Q: What player do you think will have a surprise breakout season this year?
A: I’m going with running back/kickoff returner Jerome Ford. Let me explain my thinking.
I predict receiver Elijah Moore and defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will have larger impacts in their first seasons with the Browns but I’m not sure they fit the category of “surprise breakout.” Moore was the No. 34 pick of the Jets in 2021 and acquired in a trade. Okoronkwo was signed to a three-year, $19 million deal.
So back to Ford. To me, he’s a prime candidate. He touched the ball only 38 times last season as a rookie, and 30 of those were on kickoff returns. He had eight carries for 12 yards. There’s no place to go but up, and he’s likely to get plenty of chances as the presumed No. 2 back behind Nick Chubb. I expect the Browns to draft a running back for competition and depth, but the coaches liked what they saw from Ford last year and he should get the first opportunity to be the top backup.
Other candidates for surprise breakout are defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey and defensive end Alex Wright.
Q: I would really like to know if any contact has happened between the Browns and Kareem Hunt? Would they bring him back? Do they want to? Or is Jerome Ford who they go with?
A: I don’t know for sure the Browns haven’t talked with Hunt, but there are no signs he’ll return. The primary issue is money. Hunt made $6.25 million last season, and the Browns won’t pay close to that again. They also believe his performance was “slipping” last year, according to Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com.
No market for Hunt has developed across the league despite him being 27 and the league rushing leader in 2017. Most veteran running backs just aren’t valued anymore, so it will be interesting to see where Hunt lands. I’d never completely rule out a return — the Browns declined to trade him last year so they liked him enough to keep him — but the obstacles are numerous and large.
And the Browns like Ford.
Q: I see safety and tight end being high on the wish list in the draft … what say you?
— Randy Clar
A: My only quibble is about them being “high” on the wish list.
Safety depth must be added. On the roster right now, the Browns have starters Juan Thornhill and Grant Delpit and backups D’Anthony Bell and Bubba Bolden. The starters appear solid, but the backups are completely unproven. General manager Andrew Berry will add multiple bodies before training camp, and I’d expect one to come through the draft. But there’s a problem. “This is a bad year to need a safety in the NFL Draft.” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah tweeted. “Paper thin.”
Tight end is a different story. Dane Brugler of The Athletic gave 18 tight ends draftable grades, and it’s a position where the Browns could use depth and youth.
Back to my quibble. I believe defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker are higher priorities in the draft.
Q: Has Harrison Bryant fallen out of favor with the Browns?
— John Palazzo
A: Back-to-back tight end questions. I love it.
Bryant is well-liked as a person within the organization. He just hasn’t been as productive as hoped when drafted in the fourth round in 2020. He caught 24 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, 21 for 233 and three in 2021 and 31 for 239 and one in 2022. He isn’t overly physical or tremendously athletic.
The organization’s desire to upgrade was clear when Jordan Akins was signed as a free agent. He moves in front of Bryant on the depth chart behind starter David Njoku.
Q: How much does the ruptured Achilles tendon of Michael Woods II affect the receiver position?
A: Woods will have surgery after getting injured during a workout in Texas with quarterback Deshaun Watson. He is expected to miss the season, which is a brutal blow for the second-year wideout.
For the Browns, they should have no problem adjusting. Woods likely would’ve made the team because he’s big and fast and was a draft pick. But he would’ve been behind Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Marquise Goodwin on the depth chart. Woods would’ve competed with David Bell, Jakeem Grant Sr., Anthony Schwartz and Jaelon Darden for roster spots and potential playing time.