WELCOME BACK: Shutdown cornerbacking. The Browns haven't had that kind of corner since JOE HADEN was at his best in 2014, and they need one. No team blitzed or disguised coverages more often than Cleveland last year. Corners who can handle receivers one-on-one free up a defender for coordinator GREGG WILLIAMS'S aggressive designs, which explains the selection of Ohio State cornerback DENZEL WARD at No. 4.
TYROD TAYLOR was a caretaker quarterback in Buffalo who moved the chains with his legs and on well-crafted play-action rollouts. He left throws on the field, though, and struggled with accuracy. But coach HUE JACKSON, having gone 1--31 in Cleveland, wants to start winning as soon as possible, which is why he's giving the experienced Taylor the early nod over No. 1 pick BAKER MAYFIELD. Jackson wants the best chance for victory in Week 1.
Last year Jackson simplified his designs, perhaps because he had so little talent at wide receiver. That situation has improved with the acquisition from Miami of Pro Bowl slot receiver JARVIS LANDRY. There's not much depth behind Landry, but if JOSH GORDON, who has had multiple suspensions for drug violations, is available, that will help the cause greatly.
Defensive coordinator Williams walks a fine line between outsmarting opponents and outsmarting his own players, and the latter happened too often last year. He should consider cutting pages from his playbook and simplifying for the sake of his inexperienced charges.
Williams asks his safeties, DAMARIOUS RANDALL and JABRILL PEPPERS, to line up deep, 18 to 22 yards off the ball. This allows them to play downhill. The danger is that it opens up more space for offenses to attack with digs and seam routes, which killed the Browns last year. For the scheme to work, Cleveland's four-man rush will have to apply more pressure. That starts with MYLES GARRETT, the No. 1 pick last year. Garrett has the multidirectional burst and violent hands to become the league's most explosive interior attacker, from both the defensive end and tackle positions.
2017 RECORD 0W 16L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 4W 12L
20th JETS [Thursday]
15th @BRONCOS [Saturday]
THE BROWNS have one of the fastest linebacking groups in football, featuring JAMIE COLLINS, JOE SCHOBERT, CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY and free-agent signee MYCHAL KENDRICKS. They just need a few more disruptive pass rushers to play behind.