For Cleveland Browns fans out there who have been waiting, the time is finally here—rookies have reported to training camp. The arrival of the rookies for training camp is also a sign of another exciting event for fans, which is the beginning of training camp sessions they can attend starting on July 30th.
— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) July 22, 2015
In the days leading up to the beginning of camp, Cleveland Sports Zone will look into various training camp battles and players you should be watching moving forward. In our first article of the training camp season, in honor of the arrival of the rookies to camp, we will examine a few of the rookies we think can make an immediate impact in year one.
Now, this does not mean all rookies will make a major impact in year one. However, the term impact can mean other things—improving situational pass rushing, putting a jump start into a stagnant return game, filling a major hole on the offensive line and many, many other items. So if there is a rookie you think can make an impact we did not list or someone on the list you do not think will make the impact we discussed, please feel free to let us know.
Danny Shelton, DT, No. 12 Pick in Round One
In 2014, the Cleveland Browns defensive line went from loaded with depth to riddled with injuries. In order to make sure they did not have the same problems in 2015, the Cleveland Browns front office got started early in the 2015 NFL Draft by selecting a mammoth of a man in Shelton with the No. 12 overall pick.
Standing 6’2” and 339 pounds, Shelton is coming off a senior year in which he recorded 93 total tackles, 9 sacks and 16.5 tackles for a loss for Washington. After allowing Ahtyba Rubin to walk in free agency, Shelton will be asked to come in and fill a major hole in the middle of that line from day one—and luckily for the Browns, he should be able to shoulder the load.
With his level of disruptiveness in college, Shelton should come in from day one and open up pass rushing lanes for the rest of the Browns defense. His ability to take up two blockers on the offensive line—if he is used in that manner—will be a key aspect in the overall success of the Browns front seven. The additions of Randy Starks and rookie Xavier Cooper, combined with a healthy Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, John Hughes and Billy Winn will also help Shelton get comfortable early on.
Projected Impact Level: High. Shelton’s impact should be a major one, even if you do not see it on the stat sheet.
Cameron Erving, OL, No. 19 Pick in Round One
A surprise selection to this writer and a number of other Browns fans, Erving comes in as the odds-on favorite to win the starting right guard position over John Greco, though he certainly isn’t being treated as just a guard.
According to Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com, “Out of all the rookies during the spring, Erving might’ve had the most on his plate. The Browns have challenged the sharp 19th-overall pick to learn all five positions on the offensive line – a duty that entails intense memorization of the playbook. Whether he starts Week 1 against the Jets or not, Erving’s already given the strong Cleveland offensive line something it lacked in 2014: depth.”
Most Browns fans expected the team to draft someone to beat out right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, but it looks more as if Erving will replace veteran John Greco at guard early on. More importantly, Erving provides insurance for Alex Mack—both on the injury front and the ability to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season. With the importance of an impact center shown when Mack went down to an injury last season, the Browns did not want to wait in case Mack left them in free agency.
Overall, Erving is a 6’5” and 313-pound offensive lineman who has experience at multiple position of the offensive line from his days at Florida State. His versatility, high character and willingness to learn will make him an asset on the line—and someone who should make an impact from day one.
Projected Impact Level: Moderate depending on what position he starts. Greco performed well at guard for the team, so replacing him isn’t a major need. But if he can replace Schwartz, who struggled at times last year.
Duke Johnson, RB, No. 77 Pick in Round Three
These are two of the most common questions I have come across since the Browns surprised many by taking Johnson in round three. However, when you watch more of Johnson on film you understand—he brings a dynamic neither of these players have. From his elusiveness to power running style, Johnson is a dual-threat back in the mold of a player like LeSean McCoy.
But Johnson is much more than a runner—he is a pass catcher and potential return man as well. Johnson was described by running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery in one of the most unique ways possible recently—he called him “Waldo.” Montgomery stated, “The best way I can describe Duke is what Thurman Thomas was for Buffalo,” Montgomery said, per Ohio.com. “It’s going to be all over the field. It’s a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ He gives you another dimension. He creates one-on-one problems. We hope he can be a little bit like the kid, [Giovani] Bernard, in Cincinnati. If he can do that for us, that gives us a different perspective on how we approach the field and gives us a chance to move people around and taking advantage of a mismatch.”
With all due respect to Crowell and West, Johnson has the ability to be a very special playmaker in the NFL. Johnson left Miami as the leading rusher in just two seasons, compiling 2,599 yards and 20 touchdowns on 381 carries. He also hauled in 65 passes for 642 yards and four touchdowns. He also returned 27 kicks for 892 yards and two touchdowns in 2012 for Miami. To put it simply, this kid can do it all.
Projected Impact Level: High. Whether it is returning kicks, catching passes or running the ball, Johnson is going to be a major weapon for the Browns in 2015.
Nate Orchard, DE/OLB, No. 51 Pick in Round Two
Seemingly the forgotten man in this class, Orchard is a player who could make major waves in camp and in the preseason. The Browns lost Jabaal Sheard in free agency, and did not make any additions aside from Orchard in order to replace him. To quantify that for you, Sheard played 711 total snaps for the team last year, including 676 snaps at outside linebacker—recording 25 tackles and two sacks. Though those numbers do not seem large, in his four-year career for the Browns he recorded 23 sacks and 122 tackles.
So what does Orchard bring to the team? A 6’4” and 255-pound sack machine, for starters. Last year at Utah, he recorded 84 total tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks. He is a high motor player who really burst on the scene last year, and has not done anything to make the Browns think he will not do the same at the NFL level.
In a group composed of Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Armonty Bryant and late-bloomer Scott Solomon, some think Orchard will be more of a situational pass-rusher early on. However, once Orchard gets out there and shows what he can do—do not be shocked if he is at 40-50 percent of the snaps by the end of the season.
Projected Impact Level: High, if he gets the snaps.
Other Players to Watch
The Browns have a number of other rookies they brought in through the draft and as undrafted free agents. Just because they did not make this list, doesn’t mean they will not make some sort of an impact. Guys like Cooper (DL), Vince Mayle (WR), Malcolm Johnson (FB) and E.J. Bibbs (TE) will have an opportunity to make a name for themselves early on. If I had to highlight one player to really keep an eye on, it would be Bibbs at tight end—who has really made an impression on the staff in workouts.