Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Browns in 2012.
Dream scenario (8-8): The Browns reap the rewards of a third straight successful draft and produce their first non-losing season since 2007. Team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert are vindicated for making the right moves, and head coach Pat Shurmur shows what he can do when he has a full offseason with a team. While this isn't a playoff team yet, this season proves that the team is headed in the right direction.
First-round running back Trent Richardson becomes the centerpiece of the Browns' offense, providing a tough and mean attitude. He lives up to expectations of being the No. 3 overall pick and is the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. First-round pick Brandon Weeden makes an immediate impact with his big arm, convincing everyone that he is a franchise quarterback. He is also the mature leader that the offense needs.
On defense, tackle Phil Taylor returns earlier than expected from his pectoral muscle injury and misses only a handful of games. Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson proves he's worth his new five-year, $42.5 million deal and leads the NFL in tackles. Linebacker Scott Fujita wins the appeal of his three-game suspension from the Saints' bounty scandal and starts the season opener. The addition of defensive end Frostee Rucker significantly improves a run defense that ranked 30th in the NFL last season.
Nightmare scenario (3-13): The Browns hit rock bottom, struggling against the NFL's third-toughest schedule. The hot seat is scorching for Shumur, and there are constant questions whether Holmgren and Heckert will be around when the Browns select first in the 2013 draft.
The biggest problem is a lack of playmakers on offense. Richardson is a physical runner but he can't break tackle after tackle. Defenses load the box with eight and nine players because they don't fear any of the wide receivers. Greg Little continues to drop passes and Mohamed Massaquoi continues to underachieve. Rookie Travis Benjamin brings speed but doesn't have the size to get off the line. That is all compounded by Weeden making too many mistakes when pressured, which was the knock on him coming out of college.
The defense's biggest weakness -- run defense -- gets exploited even more when Taylor takes longer than expected to recover. Rookie defensive linemen John Hughes and Billy Winn play like rookies in trying to replace him. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard isn't as disruptive as he was as a rookie, and Rucker is a disappointment as the team's top free-agent signing.