As part of our mid-season analysis, RealSport are looking at reasons why the fans of the cellar-dwellers of each division still have reasons to be optimistic about their futures. We continue the series with a look at the Cleveland Browns. See the other editions below: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Okay Browns fans, I’m going to level with you. 2015, much like nearly every season that has been since your reformation in 1999, is a lost cause. But, do not despair! I believe you are close to turning a corner very soon.
The biggest question that Mike Pettine and co. will have this offseason is to determine whether or not Johnny Manziel is going to be your long-term starter at quarterback. He has shown development in 2015, but still looks like the weakest option from the 2014 draft class. Although quarterback has not been the problem for the Browns this year (Josh McCown has been solid, if unspectacular), nobody is viewing McCown as the long-term solution. If the coaching staff are not all-in on Manziel, then they will need to look to the draft once again to hand pick their franchise quarterback.
Keeping the likes of Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger around despite all the trade rumours gives the Browns crucial pieces to work with going forward. Mack and Thomas are the lynchpins of the offensive line, while the others constantly bring pressure on the outside of the defense. Danny Shelton looks solid at the defensive tackle position, and should only get better as the season moves forward. It appears that both lines set the Browns in good stead moving into 2016. One more point of optimism should be the state of the AFC North. Although the Bengals have run away with it this year, it’s rare that a team can reproduce such a stellar season the following year. The Ravens and Steelers will both enter 2016 with question marks (the Ravens after their abject 2015, and the Steelers around aging veterans on the line and a fragile quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, so there might be not better time to take advantage of their division rivals.
As ever, the Browns are possibly one solid draft away from challenging the elite in the AFC. If they get it right in 2016, we could see them back at the top of the footballing tree.