Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Sessler examines the Cleveland Browns.
1) An intriguing quarterback room
We've been here before.
Maybe not with a Browns team that appears so much better on paper, but with the entire concept of hope. Since the team's return to the league in 1999, Cleveland's battered fan base has poured faith into a bushel of highly drafted signal callers. Tim Couch, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel and DeShone Kizer -- the inglorious list goes on and on.
This time around, the Browns turn to trade-target Tyrod Taylor and rookie Baker Mayfield to revive a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2002 and hasn't seen a quarterback start all 16 games in a season since 2001.
Taylor has a chance to do just that, as embattled coach Hue Jackson has vowed repeatedly to lean heavily on the former Bills starter. There's a legitimate shot Mayfield doesn't see the field this fall, but that requires Taylor staying healthy and the Browns playing well enough to keep Mayfield's debut off the radar. Two raging variables.
Mayfield turns 24 next April. You don't have the luxury of sitting him forever, but the difference between this first-round passer and so many others who fizzled out in Cleveland: You don't need to throw him into the fire, with Taylor on the field.
Besides, Taylor himself is a better option than anything Cleveland had under center a year ago. The same goes for Mayfield. This depth alone is unusual for the Browns. And that applies to the entire roster on offense ...
2) Deep batch of skill position players
For the first time in a billion years, Josh Gordon is set to play an entire season, joining a wideout corps featuring Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman and intriguing rookie Antonio Callaway. It's a group with plenty to prove -- especially Coleman -- but it's not hard to imagine these guys making plays alongside athletic tight end David Njoku.
The backfield is versatile, with three starting-caliber backs in Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb. Johnson is an underrated third-down weapon who would double as a household name if the Browns weren't buried on regional television at 1 p.m. ET until the end of days. Chubb has the chance to steal major work away from Hyde.
The loss of Joe Thomasto retirement has the potential to create major issues at left tackle -- there's no quick fix there -- but if you strip away the team name and forget all the issues of late in Cleveland, this is a solid Week 1 roster in the AFC.
3) Myles Garrett and the young defense
The same applies to the defense, where the Browns are set to unleash a fully healthy Myles Garrett. The pass rusher's rookie tape featured moments of pure dominance -- and it helps to have the underrated Emmanuel Ogbah across the way. The interior line has a couple of up-and-comers in Larry Ogunjobi and Trevon Coley.
New general manager John Dorsey addressed every layer of the defense, adding former Eagles starter Mychal Kendricks to the linebacking crew, while completely overhauling the secondary with the addition of safety Damarious Randall and cover men E.J. Gaines and T.J. Carrie, plus first-round cornerback Denzel Ward.
Lost in a hideous, winless season was a Browns defense that graded out as the seventh-best run-stopping unit in the league, per Pro Football Focus. All the new pieces should help, but success boils down to coordinator Gregg Williams flipping the switch.
4) Unified leadership?
I end that title with a question mark because we just don't know for sure.
One scenario has Dorsey and this talented front office -- with Eliot Wolf, Alonzo Highsmith and Andrew Berry -- seeing their hard work pay off with a solid season that makes it clear to the AFC that Cleveland is on the way up.
There's another scenario, though, where the team decides that Hue Jackson is not the answer, leaving the Browns to start over once again at head coach.
It was encouraging to see Jackson hire Todd Haley as an empowered offensive coordinator who will call games on Sunday. His presence will allow Jackson to adopt a more global game-day approach.
Jackson made his displeasure with ex-football czar Sashi Brown evident for all to see. Having run out of scapegoats, Hue is under immense pressure to show ownership -- and his own players -- that he's the right coach to guide Cleveland through the rigors of a regular season.
Show us what you're capable of -- or suffer the consequences.
5) Nowhere to go but up in a lackluster AFC
Cleveland making the leap from a winless punching bag to a surprise playoff team? Let's be real, it's a stretch.
The roster is still filled with so much youth -- and players with no concept of NFL success. That said, Dorsey has overtly changed the complexion of this locker room with a flock of veteran leaders.
The Browns should have won five games last season. That's a good sign because the talent was already here. That's a bad sign when you look at a coaching staff that made plenty of bad decisions to somehow squeeze out an 0-16 campaign.
Pressure, potential and promise form an intriguing cocktail in Cleveland.