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Draft King Analysis

July 22, 2008
Lou Pickney,

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One of the more surprising stories of 2007 was the surge by the Cleveland Browns behind the leadership of quarterback Derek Anderson. Anderson, who appeared by most counts to be filling space between Charlie Frye and Brady Quinn, broke out in a major way against Cincinnati in week two of last year. I remember sitting at LP Field in Nashville, dazed from an early-morning trip up from Auburn, AL (where I had seen Mississippi State beat Auburn the day before), and wondering if exhaustion was causing me to see things when they flashed up the Bengals/Browns score -- which ended Cleveland 51, Cincinnati 45.

Derek Anderson
Derek Anderson was a breakout surprise in 2007. (Icon SMI)
The breakout proved to not be a one-week wonder, as the Browns ended up being 10-5 in games he started. While Cleveland missed the playoffs (barely), the Browns offered a three-year deal to Anderson ahead of his impending restricted free agency. To the surprise of some people (including me), Anderson signed the deal. The $24 million contract included a $7 million signing bonus and runs through 2010.

The flip side of this is that Cleveland used a first-round pick in 2007 on Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn. Most Browns fans saw Quinn as the future of the team, cheering for him in limited appearances in the pre-season and cameos in the regular season. But with Anderson on the hook for three years it seems that there will be a clash eventually between Quinn and the Browns management staff.

But, for now, the Browns have two capable and talented QBs under contract. There are worse situations a team could have at that position.

Another move made by the Browns was to sign RB Jamal Lewis to a two-year contract. Lewis had some phenomenal performances early in his career in Baltimore, but a four-month prison term in 2005 seemed to have a major impact on Lewis, who had an anemic 3.4 yards per carry average in 2005 -- just two years after leading the NFL in rushing yards. Lewis had just 3.6 yards per carry in 2006, and he signed with the Browns ahead of the 2007 season.

Lewis found rejuvenation in Cleveland in 2007, where he had 1,300+ yards rushing and a 4.4 ypc average. Lewis turns 29 next month, and while he might be on the tail end of his career, he could easily end up as the Browns starting RB both this fall and in 2009.

As far as the draft went, Cleveland was without a first rounder this past April -- a direct result of the Brady Quinn trade of 2007. In fact, they didn't draft until round four, where they found bargains in two high picks in that round in the form of UNLV OLB Beau Bell and Missouri TE Martin Rucker.

Needing another steady receiver to put opposite Braylon Edwards (with Joe Jurevicius suffering from problems scaling from the staph infection that ravaged the Cleveland locker room to a knee injury that could land him on the PUP list), the Browns landed free agent WR Donte Stallworth, who played in Super Bowl XLII with the Patriots. Stallworth is a speedy guy even now at 27, and with him and Kellen Winslow in the mix, the Browns should have a number of receiving options in 2008.

Defense may be the big challenge for the Browns in 2008. They have some young talent on the team on the defensive front, but the 3-4 defense that Cleveland had in 2007 was #30 in yards allowed, #24 against the pass, and #27 against the rush. The big move the team made on the defensive side was trading with Green Bay to acquire DT Corey Williams, who will move from being a 4-3 DT to being a 3-4 NT. Additionally, the Browns acquired former Lion DT Shaun Rogers from Detroit, which had a double impact as it prevented the Bengals (which also needed DT help) from landing Rogers.

2008 will be a very interesting season for the Browns, let alone the entire AFC North. The Browns are lean at corner, having dealt CB Leigh Bodden to Green Bay in the Corey Williams trade and lost Daven Holly for the year to a knee injury in May. But if the Browns are able to stop the run, and if the offense continues to develop, Cleveland could be a player in the playoff picture this fall.


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