With two preseason games completed, two still remaining and the banged-up Cleveland Browns headed to Philadelphia for joint practices — the two most important days of training camp from a competitive evaluation standpoint — let’s dive into a projection of the 53-man roster that serves as a temperature (and medical) check on each position group.
The Browns will hold full-speed-but-controlled practice sessions with the Eagles on Monday and Tuesday. None, if any, of Cleveland’s regulars will play in the preseason game at Philadelphia, giving the younger players and backups another chance to put good play on tape for both their current team and any potential outside suitors.
All 32 teams must trim their rosters from 90 to the regular-season size of 53 by Aug. 29. Realistically, that process mostly takes care of itself in the 12-18 hours following the Browns’ Aug. 26 preseason finale at Kansas City.
Here goes …
1. Deshaun Watson
2. Joshua Dobbs
3. Dorian Thompson-Robinson (rookie)
What’s complicated: Nothing from a roster management standpoint. Thompson-Robinson has been impressive in two preseason appearances, and he undoubtedly was going to be on the team as the third quarterback to start the season. The NFL has a new rule (that’s really an old rule) that allows teams to keep a third emergency quarterback dressed for game days.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: Watson will look to continue to improve his comfort level with the entire operation. If Elijah Moore has to sit out for a few days, that certainly will provide a challenge. Thompson-Robinson can continue to progress, and Kellen Mond can try to prove to some team he’s worth further development.
Running back (3)
1. Nick Chubb
2. Jerome Ford (injured)
3. Demetric Felton Jr.
What’s complicated: Ford is out for at least a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury. The Browns believe in Ford and believe he made requisite second-year jumps in multiple areas, but he has little game experience and now has an injury that’s keeping him on the sideline. Felton is in the mix for a backup role on offense and in the return game, but Cleveland would likely need another back if it gets to the end of the month and Ford hasn’t returned. Is that guy John Kelly Jr.? What’s a realistic timetable for Ford? Right now, we don’t know.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: How Felton and Kelly perform with so much at stake. Undrafted rookie Hassan Hall can earn his way to the practice squad, but he’s not a realistic option for a roster spot. Chubb should be kept in bubble wrap instead of participating in the Philadelphia joint practices. He should actually ask for a raise, too, but that’s a different discussion.
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Wide receiver (6)
1. Amari Cooper
2. Elijah Moore
3. Donovan Peoples-Jones
4. Cedric Tillman (rookie)
5. Jakeem Grant Sr.
6. David Bell
What’s complicated: Marquise Goodwin was going to have a role, but he’s dealing with blood clots and his football status is uncertain. Moore is going to be heavily involved, and the Browns got a scare when he left Friday night’s preseason game with a rib injury. X-rays were negative, and Moore should be back for the start of the season. Grant has been limited in his return from a torn Achilles tendon, but if he can progress through the next couple of weeks, the door is open for Grant to earn a roster spot and a role. Jaelon Darden has some legit explosiveness, but he’s missed two weeks with a leg injury. I have Bell making the team based on his status as a third-round pick in 2022.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: You watch and you root for Anthony Schwartz to hold on to the ball, but he’s struggled to do so. There’s no way he can be considered one of the best 53 players on this roster, and the chances the Browns could get anything in a trade for him seem slim. Austin Watkins Jr. has come from the absolute end of the roster to the mix, but it’s hard to see him cracking the initial 53. Some big weeks ahead for Bell, Darden and Grant.
Tight end (3)
1. David Njoku
2. Jordan Akins
3. Harrison Bryant
What’s complicated: Bryant has been out of practice due to a non-football health issue. He’s been running and working with trainers during and after practice, so he could be cleared to return sometime soon. Assuming all is eventually well, the Browns have their three tight ends and can again keep Zaire Mitchell-Paden on the practice squad.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: Njoku is just lighting up camp. No one has covered him. Can he keep that up? Can the Browns just keep everyone in this group healthy?
Offensive line (10)
1. Joel Bitonio
2. Wyatt Teller
3. Jack Conklin
4. Jedrick Wills Jr.
5. Ethan Pocic
6. James Hudson III
7. Michael Dunn
8. Dawand Jones (rookie)
9. Nick Harris
10. Luke Wypler (rookie)
What’s complicated: Drew Forbes, a versatile backup, is dealing with a back injury. Besides the issue with potentially keeping three centers, the Browns have built good depth and have no problem keeping 10 offensive linemen because they view it as a position group worth their large investments. In the spring roster projection, Forbes was the first one out. He could make the team assuming he returns to action.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: For further development from Hudson and Jones in game settings. The second offensive line as a whole wasn’t impressive versus Washington, so let’s see how things go in Philadelphia.
Edge defender (6)
1. Myles Garrett
2. Za’Darius Smith
3. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
4. Alex Wright (injured)
5. Isaiah McGuire (rookie)
6. Isaiah Thomas (injured)
What’s complicated: A lot. Wright and Thomas both had arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out for several weeks. The injuries could leave both still sidelined once the regular season begins, and that makes things difficult to predict. They’d need to be on the active roster after the final summer cutdown date to be eligible for short-term injured reserve. If they go on IR before then, they’d be out for the full season. Those injuries and the overall uncertainty at defensive tackle led to the Browns signing Shelby Harris, who’s been productive and durable throughout his career but turned 32 Friday. Harris can play anywhere across the line, and Cleveland needs experience.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: McGuire is suddenly on the cusp of earning a role, but he must show more over the next couple of weeks. Undrafted rookie rusher Lonnie Phelps got some early chances against Washington, and though it’s highly unlikely he makes the initial roster, he could put himself into the team’s long-term thinking. This defensive line is still going to be scary. It’s going to be even scarier if it has its full reinforcements.
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Defensive tackle (4)
1. Dalvin Tomlinson
2. Shelby Harris
3. Jordan Elliott
4. Siaki Ika (rookie)
What’s complicated: Harris just signed, and we don’t know exactly how the team envisions using him. Elliott has been the starter throughout the spring and summer, but he was the only starter to play in the Hall of Fame Game. Maurice Hurst looks like he’s going to be in the rotation, but right now we don’t know if the Browns can keep five interior defensive linemen among their initial 53.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: Ika is definitely going to be on the team. He’s shown a couple of flashes; can he show more? Can Trysten Hill (hand injury) get back on the field? In a pinch, might the Browns be able to release Hurst at the end of the month, then bring him back once things settle with the rest of the roster? There are too many injuries across this defensive line to make strong projections regarding the middle and bottom of the group right now.
One thought on all 90 players on the Browns’ training camp roster
1. Anthony Walker Jr.
2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
3. Sione Takitaki
4. Jacob Phillips (injured)
5. Tony Fields II
6. Jordan Kunaszyk
What’s complicated: Every aspect of this room. Walker and Takitaki are rehabbing and just recently returned to full-team drills. Phillips left the Washington game with a shoulder injury, and we don’t know the extent. Kunaszyk has spent much of camp as the starting middle linebacker and signal caller, but he’s mostly on the roster to play special teams. Matthew Adams suffered a calf injury early in camp and has been out since. Especially if Phillips is going to miss time, Cleveland needs Adams back. Fields probably isn’t an actual lock, but he’s good enough on special teams that he’s close.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: Will both Adams and Phillips be back soon? Can undrafted rookie Mohamoud Diabate, who’s been playing on the first special teams units, really make a push? With Walker and Takitaki going from medically limited to back in team drills, which one becomes the starter in the middle? There’s much to be settled here.
1. Denzel Ward
2. Greg Newsome II
3. Martin Emerson Jr.
4. A.J. Green (injured)
5. Cameron Mitchell (rookie)
6. Mike Ford
What’s complicated: The Browns probably have their six right now if they remain healthy. Thomas Graham Jr. suffered a season-ending injury in the Hall of Fame Game, and Mitchell has shown steady progress throughout camp. Newsome has been out with a groin injury, but the Browns believe he’ll be back to full speed soon. Cleveland is both being cautious and getting more reps for the backups. Green left the Washington game with a shoulder injury, the extent of which is unknown. Next up might be the 6-foot-4 Chris Westry — or having to explore outside options. Green can play inside, outside and on special teams.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: The group as a whole has been impressive throughout camp. The battle to be the backup slot cornerback and for special teams roles will continue. Mike Ford is going to play a lot on special teams, as is Green, assuming he’s healthy. For the questions that linger about certain spots on this roster, the Browns certainly seem wise for continuing to invest in this premium position. Fire up the cliche machine: you can never have enough cornerbacks.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 1, 2023
1. Juan Thornhill
2. Grant Delpit
3. Rodney McLeod
What’s complicated: The Browns have their top three but nothing close to a sure thing for their fourth. Might they have to only keep three due to injury issues at other positions, then go the practice squad route with multiple safeties?
What we’re watching the next two weeks: D’Anthony Bell is trying to make the team. As was the case last year, securing a special teams role is his pathway to make it happen. How much can undrafted rookie Ronnie Hickman Jr., who had two interceptions versus Washington, continue to make a push?
TURN US UP RONNIE 😤
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 12, 2023
P: Corey Bojorquez
K: Cade York
LS: Charley Hughlett
What’s complicated: The Browns have to be concerned now that York has missed a field goal in each of the first two preseason games. There’s currently no clear answer for either of the return game jobs given that Grant is just back to practice and Jerome Ford, last year’s kickoff returner, is injured. Adams was signed to play special teams but hasn’t been healthy.
What we’re watching the next two weeks: How York kicks in game-like conditions and how new special teams coach Bubba Ventrone changes his lineups with roster spots up for grabs. If Grant and Darden can play in the remaining preseason games, they’ll likely get chances in the return game. Even if the Browns wanted to bring in another kicker, is there a realistic option? And do they even have a roster spot given their injury issues? There shouldn’t be such thing as a kicking crisis in August, but the Browns might have one.
The breakdown: 25 on offense, 25 on defense and three specialists. Last year’s initial Browns 53-man roster had 24 offensive players with just two quarterbacks, two tight ends and five running backs. There was some injury-related shuffling in the days that followed the final roster cut (and there almost always is).
Where I’m most likely wrong: Linebacker, which has a bunch of moving (and still kind of rehabbing) parts. The defensive line group has been hit hard by injury and is impossible to predict, too. The Browns probably never saw themselves potentially being in the market for a running back in mid-August, but they have to be.
Where the Browns are probably still monitoring free agency: Defensive line, safety, running back, kicker and potentially the pass-catching spots.
(Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images)