Charley Casserly on AFC North: Why "Cleveland's going to be hard to beat"

Photo courtesy of USA Today

NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly explains why he thinks the Cleveland Browns can win the AFC North.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Charley Casserly interview, fast-forward to 13:01 of the above attachment)

Charley Casserly's been around pro football long enough to know what he’s talking about. He was a GM for the Super Bowl Washington Redskins, and he was the GM for the Houston Texans when they broke into the NFL as an expansion franchise.

Now, of course, he’s an analyst who calls them as he sees them for the NFL Network, and though the start of the NFL season is three months away, he already is calling an upset in the AFC North.

“Cleveland’s going to be hard to beat,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.

Wait. What?

Cleveland hasn’t been hard to beat for the past decade, failing to produce a winning season the past 11 years and finishing last in the AFC North for nine of them. But Casserly, like many NFL observers, likes what he sees with this year’s Browns … particularly on offense.

In fact, he likes what he see so much he believes that, for the first time since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns can … and maybe will … win their division.

“I’m just looking at how they’ve gotten better, he said. “Do you believe in Baker Mayfield? Well, do you believe in Patrick Mahomes, OK? I believe in Baker Mayfield. I saw it in college. I saw the transition at the Senior Bowl. And I saw it last year. So I believe in Baker Mayfield.

"You’ve got running backs. (Nick) Chubb’s a heckuva back. Somewhere in there, you’re going to get Kareem Hunt back. And Kareem Hunt, as we know, is a helluva back. So they can run the football.

“(Odell) Beckham changes coverages. He’s a dynamic player. He may have something to prove. He changes the game. Jarvis Landry is a proven slot receiver that’s productive. (Antonio) Calloway as a third? That’s not all bad now.

"The offensive line improved last year. I think (Austin) Corbett coming in at guard … he’s going to be fine. (Greg) Robinson at tackle and (Chris) Hubbard at tackle … they’re not as strong there. That’s why Mayfield’s mobility comes into play.

“But you’ve got runners, you’ve got a quarterback and you’ve got receivers. And you’ve got a No.-1 receiver ... a legitimate top receiver. So offensively they should put (points on the board).”

Nobody disputes that. But they have to play defense, too, and last year the Browns ranked 30th overall and 28th vs. the pass.

But that's not all. They also have a head coach with eight games of pro experience (he took over for Hue Jackson midway through the 2018 season). And then … well, then you have history. And history says the Browns somehow will find a way to screw things up.

Casserly understands. But is comfortable with coach Freddie Kitchens can do because he likes the people he coaches, and he likes the people he’s hired.

“He hired a helluva staff,” Casserly said. “Todd Monken (the offensive coordinator) should be a head coach in this league. Steve Wilks was a head coach in this league and was an excellent defensive coordinator. Mike Priefer is one of the best special-teams coaches. So he checks that box.”

And defense?

“Myles Garrett? You’ve got to double-team him,” Casserly said. “Sheldon Richardson? If he’s ready to play, he can be a force inside. Olivier Vernon? We’ll see what he’s got left. We know Denzel Ward at corner is a legitimate No. 1 corner. So you’ve got a shot there. Now, Greedy Williams? I’m not so sure about him.

"But the point is: They got better in a number of areas in the offseason.”

But it’s not just what’s on the roster that Casserly likes about Cleveland. It’s what’s in their division. Pittsburgh just subtracted Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, and Baltimore lost C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Za'Darius Smith, Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Eric Weddle. And then there's Cincinnati.

So who's going to beat the Browns?

“Pittsburgh’s a good, solid team,” said Casserly. “But are they invincible? No. And Baltimore? The defense is good. They’ll miss Mosley. But at the end of the day, they'll be damned good.

“But we don’t know what that offense will look like. The Chargers stopped them last year (in the playoffs). The Chargers shut down the option game and forced the quarterback (Lamar Jackson) to throw. He wasn’t good enough. We have to find out about him."

We have to find out about the Browns, too. In three months we will.

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

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