The draft is over, and now is the time to start getting the roster together. Right now, Cleveland players are playing against each other to earn the right to start for our glorious Browns. Here are the five best competitions to watch:
5. Tyler Thigpen vs. Connor Shaw (3rd String Quarterback)
I previewed this one a little bit in my mailbag post yesterday, and while it may not get many of the headlines, it’ll still be an intriguing battle to keep track of. Thigpen is a player that the team brought in during free agency along with Vince Young, and Thigpen is the one that is still on the team. Thigpen brings some NFL starting experience to the table, but he has a combined record of 1-11. Shaw, on the other hand, is an undrafted free agent from the University of South Carolina. The Browns had shown some interest in drafting Shaw, but ended up trading away their late picks before scooping him up after the draft. Neither guy will ever receive playing time, but it will be entertaining to see if the team goes with the experienced vet (probably more costly) or the highly successful college quarterback.
4. Joel Bitonio vs. Jason Pinkston (Starting Right Guard)
Bitonio is another one of the more underrated picks by the Browns this year, as he has the chance to immediately step into one of the best offensive lines in the entire league and start immediately. He has a nasty streak about him and could add some much needed toughness that would allow him to fit right into the AFC North. The only person standing between him and a starting role is the current number one on the Browns’ depth chart, Jason Pinkston. Pinkston started all 16 games for the Brownies in 2011, but lately has struggled with injury problems that have kept him out of the starting lineup. Most recently, Pinkston dealt with a high ankle sprain for much of the 2013 season and ended up leaving the season finale against Pittsburgh with a concussion. Still, Pinkston is the veteran with more NFL starting experience. As with the quarterback position, Pinskton could benefit from his veteran status and start week one, but don’t be surprised if Bitonio makes a run at the spot as the season progresses along.
3. Christian Kirksey vs. Craig Robertson (Starting Left Inside Linebacker)
Kirksey was easily the most surprising draft pick that the Browns’ selected this year, but when it’s all said and done, he could end up with a starting role on a top-ranked defense. While the selection of Kirksey left a much bigger hole left unfilled (wide receiver), it did in fact fill a need of its own at outside linebacker. The man who currently holds that position, Craig Robertson has consistently failed to live up to the hype that he has received, most recently last season after receiving praise from then-defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Robertson played very below average for the defense last season and was one of the few weaknesses in an otherwise fantastic defensive squad. Robertson is on the figurative hot seat once again this season, and don’t be surprised if the young gun Kirksey pushes him to the brink and ultimately ends up stealing his job.
2. Starting Wide Receivers
This position will remain interesting all the way through the season, especially depending on how long No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon is ultimately suspended. Behind him is essentially a large group of similarly talented receivers fighting for two or three spots. This includes, but is not limited to, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Earl Bennett, Nate Burleson (assuming that his arm fracture was not too serious and his agent’s claim that he’ll be 100% for training camp is true), Travis Benjamin and possibly an undrafted free agent such as Willie Snead form Ball State. In other words, the wideout position is one giant jumbled mess. I wish I could say that one or two guys have successfully separated themselves from the pack, but it’s simply not true. This could be a highly impactful and cluttered battle that will rage on throughout the summer, training camp, and the preseason as well.
1. Johnny Manziel vs. Brain Hoyer (Starting Quarterback)
Here’s the battle that everyone is talking about. The incumbent, Brian Hoyer, compiled a 3-0 record last season before tearing his ACL. Manziel on the other hand is the high profile first round draft pick, and possibly the most well known rookie that the NFL has ever seen. The national media will end up driving this quarterback controversy more than any other factor, but nonetheless, it’ll be extremely entertaining to watch. All the hype is surrounding Johnny Football, but as of now, the team is trying everything to show confidence in Hoyer, saying he has the job as of now, and going as far as to treat Manziel as a third-string signal caller at the first day of OTAs. Honestly, the coaching staff is trying to make this situation as difficult to read as possible, and they are doing an extremely good job. The winner of the battle probably won’t become clear until the week before the Browns’ first regular season game.