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Mailbag: Do Browns have enough playmakers and game-changers on both sides of ball?

Q: Do the Browns have enough #Playmakers on the team to score TDs and make game-changing plays on defense?

— @krow_dawg

A: Definitely on defense. Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Za’Darius Smith, Martin Emerson Jr. and Grant Delpit qualify as game-changers, with Garrett leading the way as a game-wrecker. And in coordinator Jim Schwartz’s attacking scheme, the chances to make huge plays are increased. I expect the defense to pick up where it left off in Year 2 under Schwartz and start piling up the takeaways from Week 1.

The offense is tougher to answer for two reasons. Receivers and tight ends need a reliable quarterback to get them the ball, and Watson hasn’t been on the field enough with the Browns to call that a sure thing. The other uncertainty is the health of Nick Chubb. With a consistent Watson and a healthy Chubb, the Browns should have no problem being explosive and scoring TDs. Amari Cooper is still outstanding, David Njoku continues to improve and Jerry Jeudy has great potential and should benefit from being around Cooper and the offensive system. If you want to argue they’re still a receiver short, I’ll listen, but they feel like Cedric Tillman is ready to take the next step.

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Q:
Why didn’t the Browns draft a linebacker sooner than the sixth round? Some of the best defenses in history were built up the middle with great linebackers.

— Jeff in Strongsville

A: I was asked a lot about “the need at linebacker” heading into the draft but never gave serious consideration to the Browns taking one early. They made the exception with Owusu-Koramoah in 2021 and aren’t likely to do so again any time soon. The Browns just don’t value linebacker like you and many fans do. They play one or two the majority of the time, replacing them with defensive backs and occasionally a fifth linemen.

The game is getting more spread out on offense, which requires greater speed on defense. The 250-pound middle linebacker from a decade or two ago has gone out of style. The Browns drafted Nathaniel Watson in the sixth round and he’s considered big at 6-foot, 233 pounds. This undoubtedly leaves defenses susceptible to runs up the middle, but coaches are more worried about the passing game and feel they can neutralize the run when necessary with numbers rather than girth or Dick Butkus in the middle.

Maybe the trend will be reversed, but for now I’d quit hoping for many resources to be spent at linebacker. The position is still important and the ones playing need to be effective, but linebacker ranks low on the priority list.


Q:
How should Duke Johnson be remembered after announcing his retirement Sunday?

— Phil in Brooklyn

A: As a reliable contributor with playmaking ability and a unique personality.

Johnson was drafted by the Browns in the third round in 2015 and played here for four years. He didn’t have the size to be an every-down running back — he’d probably still disagree with that — but was an effective No. 2 who rushed 299 times for the Browns for 1,286 yards, a 4.3 average and five touchdowns. He was a serious threat in the pass game, catching 235 passes for 2,170 yards and eight TDs. He played in the league for eight years, which is a huge accomplishment.

Johnson acknowledged working through anger issues and could be temperamental, but I always found him honest and insightful.


Q:
How should us Browns fans feel about the draft? What picks were surprising? And who might strike your fancy of signed undrafted free agents by the Browns?

— Ed Helinski

A: I think fans should feel content with the draft. It wasn’t anything that demanded fireworks, but that’s mostly because the Browns didn’t have a first-round pick for the third straight year. They also didn’t have a fourth-rounder and made only six picks overall. This draft was about depth and the future.

I don’t think any of the picks were stunners. I had targeted defensive tackle and offensive guard with an eye toward the future, and that’s where general manager Andrew Berry went with his first two picks. If I had to pick a surprise from the choices, I’d go with the final one, Jowon Briggs. A team is grasping at straws at No. 243, but I wouldn’t have predicted two defensive tackles out of six picks.

The biggest surprises to me were that Berry didn’t make a trade and didn’t draft a tight end.

As for the undrafted free agents, keep an eye on Miami guard Javion Cohen. I thought he could be a fifth-round pick.


Q:
Have any of the Browns’ undrafted free agent signings during the past five years ever made more than the practice squad?

— Bob Williams

A: Berry took over as general manager in 2020, and there was a dry spell for undrafted rookies making an impact. None made the initial 53-man roster until safety D’Anthony Bell in 2022, then safety Ronnie Hickman and linebacker Mohamoud Diabate followed last year.

This year’s crop, which will be officially announced later in the week as they report for rookie minicamp, might have a tougher time cracking the 53-man roster. The Browns are loaded with veterans and deep across the roster. But it’s not impossible. I’d keep an eye on the interior offensive line, running back, tight end and linebacker as the most likely spots for someone to emerge.


Q:
Should there be concern over the inaccuracies in injury reporting. Very surprising to learn that Deshaun Watson’s injury included damage to his labrum and that he believes the injury might have occurred much earlier than officially reported by the team?

— John Palazzo

A: An interesting question. I wouldn’t call them “inaccuracies” at this point, rather inconsistencies between Watson and the team. While I don’t get the sense there’s friction, it’s worth monitoring moving forward.

The Watson comments you mentioned certainly got my attention. While it’s reasonable to expect a broken shoulder bone to involve the labrum given the tight quarters in the socket, it hadn’t been mentioned previously. But the fact Watson said he’s been able to throw “full speed” should calm worries about the recovery.

The timing of the broken bone is a separate issue. The Browns remain adamant Watson’s rotator cuff strain sustained in Week 3 vs. the Titans had healed completely by the time he faced the Ravens on Nov. 12 — his last game — and that the fracture was a new and separate injury. Watson isn’t so sure. He referred to pain the previous week against the Cardinals and said he couldn’t pinpoint when the break happened. If Watson stays healthy this season and has no issues with the shoulder, the lingering questions won’t matter. But if there’s another injury, especially to the shoulder, we’ll have to watch his level of trust with the team’s medical staff.


Q:
Is free agency moments or speculating on mock drafts more interesting to write about during the Browns offseason? Or might it be something else?

— Ed Helinski

A: I’d go free agency in a landslide. The biggest free agent targets are proven NFL players and where they land is decided quickly. The speculation has a shelf-life.

Mock drafts feel endless and often pointless. I appreciate how fans love them and the interest they spark, but when your team isn’t drafting until No. 24, let alone No. 54, it feels way too random to devote much time.

Q: Should the Haslams’ promise not to move the Browns out of Northeast Ohio be taken at face value?

— John Palazzo

A: Definitely.

It’s reasonable to have issues with the Haslams, but I trust the family when it comes to the commitment to Northeast Ohio. I believe the Haslams do value the fans and appreciate the loyalty and passion of the market. They’ve also gone out of their way to repeatedly vow to keep the team here.

If you’re still worried, the law passed after Art Modell moved the team is enough to keep them from taking the team any farther than Brook Park.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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