Cleveland Browns Position Battles to Watch in 2020

Cleveland Browns and position battles are often synonymous, mainly at quarterback. And while Baker Mayfield was the clear-cut starter in 2019, it’s still refreshing quarterback isn’t included here.

Mayfield struggled in 2019, but he played better than any predecessor thrust into the same scenario with a poor offensive line while his receivers played through injuries.  Mayfield and the Browns received a boost of talent ranging from signing players like Jack Conklin to drafting left tackle Jedrick Wills to adding playmakers like Austin Hooper.

Because of the incoming talent, many position battles below regard depth rather than starting position. But there are a few battles for a starting nod listed.

2020 Cleveland Browns Position Battles

Third Receiver

Rashard Higgins looked poised to breakout in 2019. Except he struggled with injuries and a dispute with then-coach Freddie Kitchens landed him on the coach’s bad side. The result? Four receptions. With a new coaching staff, Higgins can take back the number three spot on the depth chart.

Damion Ratley has 25 career receptions and a touchdown. He has shown flashes but failed to solidify himself as an every-down player. He is the receiver you want as insurance on your depth chart and hope you never have to use. His 50 percent catch rate when targeted proves it.

Donovan Peoples-Jones has potential to become a starter in the NFL and the sixth round is the place NFL teams make potential-based picks. But he had limited production in college and he could struggle in the NFL. Size and production-wise, he is reminiscent of former Browns sixth-round pick, Carlton Mitchell. While Mitchell recorded three career receptions, Peoples-Jones can take advantage of the weak depth behind Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

Taywan Taylor is a former third-round pick who is the dark horse in this race. He looked poised for a spot in the league after recording 37 receptions in 2018. The Browns traded for him and instead he landed in the doghouse, playing in three games with zero receptions.

Projected Winner: Rashard Higgins. Higgins was Mayfield’s favorite target in 2018. A dispute with Kitchens kept him grounded in 2019. No other player on the Cleveland roster needed a fresh face on the sidelines.

Second Tight End

David Njoku recorded 56 receptions in 2018 and spent 2019 battling injuries after he suffered a concussion and a broken wrist on one play. The good news is that the Browns picked up his fifth-year option. The bad news is that the Browns drafted Harrison Bryant. Njoku’s health will decide whether he sticks around in 2020.

The Browns had a golden opportunity when Bryant fell to them. With Njoku’s injury and lack of production, they needed an insurance policy. Bryant was the best policy when he fell to the fourth round and the Browns didn’t hesitate to scoop up the Florida Atlantic standout. If he makes a solid transition to the NFL, he will supersede Njoku.

Projected Winner: Harrison Bryant. While Njoku has the experience, he failed to make an impact in 2019 and ended up appearing in just four games. It opens the door for the incoming Bryant.

Right Guard

Wyatt Teller started at right guard for nine games and while he didn’t allow many sacks, he often allowed pressures. His Pro Football Focus grade was low and the Browns have talent who can unseat him. He needs to show improvement in training camp.

Drew Forbes might have been the guy in 2019 after he showed improvement each week during the preseason. He has a high football IQ, and it seems as if his eyes are always shifting on tape. It’s no guarantee he succeeds against NFL-level competition. If injuries did not hamper his development, he may supplant Teller.

Projected Winner: Wyatt Teller. Experience gives him an edge while Forbes barely played in 2019.

Linebacker

Mack Wilson is a fan favorite who appears to be the front runner to win the number one spot at linebacker. His numbers were average and given the Browns poor run defense in 2019, his tackles were too far downfield. He needs to become more of an impact player to be a permanent starter.

B.J. Goodson is in the same neighborhood. He started 13 games in 2018 but he never seemed to lock up a permanent starting spot. Given the Browns weak linebacking unit, he can begin the 2020 season as a starter but he has to fend off two younger candidates.

Sione Takitaki played mainly on special teams and was a disappointment. To his defense, it took him two seasons to break out in college so he can end up with one of the starting spots on defense in time. Even if he doesn’t immediately win a spot on defense.

Experts considered Jacob Phillips a reach, but he fits the system the Browns want to implement. This gives him an advantage and he may catch on faster than his competition. He posted outstanding numbers in 2019 with 113 tackles with seven and a half for a loss.

Projected Winners: Mack Wilson, Jacob Phillips. Wilson’s production isn’t great, but he’s the best of a weak crop. Phillips impressed the front office because he fit the system.

Dime Back

Terrance Mitchell has the upper hand here since he’s starting his third campaign in Cleveland. A part-time starter in 2018 and 2019, Mitchell was serviceable in his starting corner and nickel back roles in Cleveland. However, the Browns may go younger here. If they don’t, Mitchell should win this battle.

Tavierre Thomas played in 16 games in 2019, logging nine tackles. Donovan Olumba played 32 snaps in 2019 and recorded zero statistics. A.J. Green was a projected Day Three pick and ended up undrafted. He has a chip on his shoulder heading into camp.

Projected Winner: Terrance Mitchell’s experience gives him an edge over three unproven players. Green has potential, but he must impress the Browns enough to stick around.

Starting Safety

Karl Joseph is a hard-hitting safety, but he has yet to play a full NFL season. He has been up and down over his four-year career, but he projects as a starter in Cleveland. He will provide long-term support if he stays healthy.

Andrew Sendejo enjoyed a few good seasons but has since fallen off. He spent 2018 and 2019 as a part-time starter. At 33 he is entering the last stages of his career.

Pundits say Grant Delpit had a disappointing final season at LSU. But that didn’t stop him from winning the Jim Thorpe Award. Note that he won the award for best defensive back in the nation even as he played through a high-ankle sprain.

Sheldrick Redwine was serviceable in 12 games and five starts. He struggled but can threaten if he makes a leap in training camp.

Projected Winners: Karl Joseph, Grant Delpit. Joseph can produce when healthy and Delpit was drafted to be a starter, especially if Sendejo’s struggles continue.

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