CLEVELAND — Because of solid play from rookies like quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb and the acquisition of Pro Bowl wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. in each of the last two offseasons, the Cleveland Browns have garnered plenty of attention in the national media in recent months.
And with that attention has come respect from some media outlets, including ESPN.com.
A combined panel of Louis Riddick, Kevin Seifert and Field Yates ranked the Browns No. 9 in their futures power rankings for the next three seasons based on the team’s roster, quarterback, draft picks, front office and coaching staff.
Of the five categories where the Browns were ranked, quarterback topped the list at 88.3, which was the seventh-best rating of all NFL signal-callers. Mayfield ranked close to “Great” in the “Very Good” level.
The Browns ranked sixth in overall roster (84.3) and front office (81.3), second in draft (84.3) and 26th in coaching (70.3).
“Fortunes change fast in the NFL,” Yates wrote. “The Browns are living proof of it, as they are only one season removed from a 0-16 campaign but have some in Ohio thinking Super Bowl. While the team has had a flurry of notable additions, no player means more than Baker Mayfield, the prodigious young quarterback who has immense physical ability and unique leadership qualities.”
In addition to the national media, there is plenty of optimism among the fans.
According to ticket resale site, StubHub.com, Browns fans rank No. 1 in the company’s first-ever Fan Optimism Index.
That was the latest acknowledgement given to Cleveland fans during the offseason. Earlier this year, Browns fans won a Twitter tournament to figure out what NFL team had the most loyal fan base.
Unlike past years, Browns fans have reason to be optimistic heading into the 2019 season.
At 2-5-1 following a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28 and in the middle of an unprecedented midseason coaching staff upheaval following the dismissals of Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the 2018 Browns looked to be anything but a team capable of the greatest year-to-year turnaround in franchise history.
But a 5-3 record over the second half of the season and three-game winning streak in December secured the Browns’ greatest year-to-year turnaround in team history, as they finished plus-7.5 in victories over 2017’s winless campaign.
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No rookie in the near 100-year history of the NFL has thrown more touchdowns passes than Mayfield.
After taking over the first-team offense in the second quarter of a Week 3 win over the New York Jets, Mayfield completed 310 of his 486 attempts (63.8 percent) for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
Under the direction of new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, who was the interim offensive coordinator for the second half of the 2018 season, Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
“Going forward, my biggest concern is whether Kitchens can keep all of these explosive players and the personalities that come with them moving in the same direction, particularly when adversity hits,” Riddick wrote of the Browns’ biggest concerns.
“Things have changed in Cleveland from ‘hope’ to ‘expectations.’ That can be both good and bad.”
Seifert added, “Can he handle a lively roster of players like the one the Browns have assembled, keep it moving forward and engaged while also remaining on the cutting edge of offensive play calling? If Kitchens can do that, the Browns would be Super Bowl contenders in three years.”