As we close the book on the 2018 NFL season, I can’t stop myself from feeling just a little sentimental and a lot sad.
While our Cleveland Browns did not earn a playoff spot and fell just shy of a winning season, I think we fans witnessed the beginning of a new Cleveland Browns organization. The fact that owner, Jimmy Haslam, is stepping back so that John Dorsey can choose our next head coach demonstrates an elevated level of trust.
When I look over my list of Top Dawgs for the 2018 season, I can see a diverse talent pool. While some of my Dawgs are no longer a part of the team (Carlos Hyde) or are on the sidelines due to injury (Christian Kirksey and Denzel Ward) I feel confident in saying we have a group of players ready to leave everything they have on the field of play for this team, this city and us the fans. Here are a few observations from my Top Dawg List I’d like to share:
The Browns showed some positive skills in the drafting department and some of their top picks showed off that skill.
• Georgia Bulldogs’ running back, Nick Chubb, was the second pick of the second round. He contributed tremendously to our running attack and he paired well with Duke Johnson in the backfield.
• Ohio State University standout Denzel Ward proved that he was worth every dime the Browns spent to draft him as the fourth overall pick of the draft. Ward stood out and showed all of the makings of a true ball hawk. Unfortunately, concussion issues sidelined Ward.
• Oklahoma Sooner and the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Baker Mayfield, won over critics and delighted fans when called upon to step in for quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Mayfield went on to bring the Browns within just one score of a winning record while passing Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning’s records for rookie touchdowns.
THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE
A total of six defensive players were Top Dawgs during 2018. I will admit that across the board, I prefer defensive players to those who play offense. Maybe I am influenced by my blue-collar background, but I have huge levels of respect for the guys in the trenches as well as those in the secondary. This seems appropriate since Browns cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield began using the term Dawgs in the mid-1980s. The pair also christened the original bleacher section at the old Cleveland Stadium as the Dawg Pound.
My defensive Top Dawgs for 2018 were:
GET BY WITH A LOT OF HELP FROM FRIENDS
When I first saw that a game against the Houston Texans was in the cards for the Browns, my first thought was “J.J. Watt is going to crush our quarterback.” Even though at the time I did not know who our quarterback would be, our offensive line did not inspire much confidence. However, the group jelled into a strong force intent on keeping Taylor and later Mayfield vertical. The game against the Texans during Week 13 was not the bloodbath I feared and our interior offensive line collectively were my Top Dawgs.
FROM THE TOP DOWN
Clearly, former head coach, Hue Jackson had more than his fair share of chances to pull our Browns together and create a win column. So, after engineering a total of three wins in his tenure in Cleveland, Hue was wished the best of luck in his future endeavors and sent packing-along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
The Browns’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, received the position as their interim head coach. And Freddie Kitchens took on the role of the offensive coordinator. The rest is history. Under the direction of Williams and Kitchens, the Browns came back to life. While the abilities of individual players cannot be discounted, the sound leadership and great play calling brought some wonderful wins to the franchise as well as bona fide excitement to the fans.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
While some amazing players rounded out my 2018 Top Dawgs list, the player named Top Dawg twice is also my choice for Top Dawg of the Season, quarterback, Baker Mayfield. Throughout the season, Mayfield showed leadership and poise well beyond his rookie status. I believe we have found the franchise quarterback we have needed for so very long.
I would like to thank all of the players, coaches and staff who helped create an exciting, competitive and fun season. I feel a sense of hope that I haven’t felt in a very long time. And on the horizon, a brighter future for our Cleveland Browns than we have seen is many years.