Browns 2021 NFL season: A few questions remain unanswered

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We are only a few days away from the kickoff of the Cleveland Browns 2021 NFL season. The anticipation has built for the season ever since the Browns season ended in Kansas City in the playoffs.

It is only right that the season starts in Kansas City in Week 1 against the defending AFC champion Chiefs. While the first game will far from decide the results of the Browns 2021 season, it will be a good measuring stick.

Andrew Berry and his front office, along with input from Kevin Stefanski and his coaching staff, have put together a roster that looks as good as any in the league. That doesn’t mean questions do not still remain.

While excited for what the team has on paper, there are things still needed to be proved on the field.

Baker Mayfield's Ceiling?

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It seems quite obvious that we have seen Baker Mayfield's floor. In the 2019 season with terrible coaching and a bad offensive line, Mayfield played okay. He wasn't horrible, despite narratives otherwise, but he wasn't able to excel with the problems surrounding him. What we don't know is how high is his ceiling? Right now, in the AFC, Mayfield falls behind Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, if not others, in most rankings. With a much-improved defense and continuity on offense, Mayfield's ceiling could decide the team's ceiling. Was 2020 the quarterback's top level of play? If so, is the team around Mayfield talented enough to make that work toward a Super Bowl? Was 2020 just the beginning of Mayfield's rise to the upper echelon in the AFC and NFL as a whole? If so, only injury or bad luck might keep the Browns from their Super Bowl aspirations.

Myles Garrett Running Mates?

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Myles Garrett is great and, in 2020, was the majority of the Cleveland defense's success. He needs more help and Berry tried to get it for him with the signings of Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley. Those two players still provoke questions. Can Clowney stay healthy? Can his sack numbers rise with Garrett on the other side? Can he stay healthy? (Yes, that is repeated.) Is whatever led to McKinley missing time in training camp something that could impact his season? Is he healthy enough to be the player seen early in his time in Atlanta or was that just a flash in the pan? The team needs consistency from both players especially with only Joe Jackson joining them at the defensive end position on the 53-man roster.

The OBJ Narrative Accurate?

(AP Photo/Don Wright)

We hope that this piece we covered earlier this year helped put the Odell Beckham Jr. narrative to sleep but it is unlikely. Many believe that Mayfield struggles with Beckham on the field because he feels pressured to force the ball to his top receiver. OBJ is healthy going into the 2021 season and has a lot to prove as the Browns offense took off following his injury in 2020. Can his return take the Cleveland offense to the next level or will we see more struggles between him and Mayfield? That answer may take most of the season to come but it will come in 2021.

Healthy DBs?

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The Browns secondary is full of talent. This offseason Berry added John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Greg Newsome II and Richard LeCounte III to the group. Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams also returned from missing all of 2020. Of that group, Newsome, LeCounte, Delpit and Williams have had a number of injuries, or a major one, early in their pro or college careers. Add Denzel Ward's injury history and the Browns secondary is full of talent but full of durability questions. Can the DB room stay healthy? If so, could threaten as one of the best in the NFL. If not, coverage issues could pop up as players are in and out of the lineup.

The Ravens Hurdle

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

It was great that the Browns were able to overcome the Pittsburgh Steelers twice last year. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Ravens still had their number in two games. While the talent level between the two teams may have switched this offseason (injuries and free agency have not been kind to the Ravens), Cleveland still needs to prove they can beat their AFC North rival. Can the Browns at least take one of the two games against Baltimore to overcome that hurdle? If not, is the team's confidence shaken that they continue to fall to the Ravens?

League Caught Up?

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The Stefanski offense did wonders for Cleveland in 2020 but the NFL is always in the process of learning and catching up against things that are successful. One area that the wide zone scheme can struggle against is odd front defenses with more players away from the line of scrimmage and different gaps created. Can Stefanski and company continue to be creative and have adjustments to the adjustments defenses are using against them? The NFL has had a history of teams and systems looking good for a year but failing to build off that early success. Stefanski needs to prove he can sustain success.

Be Even More Aggressive?

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Berry made it clear that he was going to be aggressive when he was hired as the general manager. In two offseasons, he has done just that. In 2021, it is possible that he may have to decide if he can continue to be aggressive. Whether due to injury, poor play or just an opportunity that he can't pass up, Berry may have a chance to add even more talent to the roster via trade. Will Berry be willing to give up draft picks for the future to make a better run in the present?

Extension Distractions

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Cleveland has a surprising number of players that could be in line for extensions to their current contracts. While Mayfield and Ward lead the list, Clowney, McKinley, Rashard Higgins, Wyatt Teller and Ronnie Harrison are set to become free agents a year before those two big names. With a limited amount of cap space available and a lot of players to pay, could contract discussions become distractions? Could one or more of those players try to play it safe to protect themselves from injury before a big payday could be coming? Given the culture of calm that has been built in Cleveland, it is doubtful that contracts will become a distraction but that has to be proven in 2021.

Too Many Mouths to Feed?

(John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer via AP)

The Browns offense is stacked with talent. Four of the five receivers could rightfully start for most teams in the NFL while rookie Anthony Schwartz is the fastest player on the team and could have a role in 2021. The three tight ends could start or contribute on most teams in the NFL. Stefanski's love for two or three tight end sets could keep this group on the field more often but at the expense of the receives noted above. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt form the best running back duo in the league while D'Ernest Johnson has proven he can play well in relief and rookie Demetric Felton was electric in the preseason. There are a lot of mouths to feed on offense, can Stefanski and Mayfield keep them all happy?

What if...

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What if...

  • ... the Browns beat the Chiefs convincingly in Week 1?

  • ... the Browns sweep the Ravens in back-to-back games (with their bye week in between)?

  • ... the Browns win the AFC North?

  • ... the Browns are lauded as the AFC favorite?

  • ... the Browns win the AFC championship?

This team and these players have had very minimal amounts of success at the NFL level, how would they respond to the above? What if...

  • ... the Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl?

How will the city of Cleveland, the State of Ohio and Browns backers all over the world respond? When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship in 2016, the celebration was great and over a million people showed up for the parade. What happens if the Browns win the Super Bowl? What a great question to get to ask.

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