Going into their Week 18 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns have a 7-9 record and have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason for a second consecutive season. The 2022 Browns season was arguably over before it started when Deshaun Watson was suspended for 11 games for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. While Jacoby Brissett played well during his absence, there’s a reason why the Browns gave the former Houston Texan $230 million guaranteed when they traded for No. 4 back in March.
Having a full season of Deshaun Watson is a great start, but Watson is not going to single-handedly change the Browns into AFC North contenders. Cleveland’s roster has holes general manager Andrew Berry needs to address during the offseason.
Here are three positions the Browns need to upgrade to have a legitimate chance at competing for the division crown in 2023.
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The defensive tackle position has needed an upgrade for several years, and the Browns always seem to ignore it, no matter who the general manager is. After currently allowing the 25th most rush yards per game at 134.4, it is time for Cleveland to seriously address their biggest need on the defensive side of the ball. Perrion Winfrey, the Browns 2022 fourth-round selection who many draft experts predicted would be a steal of a pick by Berry, has had character issues this season and has not produced at the level he was expected. On the season, the former Sooner has 19 total tackles (seven solo) and a half sack. Third-round pick in 2020 Jordan Elliott is a nice player, but he hasn’t flashed consistently. Solving this defensive tackle issue will go a long way in improving the defense overall, regardless if defensive coordinator Joe Woods returns in 2023.
Anthony Schwartz was drafted in the third round of the 2021 draft to fill this need, but he has struggled to catch the football throughout his first two seasons in the NFL. It’s probably safe to say at this point Berry missed on the 6’0, 185-pound receiver who played his college ball at Auburn. Finding a receiver to stretch the field will bring a new feel to Cleveland's offense. Amari Cooper and Donavon Peoples Jones are good wide receivers but lack the speed to consistently create big, explosive plays downfield, an element the Browns offense has been missing for years.
Cleveland desperately needs a stud linebacker to command the defense. While Anthony Walker Jr. and Sione Takitaki have played well, both are impending free agents and can be upgraded. Health has been a massive issue for the Browns linebacker corps, with their top four backers currently on injured reserve. 2023 is a great year to address the issue, with several young, elite free agents and draft prospects to choose from.
This upcoming offseason is a big one for the Browns front office. Another failed season will not only put them on the hot seat but could spell the end of the Berry/Kevin Stefanski era. Addressing these three positions will go a long way in helping both men keep their jobs by the time the 2023 regular season comes to an end approximately one year from now.