first ballot hall of famer as soon as he is eligible for that honor. Thomas has made the pro bowl every single year he has been in the league and has been a dominant force on the offensive line. Thomas is an elite pass blocker who rarely gets beat by pass rushers. The only slight weakness he has in his game is in run blocking but in the new zone blocking scheme where he can use his elite footwork Thomas will thrive. Thomas is a once in a generation talent on the offensive line and we could not be more lucky to have him on the team.
Who would you rank as your top 10 Cleveland Browns? Leave your list in the comments!