It may only be the second week of training camp for the Cleveland Browns, but many people out there have already started predicting the final 53-man roster the team will head into the regular season with. While we should all appreciate their efforts, there is still a lot that can happen between now and the Browns opener against the New York Jets on September 13th.
With this in mind, there are already a few players who could make things difficult on Ray Farmer and the Browns front office when it comes time to make cuts throughout the preseason. In the next few weeks leading up to cuts, the five players below are names to watch (either in a positive or negative way) moving forward.
**Note: All of the offseason key dates can be found here, but the dates to watch are September 1st (reduce rosters to 75) and September 5th (reduce rosters to 53).
Terrelle Pryor, WR
Let’s get one of the obvious names out of the way right now. Making the switch over from quarterback to wide receiver, the former Ohio State Buckeye is already drawing rave reviews from his teammates—like Dwayne Bowe—in regard to how quickly he is making the switch. With his freakish athleticism and 4.4 40-yard dash speed, if Pryor is impressing the coaches as much as he is his teammates, things could get really interesting as things continue to shake out during the preseason.
See, while most people assumed from day one that Pryor would be left off the 53-man roster, he brings a different dynamic as the team’s No. 5 or No. 6 wide receiver than a guy like Travis Benjamin. This isn’t a knock on Benjamin (who has had positive reviews of his own during camp), but to put it simply—the Browns have players like Benjamin at the receiver position already (Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel). They do not, however, have a player with Pryor’s combination of size and speed if he gets route-running down. Oh, and he can serve as the team’s emergency third quarterback if necessary.
Jim Dray, TE
When Jordan Cameron bolted in free agency to the Miami Dolphins, the Browns were left with just two tight ends on the roster—Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray. Farmer and company did not feel like this was enough, as they opted to sign Rob Housler from the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. However, they were not done there—adding Malcolm Johnson (converting to fullback) and Randall Telfer in the draft as well, and inking undrafted free agent E.J. Bibbs to a deal.
It is safe to say, barring a major change, that Barnidge and Housler will make the final roster at the tight end position. Telfer will likely spend his first season on the injured reserve due to an existing injury. So this should make Dray a lock to make the roster, right?
Well, one would think so—however, when the Browns are trimming down to 53 they may decide Dray is expendable for a couple of reasons. The first of those is Johnson, who will serve in that multi-purpose fullback/tight end role that new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo saw Marcel Reese used in during his time with the Oakland Raiders. The second of those is Bibbs, who has reportedly made waves and drawn a lot of praise from the coaching staff since the moment he arrived. Finally, the third reason could be the desire to keep a player at another position (like Pryor above) and head into the season with just two tight ends.
None of this is a knock on Dray, who proved to be an excellent blocker and dependable receiver (17 catches for 242 yards and one touchdown) last season. And when you consider the fact he played 57 percent of the offensive snaps last year (most at the tight end position), maybe he should not be on this list. But with a different offensive coordinator at the helm and a front office potentially forced to make difficult cuts, Dray could end up on that list.
Players impacted if Dray is kept: E.J. Bibbs, Terrelle Pryor, Travis Benjamin, Shaun Draughn (keeping three TEs could keep the Browns from keeping four RBs)
Terrance West, RB
Just a year removed from the Browns trading up for West in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, there are rumors swirling that he may be on “thin ice” with the Browns front office. Add in an up and down rookie season (171 carries for 673 yards and four touchdowns) in which he spent time in the coach’s doghouse, and who knows what is truly going on with West and his position on the roster.
Here’s what we do know. West had two very good rushing performances last year, 16 carries for 100 yards in the opener against the Steelers and 18 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown in the finale against the Ravens. The body of work in between was inconsistent, with many having nightmarish flashbacks to Trent Richardson’s tentativeness and tendency to dance instead of putting his foot in the ground and hitting the hole. For a guy touted as one of the best “one-cut and go” runners in the 2014 draft out of Towson, that is not good to show when there are already questions about the level of competition you played against in college.
Now, there are things working in West’s favor here. One, Farmer did trade up to get him in last year’s draft—so he will probably still have a roster spot when this thing shakes out. Two, he has received carries with the first team offense (prior to his calf injury), so the team is still trying to figure out what they have in him.
With this said, the aforementioned Draughn has quietly (key word) been impressing the coaching staff during camp. Add in the fact that the Browns drafted Duke Johnson and seem to favor Isaiah Crowell as the No. 1 back, let’s just say things have gotten interesting at the running back position. While West likely will not be cut, if he falls out of favorability he could potentially be traded to a team like the Houston Texans looking for a running back after the injury to Arian Foster.
Players impacted if West is kept: Shaun Draughn
Johnson Bademosi, SS/Special Teams
Finally, we get to the defensive side of the ball. Bademosi was recently a restricted free agent re-signed to an original round tender of $1.5 million back in March. However, that does not mean his roster spot is safe as camp and preseason move forward.
Bademosi is currently listed behind Donte Whitner on the team’s depth chart at strong safety, but the Browns just drafted Ibraheim Campbell in the 2015 NFL Draft for the position as well. In his three years with the team, Bademosi has not made a major impact on defense—recording 44 tackles according to ESPN.
— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) August 5, 2015
So, why is a guy who has made a limited impact on defense even being questions for a roster spot? The problem here is that Bademosi is one of the best special teams players in the NFL, especially at the gunner position. He has time and time again been talked up by the coaching staff about how much of an impact he makes on special teams.
This means that Farmer and company will have to answer a tough question. What is more important, a special teams standout or additional depth on the defensive line or at the cornerback position?
Players impacted if Bademosi is kept: Ibraheim Campbell, Charles Gaines, Billy Winn, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, DT
Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, some thought Kitchen could see increased playing time on the Browns defensive line. But then Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper happened, and now Kitchen is likely going to be fighting for a roster spot this coming season.
At 27-years old, Kitchen has spent the last three seasons with the Cleveland Browns after playing his college ball at Kent State. He has recorded 78 tackles over the course of those three seasons, playing reserve behind the likes of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. However, with the team’s depth and youngsters at the position, Kitchen could be on the chopping block.
In reality, despite reports that he is playing at a high level, Kitchen’s roster status likely depends on two things. The first of those is the health and performance of Taylor, a veteran who has battled injuries throughout his career with the Browns. The second is likely directly tied to the likes of John Hughes, Cooper and Billy Winn. If Taylor isn’t healthy, this is a pointless conversation as Kitchen moves into the primary backup role for Shelton though.
Players impacted if Kitchen is kept: Billy Winn, Phil Taylor, any end of the depth defensive backs