The past few seasons, the Browns’ special teams haven’t been so … special.
Once wide receiver Travis Benjamin went to the San Diego Chargers in free agency, the Browns have lacked no real threat in the return game. They have gone through several kickers the past couple of seasons. The unit certainly hasn’t contributed much to wins and has been responsible for at least two losses (Baltimore in 2015 and Miami in 2016).
However, things are looking up in 2017 thanks to the recent draft.
Incumbent kicker Cody Parkey was signed quickly before Game 3 last year because of a season-ending injury to Patrick Murray. Despite missing what would have been a game-winning field goal in regulation in an overtime loss to Miami that week, Parkey was solid the rest of the season.
However, Parkey now has serious competition in Zane Gonzalez, whom the Browns drafted in the seventh round out of Arizona State. If Gonzalez can match or better Parkey in training camp, he likely will win the spot based on the fact the team used a draft pick on him. Parkey likely would be cut unless a team has a need at the position at the end of the summer and is willing to trade for him.
Punter Britton Colquitt and long snapper Charley Hughlett are back and have no competition for their positions.
The return game shows promise after the team picked safety Jabrill Peppers in the draft. Peppers likely will be the main punt return man, with running back Duke Johnson also getting some opportunities. The hope is Peppers can put some spark back into the return game left by the void from Benjamin’s absence.
Position grade: B+
My guess is Gonzalez does beat out Parkey and hopefully is the kicker for several years in Cleveland. Peppers should give opposing coaches pause when it comes to the return game. This unit overall should be more reliable in 2017.