Cleveland cut their roster to 53 players in preparation for the season opener. Since I’ve watched all four preseason games, here are some thoughts about the final roster, including some of the more surprising (or not surprising) cuts.
Quarterback: RGIII has looked pretty decent this preseason, and I think he’ll be a good starter for Cleveland. McCown as the backup makes sense. Kessler has been somewhat questionable, looking lost at the big stage, but he was a bit of a project anyway. I think he’ll turn out to be serviceable.
Running Back: Carrying four on the roster seems excessive. Crowell will probably get most carriers, followed by Duke Johnson. Watson is there to be a goal-line back. I’m not sure what role Mostert will play.
Fullback: We have a fullback named Malcolm Johnson. Now you know as much I do.
Wide Receiver: Terrell Pryor has natural chemistry with RGIII; I’m impressed with him more than anyone else on the offense so far. Coleman was hurt for part of the preseason, but I’m hoping he’ll be fine. Andrew Hawkins made it, but he’s so similar to Coleman that I think he’s mostly around for “veteran presence” than out of a skill set. All three other rookies made the team, which I did not expect. Cutting Taylor Gabriel strikes some as surprising, but it’s not that a big shock because he and Hawkins were so similar. We were bound to keep one or the other, not both. Marlon Moore was a good special teamer but had little else to offer. Darius Jennings was Marlon Moore with 5% more upside.
Tight End: Barnidge had communication issues with RGIII early on in the preseason, but those seem settled. Randall Telfer is a blocking tight end. Seth DeValve has Antonio Gates-levels of potential, but he didn’t show much in the preseason.
Offensive Line: Austin Pasztor won the right tackle job, which was not surprising, but I hoped for more from Spencer Drago. Drago did make the team, but he’ll be a backup, as will Shon Coleman and Alvin Bailey. Erving looked acceptable at center; we’ll miss Alex Mack, but I think Erving has made some impressive strides and could be a good one. Del Greco will start at RG, Joe Thomas at LT, and Joel Bitonio at LG. No surprises there.
Defensive Line: Danny Shelton was one of the most invisible players during the preseason. I’m a little concerned that he didn’t make more of an impact, but there were no serious contenders for his job. Carl Nassib, on the other hand, was brilliant and will be a wonderful addition to the team. John Hughes III is okay, I guess. Jamie Meder has a lot of speed and showed some solid work. Xavier Cooper also has upside. We signed a guy named Stephen Paea and I have no idea what he does, but maybe he’s okay?
Inside Linebacker: Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey will start, and that works for me. They’re the best possible pair. Tank Carder is a great special team player, but he’s not too inspiring otherwise. I don’t remember hearing the name Dominique Alexander at all. Scooby Wright has a lot of sleeper potential; I like the cut of his jib, although he’ll mostly be a backup to start.
Outside Linebacker: Emmanuel Ogbah was a beast as a pass rusher (along with Nassib). Nate Orchard is going to get some more reps as an everyday player, which I think is wise; he’s not just a pure rusher, although he’s good at that. I’m not sure who the other two guys are.
Safeties: We’re carrying five safeties, which is just bizarre to me. Ibraheim Campbell and Jordan Poyer are heavy hitters who are underwhelming in coverage. Derrick Kindred had some good hits as well, and he’s a little more of a ballhawk. I’m interested to see if he gets regular playing time. Rahim Moore is there for veteran leadership and not much else. He’s the Andrew Hawkins of the secondary. Don Jones is not the love child of Tom Jones and Don Johnson. Beyond that, I don’t know what he brings to the table. Pierre Desir was a meh corner without much speed, which made him a decent candidate for safety, but he’s not very good at that either. Maybe he needs a better team, since he got cut.
Cornerback: Oooooof. This is not a great unit. If he’s healthy, Joe Haden is top notch, but the rest of the lineup is underwhelming. Tramon Williams plays well if he cares. Jamar Taylor is a reclamation project who got torched a couple of times. Trey Caldwell is a rookie. Tracy Howard is a football player, supposedly. Charles Gaines got cut because he sucks (really, really badly). Trading Justin Gilbert to Pittsburgh I don’t entirely approve of. Gilbert wasn’t outstanding by any stretch of the imagination, but I liked him more than Williams, and a 6th rounder wasn’t great value for a former first rounder. Then again, Dawgs By Nature suspects he was going to get cut, so a sixth rounder is better than nothing. If any team can salvage Gilbert, it’s the Steelers.
Special Teams: The new kicker is Patrick Murray. I liked Travis Coons from last year, but while he was decently accurate, his leg wasn’t the best. Murray’s got a lot more power. Andy Lee was already traded for being a shitty tackler (I don’t love the deal, but we did get better pick than we did for Gilbert), so our new punter is Britton Colquitt. Colquitt is good, if not outstanding.
All in all, I’m not surprised with how the roster ended up. One of the rookie wideouts will get cut when Josh Gordon comes back from his suspension, so they’ll be fighting hard to impress. I think there’s some potential here.