You could make a case that the AFC North has been the NFL's most successful division over the last five seasons and you may not get much of an argument.
Unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns, they haven't been a part of that success.
Since 2008, the franchise has lost 11 or more games each season. Now it's up to new head coach Rob Chudzinski to lead the team out of the AFC North basement.
Still, it is a new season for these Browns. And it is here that we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Cleveland Browns:
QB Brandon Weeden: The second-year veteran, a term that takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Weeden, should benefit from the addition of Chudzinski and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Last season as a rookie, Weeden (who turns 30 in October) threw for 3,385 yards, 14 scores and 17 interceptions in 15 games. He also completed just 57.4 percent of his passes, which is one aspect of the game that Turner should help him with immediately.
RB Trent Richardson: The Browns are keeping their first pick in the 2012 draft under wraps until training camp. And like Weeden, Richardson should also benefit from the addition of Turner, just as he has in the past with other running backs. A year ago, the rookie running back was among the league leader with 12 total touchdowns. Richardson ran for a team-high 950 yards and 11 scores and was second on the club with 51 catches. Don't be surprised if he's one of the NFL leaders in total yards from scrimmage by year's end.
WR Davone Bess: Cleveland acquired the underrated receiver in an offseason trade with the Miami Dolphins, where Bess became expendable due to their free agency spending spree. However, there is both good news and bad news when it comes to Bess, who caught at least 50 passes in each of his five seasons in the Sunshine State. The wideout totaled only 12 touchdown receptions while fumbling a combined 16 times (losing eight). That little issue needs to be rectified if he is going to last with any team.
OLB Paul Kruger: The Browns' defense was more than respectable last season, totaling 38 sacks while the club totaled 29 takeaways. Kruger comes over from the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, where he led the clubs in sacks both during the regular season (9.0) and in the playoffs (4.5), including a pair in the team's Super Bowl XLVII win over the San Francisco 49ers. Kruger heads to Cleveland with the chance to be a regular starter and it will be interesting to see if the move pays off.
OLB Barkevious Mingo: The best way to stop quarterbacks and the high-octane passing attacks in today's NFL is simple disruption. And the addition of Kruger is supplemented by the drafting of Mingo with the sixth overall pick in April. In three seasons at LSU, he lined up at both defensive end and linebacker and that versatility will serve him well in the pros. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Mingo to make an impression now that the defense is under the guidance of emerging coordinator Ray Horton.
So what can we expect from the Browns in 2013? Is the team ready to make its first playoff appearance since 2002? And what other performers will play pivotal roles in the team's fortunes this season? We won't have to wait that much longer to actually find out.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Cleveland Browns
- Brandon Weeden
- Trent Richardson
- Rob Chudzinski
- The Browns
- Paul Kruger