The Cleveland Browns have established players all over the field in 2020 and while many starting positions are locked up, there are key backup roles and even a few starting opportunities out there for the Browns. The following players can easily sneak up and claim either a roster spot or steal a starting role during the 2020 season. This list contains a mixture of undrafted rookies, young players who many believe to have underwhelmed, and one player set to rebound from a forgettable 2019.
Here Are Five 2020 Cleveland Browns Sleepers to Watch
A. J. Green, Corner
A. J. Green stated he has a “mountain on my shoulder” after going undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming from Oklahoma State, Green was a finalist to win the Jim Thorpe Award, which went to his new Cleveland Browns teammate, Grant Delpit. Green further stated, “Watching the draft, I was very frustrated… kind of angry and things like that. I mean, they took 50 defensive backs and I was not one of them.”
The Browns were so high on Green that they offered him a generous offer for an undrafted free agent. An offer that included a guaranteed income of $145,000. While this may sound small considering 2020 NFL standards, it’s a monster deal for an undrafted rookie free agent.
Many experts, including NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, had a fourth or fifth-round grade on Green. Don’t be surprised if Green survives last cuts and carves a niche role with the Browns, especially when there’s little depth behind Terrance Mitchell in the team’s secondary.
Solomon Ajayi, Middle Linebacker
The brother of NFL running back Jay Ajayi, Solomon Ajayi played his college ball at Liberty and he walks into a very weak linebacker room. Of the Browns’ linebackers, only Mack Wilson is a clear-cut starter and he posted just average production. B.J. Goodson is next in line but even his production is spotty while Sione Takitaki mainly played special teams.
This gives Ajayi a chance to compete for a roster spot in camp, as Cleveland’s next in line group in the room has little playing experience and those that haven’t produced in the NFL. Ajayi should at least warrant himself a spot on the Browns’ practice squad and work his way into a backup role. His ceiling can go further.
Rashard Higgins, Wide Receiver
Rashard Higgins looked like he was about to have a breakout season in 2019 after a solid performance in 2018. Then injuries hit along with a dispute with then-coach Freddie Kitchens. Higgins found himself either unused on game day or a healthy scratch. Until late-April, many were unsure whether Higgins would even return to the Browns, but he resigned with the team on a one-year deal.
In 2018, Higgins appeared to be a favorite target of Baker Mayfield, when he caught 39 passes for four touchdowns. With the Browns lacking a true number three receiver, Higgins is in the mix to return to that role along with Damion Ratley, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Taywan Taylor. Higgins should be the clear favorite because of his past chemistry with Mayfield.
Drew Forbes, Guard
After posting a solid camp, Drew Forbes struggled to stay healthy in 2019 and if he had, he could’ve pushed for the starting guard spot that featured a merry-go-round until Wyatt Teller locked up the starting role. In 2020, Teller figures to project as the starter in camp but he underwhelmed in 2019, posting a very average 56.7 grade per Pro Football Focus.
If Teller struggles, the Browns could try swing tackle Chris Hubbard at the position or they can turn to Forbes if he posts a solid training camp. Forbes isn’t a surprise starter and it’s possible he becomes the eventual starter by the end of the season.
Chad Thomas, Defensive End
Chad Thomas quietly put together a decent season, playing in 16 games and starting eight. He amassed 26 tackles and four sacks after spending most of 2018 on the inactive list. He didn’t have the most productive season and there’s a lot of room for improvement, but he played well enough to be a spot starter and provide key depth.
Note that Thomas didn’t experience a breakout season until his junior year when he recorded four and a half sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He repeated such a performance as a senior before declaring for the NFL Draft.
With the Browns neglecting to replace Olivier Vernon from the outside, Thomas figures to be the key backup behind him, along with Adrian Clayborn If he continues to improve his production again, he may even supplant Vernon in 2020.
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