Hard Knocks with the Cleveland Browns: Get to know the worst team in the NFL
It’s always a bit startling when the first episode of Hard Knocks airs each year. The beginning of August still feels like the middle of the summer, and yet football season is underway. This year, it’s the Cleveland Browns ushering us into autumn; the bleakest team of them all.
Last year, the Browns went 0-16 scoring just 234 points the entire season. To put that in perspective, that’s the lowest ‘points for’ total in the league with only one other team scoring less than 250 points. That, of course, was the struggling New York Giants who only managed to win 3 games last year.
Needless to say, it’s a rebuilding year for the Browns. Then again, when is it not? Cleveland hasn’t had a winning season since 2007. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, and they haven’t been to a Super Bowl since the Jim Brown days, winning in ‘64 and losing in ‘65.
This year, they start from rock bottom, hoping to return to relevance with a trio of exciting new players. With an HBO camera crew in tow, we get to see the inner workings of the NFL’s worst franchise and witness their impossible journey back to glory.
Speaking on the episode itself, I first-saw a negative review by the bridge-burning grump known as Michael Rapaport. Rap tweeted: “The Cleveland Browns are even bad at #HardKnocks,” going on to say “Hardknocks makes every team seem to exciting accept the Browns”. Don’t knock me for the grammar, that was a direct quote.
Aside from Rapaport and fellow members of the hot-take club, the feedback was mostly positive. I personally enjoyed the episode a lot.
The truly engrossing parts of Hard Knocks come in the later episodes, when you’ve developed an emotional attachment to the players. There’s nothing more uplifting than watching someone’s dream come true and nothing more heartbreaking than watching it get shattered.
But the first episode seemed to focus on the more established players, as the Browns are hoping that two big trade acquisitions can make a splash in the upcoming season.
The first is Jarvis Landry, one of the most talented wideouts in the game. Averaging over 1000 yards a season in his four years with the Miami Dolphins, Landry was easily the Browns’ biggest pickup of the offseason. Unsurprisingly, he was the star of the Hard Knocks season premier, as well.
While the “bless ‘em” thing got annoying fast – I’m not sure if that’s sacrilege to say – the rest of Jarvis Landry’s ‘performance’ last night was fantastic. From his adorable family to his stirring speech for the slacking wide receivers, Landry is a personality I can get behind. Doesn’t hurt that those one-handed catches are exciting as hell (when they’re not done in a Giants uniform).
The second big trade acquisition was Tyrod Taylor, a QB formerly of the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. He managed to average just shy of 3000 passing yards over three seasons with the Bills, despite never playing all 16 games. He averaged 525 rushing yards during those same three years, proving to be that duel threat –quarterback that so many teams are searching for these days.
That said, the starting role is far from guaranteed. He’ll have a hungry Rookie breathing down his neck by the name of Baker Mayfield. Mayfield was the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, following his Heisman Trophy winning season at the University of Oklahoma.
My hope is that they get into Mayfield’s legal troubles at Oklahoma, but it’s unclear if the NFL would go down that road. For context, he was arrested for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in February, 2017.
These antics led many to compare Baker to former Cleveland first-round draft-pick and fellow-Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. While Johnny’s issues seemed to persist throughout his professional career, Browns fans are hoping that Mayfield was more of a one-time thing.
And hey, if Baker Mayfield screws this up, they’re always an opportunity to land a job at Barstool Sports. Johnny Football is co-hosting a Barstool podcast with Kayce Smith at this very moment. That may honestly be a better job than Quarterbacking for the Browns.
Hard Knocks resumes next Tuesday, August 14th following Cleveland’s first pre-season game against the Giants. More on that in next week’s write-up. This week, I'll wrap things up the same way HBO did. Be sure to take this prolific quote with you on your journey through life:
“No shit I’ve got a lozenge, bitch!” – Greg Williams, Defensive Coordinator