Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
When Freddie Kitchens convenes his first training camp next week as head coach of the Browns, he will welcome the most talented roster the franchise has assembled in more than 30 years.
The task for Kitchens and his first-time coaching staff is to meld the talented roster into a winning team.
Kitchens has said he will do that by establishing trust and respect among his players, so that when inevitable adversity confronts this season, the team – not necessarily the roster – will be able to overcome it.
Now, about that roster. It has been bolstered significantly in two transaction seasons supervised by GM John Dorsey and his personnel staff. There are potential stars in every position group.
The Madden NFL 20 ratings released this week by EA Sports ranked the Browns tied for No. 14 in the NFL with an overall rating of 83 – tied with the Vikings, Texans, Redskins and 49ers. Madden rated the Steelers 10th (84), the Ravens 21st (81), and the Bengals 25th (80).
For the record, the top five teams rated by Madden were the Eagles (89), Cowboys (88), Saints (87), Patriots (87) and Packers (87).
Madden rated the Browns’ top 10 players this way:
WR Odell Beckham Jr. (96), DE Myles Garrett (91), RB Kareem Hunt (90), CB Denzel Ward (88), LG Joel Bitonio (87), FS Damarious Randall (86), RB Nick Chubb (85), WR Jarvis Landry (84), DT Sheldon Richardson (84), QB Baker Mayfield (83).
But who are the Browns’ most important players?
Our list takes into account factors other than sheer ability and past accomplishments – such as role on the team, impact of position, and depth of players at the same position.
With those factors in mind, here is our list of the most important Browns entering Kitchens’ first training camp.
1. QB Baker Mayfield: This is obvious. The quarterback would top this list on any playoff-caliber team. More than any other player, Mayfield carries the lofty expectations of the entire organization on his shoulders. He has to be the mentally toughest player on the team.
2. DE Myles Garrett: He is the one player on defense that opposing teams will game-plan against. He can change any game with one play.
3. WR Odell Beckham Jr.: What is a batting lineup without a bona fide home-run threat? He is the team’s clean-up hitter, the Big Bopper. He can take defenses over the top, unlike any receiver the Browns have had since probably Paul Warfield. One swing of his bat can win a game. When teams pitch around him – double-cover him – other receivers will benefit.
4. WR Jarvis Landry: He is more important in his second season because of the arrival of Beckham. As kids in Baton Rouge, LA, and then at LSU, Beckham revered and looked up to Landry. Landry motivated Beckham to strive for greatness. Rejoined as teammates with the Browns, Landry can mentor Beckham to heights even greater than he achieved with the Giants. He can also keep Beckham focused when adversity hits.
5. DE Olivier Vernon: Every Batman needs a Robin. That was the role Vernon played to Cameron Wake in Miami and to Jason Pierre-Paul with the Giants. Here, Garrett is Batman and Vernon is Robin. He should help Garrett to his finest season.
6. LT Greg Robinson: Was his sterling play over the final eight games last season a fluke or the turning point of his career? Remember, Robinson was the NFL’s No. 2 overall draft pick in 2014 by the St. Louis Rams. He has “franchise tackle” talent. So it’s more likely that Robinson seized an opportunity after he was freed of the enormous expectations of his lofty draft status. If Robinson goes down, it would expose probably the greatest weakness on Dorsey’s roster – quality depth at offensive tackle.
7. C JC Tretter: He played the final eight games last year on a high ankle sprain after barely practicing each week with his foot in a protective boot. Why? Because the Browns didn’t have an adequate replacement center. Acknowledging they played with fire, the Browns this year added potential injury replacements Kyle Kalis and Eric Kush, and prepped Austin Corbett – the favorite to start at right guard – for potential backup duty at center. All of which underscores Tretter’s importance as the anchor of the offensive line.
8. CB Denzel Ward: In his second season, he should be counted on to defend the top receiver on every opponent. When he missed three games due to two different concussions in his rookie year, the defense – and special teams – suffered.
9. RB Nick Chubb: Yes, 2017 NFL rushing champion Kareem Hunt has a higher Madden rating. But Chubb’s natural evolution as a 1,000-yard rusher in his second season would take the pressure off the club from having to count on Hunt after his eight-game NFL suspension. When healthy and active, Chubb and Hunt offer the coaches intriguing options. But make no mistake – Chubb is the more important player from Day 1.
10. Ks Austin Seibert/Greg Joseph: Whoever wins this job has to be reliable and consistent and able to convert a game-winner from 40-plus yards. In a playoff race, a field goal in the middle of the year can mean the difference between staying home in the playoffs or having to go on the road. Or it could mean avoiding elimination – a fate the Chicago Bears were unable to realize.