1. Trent Richardson
T Rich is a beast, plain and simple. Physically and mentally tough, he’s built like a steam roller but runs like a cheetah. Trent gives the Browns offense something they haven’t truly had since they’ve come back in expansion form – a talented young superstar to build the next decade around. He takes pressure off the Quarterback by being a constant threat out of the backfield, and keeps the defense off the field by eating the clock up chomp by chomp. While the QBs (RGIII, Luck, Wilson) got most of the headlines from this past season’s draft class, Richardson had a great rookie season. Browns fans should be excited to see this guy carry the rock for the foreseeable future.
2. The Offensive Line
Joe Thomas (LT), John Greco (LG), Alex Mack (C), Shawn Lauvao (RG), Mitchell Schwartz (RT)
This is a solid group. Joe Thomas is one of the best O Linemen in the NFL, hands down, and Alex Mack is one of the best centers in the league. With a full off season to get healthy, look for the Browns’ offensive line to win the war of the trenches in 2013. There is not a lot of depth, as we don’t have a true back up at Center or Right Guard on the depth chart, but there are a plethora of great Offensive Line options in this year’s draft class, even in the later rounds. Since the Browns aren’t forced to take the best available option at every pick this year (we have some talent for once!), we can actually look to build depth at positions. How odd a spot to be in as a Browns fan.
3. Coach Tabor and the Special Team Unit
The Browns wisely denied as many as 6 other NFL teams the permission to interview Coach Tabor, the Browns Special Teams Coordinator. This should speak volumes about both the level of interest in this man and how much he is valued by this organization. Outside of obviously money guys like Kicker Phil Dawson and lethal return man Joshua Cribbs, Tabor’s schemes proved to create big play opportunities in the kicking and returning game. The value of those type of points and yardage cannot be overstated. Having him on staff next year with most of his personnel returning will give the Browns an advantage in every game.
4. The Coaching Staff
There’s no two ways about it, the 2013 Browns coaching staff is going to be better than last season. The Browns got better at Head Coach, infinitely better at Offensive Coordinator, and stayed about the same Defensive Coordinator. New Head Coach Rob Chudzinski is everything that fired Head Coach Pat Shurmur was supposed to be. He’s an actual offensive innovator, with actual results, even on teams lacking the best talent (see 2007 Browns and Derek Anderson). While it remains to be seen whether or not he can manage a football team, you can bet the young offensive unit will shine under Coach Chud, especially in the areas that it underperformed under Shurmer (QB/WR). While Norv Turner’s exact role in the offensive coordinator spot has yet to be seen, he is an infinitely better architect at creating offenses and play calling than the released Brad Childress. Even the way former players and coaches refer to Turner and Childress highlights the differences in the two. Childress is hated by most everyone who’s ever worked for him, while Turner’s players speak highly of him even in defeat. And Coach Chud thought enough of him to make him his first coaching hire. As far as the defense goes, I’ve been pretty clear that I was less than pleased with releasing Dick Jauron from his role as defensive coordinator. Jauron has more experience than virtually every DC in the League, and his 4-3 defense here was showing real strides. They kept the Browns in almost every game last season. That said, if Jauron was to go, the Browns got the best possible replacement in Ray Horton. Like Jauron, he put together a tough defense on a team with little to no offensive support last season. Horton is tough, respected by his players and can create aggressive schemes that force opposing offenses to account for them. This coaching staff is one of the best I’ve seen the Browns with in my lifetime.
5. The Receiving Corp.
While they didn’t have a ton of opportunities to shine due to Quarterback Brandon Weeden’s struggles, this is a solid 1-2 punch in Josh Gordon and Greg Little. I realize that Little has his critics, but he’s big, physical, and fast. With Gordon playing a similar physically driven game on the other side, these two are going to create match up nightmares for opposing secondaries once they get a QB who can deliver the ball consistently. Benjamin Watson wasn’t overly mind blowing at TE, but with Coach Chud that stands to change. Watson has good size and great hands, and Coach Chud has helped coach numerous pro bowl caliber TE’s. Expect the entire depth chart of TE’s to increase in looks and touches in 2013.