BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns open training camp Wednesday at the team's facility in Berea. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
Will quarterback Baker Mayfield make another leap beyond last year’s bounce-back season?
Last season, Mayfield finished in the top 10 in QBR while quarterbacking the Browns to their first playoff victory in 26 years, while improving throughout the season. In fact, from Week 7 to Week 15, only Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, the last two MVPs, ranked ahead of Mayfield in QBR.
Mayfield now seems primed of build off the breakout campaign. This was the first offseason he didn’t have to learn a new playbook or adjust to a different head coach. He has a scheme that fits his skill set. He and coach Kevin Stefanski share a tremendous rapport. And the entire offense around him from last season returns. That continuity is a big reason why he could take another big leap in his fourth NFL season.
Will Mayfield and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. finally find their chemistry?
Curiously, Mayfield didn’t take off last year until after Beckham’s season-ending knee injury in Week 7. The Browns, however, believe that jump had much more to do with adjustments made during the Week 9 bye and Mayfield gradually settling into Stefanski’s system.
Still, there’s no denying that Mayfield and OBJ have struggled to find a chemistry through a season-and-a-half of playing together. In fact, dating back to the start of the 2019 season up until Beckham’s injury, Mayfield and OBJ generated the worst completion success rate (55.6%) of any quarterback-receiver duo in the league (with at least 100 attempts), according to ESPN Stats & Info. At times, Mayfield has seemed too fixated on Beckham, which appeared to take the quarterback out of rhythm while also leading to forced throws.
Despite that, there is reason to believe that the Mayfield-Beckham connection could finally come together in 2021. OBJ is well on his way to becoming 100% healthy again, and Mayfield, having just taken Cleveland to the playoffs, is a far more confident and established passer than the one Beckham last played with previously.
Without question, Beckham’s talent elevates Cleveland’s ceiling offensively. But the key will be assimilating him back into the attack without deviating from what made Mayfield so successful down the stretch of last season without him.
Could a revamped defense elevate Cleveland into a true contender?
General manager Andrew Berry focused this offseason on significantly upgrading the talent around All-Pro pass rusher Myles Garrett and Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward. As a result, the Browns could have as many as nine new starters defensively, including former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, cornerback Greg Newsome II, Cleveland’s first-round draft pick this year, and John Johnson III, who was arguably the top safety available in free agency.
It might take a few weeks for a defense with so many new faces to gel. But if the pieces eventually do mesh, this Browns defense could emerge into a force heading into the playoffs.