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49ers 2019 opponent preview: Cleveland Browns

It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2019. Today it’s the Cleveland Browns.

I remember a few years back when Johnny Manziel was taken in the first round. There were reports later that Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator at the time, had Derek Carr ranked first, Jimmy Garoppolo second, and then everyone else.

Then Manziel sent a text to then-Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains that he wanted to “wreck the league” in Cleveland. Then-head coach Mike Pettine got wind of it and that was what made the Browns pull the trigger. You know how that story ended.

Wow...we’ve come a long way since the Browns were drafting quarterbacks like that in the first round. Somewhere in there I’d like to remind everyone that Manziel managed to beat the Jim Tomsula-led 49ers and still find his way out of the league.

Long after that mess, we have Freddie Kitchens in his first head coaching gig. Kitchens began as the offensive coordinator for a handful of games after the Browns had enough of Hue Jackson. While the signing seems a bit premature given Kitchens’ experience as an offensive coordinator, he’s shown quite a bit of promise with the young rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

They were active in free agency signing over 10 players if you count extensions given out to their roster. But nothing was more high-profile than the trade acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns gave up safety Jabrill Peppers, a first round pick, and their second third round pick.

After Kitchens, free agency, and that OBJ trade, the Browns appear to no longer be lovable losers. At least on paper.

Draft picks

Round 2: Greedy Williams (CB)
Round 3: Sione Takitaki (OLB)
Round 4: Sheldrick Redwine (S)
Round 5: Mack Wilson (ILB)
Round 5: Austin Seibert (K)
Round 6: Drew Forbes (OT)
Round 7: Donnie Lewis Jr. (CB)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Kareem Hunt (RB)
Eric Kush (G)
Sheldon Richardson (DT)
Demetrius Harris (TE)

Notable trades

Odell Beckham Jr. — The Browns gave up a first round (17th overall), a third round (95th overall), and safety Jabrill Peppers to the New York Giants in exchange for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Olivier Vernon — The Browns traded guard Kevin Zeitler, for defensive end Olivier Vernon.

The Browns have been busy busy busy. That’s just a handful of free agent signings. They signed running back Kareem Hunt. The signing comes after Hunt was released from the Kansas City Chiefs three months prior when video of his [Hunt’s] domestic violence incident surfaced.

Behind that, Harris should be a decent tight end. Sheldon Richardson is a good signing as well that should help what is becoming one of the better defensive lines in football.

They didn’t have a first round pick thanks to that OBJ trade, but I doubt Browns fans care. The San Francisco 49ers were in the mix for OBJ, but that No. 2 pick was just too expensive to pry from John Lynch’s hands—which was a good move. Their first pick was Greedy Williams. Once seen as an early first round talent, Williams dropped in projections as the pre-draft process wore on. With a season of on-field development he could be a star in this league. I was a fan of Takitaki, and thought the 49ers may look into him but had no idea he would go as early as he did. I thought he’d go in the fifth round at the earliest. Shows what I know. Sheldrick Redwine is another personal favorite as is Mack Wilson who I think the Browns got as a steal.

Just one problem with all of this. Williams is talking Super Bowl already. D’oh!

The matchup

If there’s one game I’m personally interested in, it’s the 49ers vs. the Browns. The Browns talent on paper compliments everything the 49ers want to do on both offense and defense. It’s also a Monday Night Football game which will make it more fun.

And I think “fun” is the right word when describing how this game will go. This will just be a fun game. Right now if I’m looking at both rosters, the Browns are the better team—again on paper. I think the 49ers can prove some things in the first three games to show they are ready for prime time and the Browns could be the exclamation point to show they have improved and all that talk about their roster in 2018 wasn’t just talk.

The Browns will need to prove that they aren’t lovable losers anymore. They will have a hard road to come in here at 4-0. Their first two games are the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets, both winnable. But then they have the Los Angeles Rams and the Baltimore Ravens. The Rams are the Rams at this point, and the Ravens will either have an amazing season or be reeling with the league already figuring out this read-option thing.

Nick Chubb and Odell Beckham Jr. will need to get going early. That’s a one-two punch that if the 49ers can’t match up to (or for the love of God, not bust coverage on) they will get behind fairly quickly. On the other end, the 49ers can easily play keep-away and just run the ball to keep that duo off the field. Mix a few Mitch Wishnowsky punts (DRINK!) in to keep the Browns playbook limited and maybe they can get by with a field goal.

The Browns also could fire on all cylinders and just score, score, score, and have that defense of theirs make the 49ers hate their lives that night. It’s very possible.

Of course, with that same offense the Browns have behind Baker Mayfield, this very well could turn into a shootout with Odell Beckham Jr. making Levi’s Stadium his backyard. The 49ers have the firepower to match up to the Browns, but I don’t think they can get this one done. I’m going to go with a Browns win late after a few touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal this and neither team looks bad in the whole scheme of things.