With the Cleveland Browns less than 24 hours away from the final game of the 2015 preseason, the front office and coaching staff will be playing close attention to a number of players Thursday night in Chicago. Thanks to a 4 p.m. ET Saturday deadline to cut the roster from 75 to 53, there will be very little time to make a final decision on who makes this team.
As head coach Mike Pettine discussed on Wednesday, four or five roster spots are likely up for grabs during the game on Thursday night. Those battles are likely happening at the wide receiver, offensive line, tight end and defensive line positions—with a focus on players like Rob Housler, E.J. Bibbs, Darius Jennings, Josh Lenz and a few others.
Since we all have been projecting the 53-man roster on our own all preseason, I decided to finally share my one and only projected roster. Between injury status and a few of the battles, a lot could change against the Bears, however, this is what I think the final roster to begin the season will look like.
QB: Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel
RB: Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, Duke Johnson
FB: Malcolm Johnson
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin, Terrelle Pryor, Darius Jennings
TE: Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray, E.J. Bibbs
OT: Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz
OG: Joel Bitonio, John Greco, Vinston Painter
C: Alex Mack, Cameron Erving
DE: Desmond Bryant, Randy Starks, John Hughes, Xavier Cooper, Jamie Meder
DT: Danny Shelton, Jacobbi McDaniel
OLB: Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Scott Solomon, Nate Orchard, Armonty Bryant
ILB: Karlos Dansby, Craig Robertson, Chris Kirksey, Hayes Pullard
CB: Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, K’Waun Williams, Pierre Desir, Charles Gaines, Justin Gilbert, Johnson Bademosi
SS: Donte Whitner, Ibraheim Campbell
FS: Tashaun Gipson, Jordan Poyer
K: Travis Coons
P: Andy Lee
LS: Charley Hughlett
It was a tough decision to make between keeping one of the three special teams aces, but ultimately Bademosi was selected. Mainly, this is a product of how banged up the corners have been during the preseason. Pierre Desir, K’Waun Williams and Justin Gilbert have all been injured as of late, and while Bademosi isn’t the greatest corner in the world, this would give the team another reason—aside from special teams—to justify keeping him on the roster for depth purposes.
The second difficult decision came down to Billy Winn or Jamie Meder, with Meder getting the nod. Winn may have tenure with the team, but injuries and a lack of standing out this preseason are too much to overlook—thus earning Meder the spot. It is important to note Meder has absolutely earned a spot on this roster with his play this preseason as well.
Tight end will likely be more of a difficult decision for the front office than this writer, but it is easy to see how much more versatile and impactful E.J. Bibbs can be for this roster than Rob Housler. After signing Housler this offseason, many expected him to easily replace Jordan Cameron—instead, he has struggled and the undrafted Bibbs has taken advantage of it.
The final decision will come at the wide receiver position, as there have been rumors the team could keep as many as eight receivers. In this instance, the Browns keep seven—with the final two spots going to Terrelle Pryor and Darius Jennings. Pryor seems all but a lock despite not playing this preseason, with the front office pointing out not playing doesn’t necessarily make or break his roster spot. Keeping Jennings was based on his steady play all preseason and ability to contribute as a kick returner, giving him the nod over the vastly underperforming Vince Mayle and fan-favorite, Josh Lenz.
Instead of cutting Mayle, do not be surprised if he is “injured” and placed on the injured list with a designation to return. This will keep him off the active roster for six weeks, while the team gets a better idea of if he can cut it as an NFL receiver. The hope with Lenz would be to stash him on the practice squad with a few of the other difficult cuts.
Ultimately this could look much different if the team really plans on keeping Marlon Moore, Tank Carder and Bademosi for special teams. Also, the health of Johnson and Manziel could force the team’s hand to keep an extra QB and RB. All will be revealed on Saturday, but this is my one and only 53-man roster projection for the season.