MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S SCOUTING REPORT: Cleveland Browns

Posted Nov 8, 2017

Mike O'Hara takes a look at how the Cleveland Browns shape up on offense, defense and special teams.

No matter where he plays, what opponent he faces or where he lines up in the Cleveland Browns’ defensive backfield, rookie safety Jabrill Peppers wants to make plays and win a game.

Peppers hasn’t made enough plays to suit anyone – including himself – and the Browns are still looking for their first win of the season as they prepare for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Peppers will be close to his college home as the 0-8 Browns look to upset the Lions.

Peppers was a star safety and all-around player for the University of Michigan before deciding to leave school after three seasons and enter the 2017 draft. The Browns drafted him 25th overall as one of their three first-round picks.

Peppers has fond memories of his time in Ann Arbor, but playing again and adding something to the defense is his primary focus. He missed the last two games with a toe injury.

“I’ve been thinking more about being back on the field after missing the last couple of games,” Peppers said in a conference-call interview Wednesday. “What I try to do is just be that spark.

“That’s the name of the game in this league – winning. It’s one of the hardest leagues to win in. I don’t care how you do it, get it done. That’s our mindset.”

Peppers started the first six games before sustaining the injury against Houston in Week 6. A bye after Week 8 gave Peppers three full weeks to heal and get ready to face the Lions.

Peppers has yet to flash the play-making skills that made him such a star at Michigan as a hybrid linebacker/defensive back who also was used on returns and occasionally on offense.

He was one of five finalists, and the only defensive player in the group, for the 2016 Heisman Trophy won by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The Lions took linebacker Jarrad Davis of Florida 21st overall in this year’s draft, and with Peppers projected to go off the board in that range there was speculation that he might end up with the Lions. They had a good read on Peppers but had a greater need at linebacker.

“He’s obviously a guy that’s multi-talented,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday. “He can run and hit. He’s explosive in terms of a contact player. He can turn a game around with a punt return or two as well.

“He’s not necessarily going to juke you, but he can run through shoulders and those kinds of things. He’s just got a feel and awareness that’s uncommon. Very, very good player – game changer.”

Peppers ranks sixth on the Browns’ defense with 26 tackles, and he has one pass defensed. He has averaged 6.7 yards on seven punt returns and 21.1 yards on seven kickoff returns.

Some critics of Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ scheme say he has Peppers playing too deep at safety for him to make an impact. Peppers does not agree with those critics.

“The reason people are making a big deal about that is because I’ve missed a lot of plays I’m supposed to make,” he said. “If I make the plays that I normally make and am supposed to make nobody would be talking about how deep I am.

“I have no problem with it. It’s a bit of an adjustment. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

How the Browns got to 0-8: There’s no secret to how they went winless in the first half of their season. They’ve lost blowouts and close games.

Four losses have been by three points – 21-18 to the Steelers, 31-28 to the Colts, 17-14 to the Jets and 12-9 to the Titans in overtime.

There also have been losses by big margins – 31-7 to the Bengals, 33-17 to the Texans and 33-16 to the Vikings in London in their last game before the bye.

Bright spots, building blocks: There are some of both, but they’re understandably overshadowed by the won-loss records.

Bright spot: It’s the defense in terms of performance. The Browns rank ninth overall, fourth against the run and 17th against the pass. The Browns are No. 1 in the league with an average of 2.9 yards allowed per rushing attempt.

Building blocks: If the Browns are going to turn it around, it will be done with the development of young players on the current roster as their future base.

Of the 53 players currently on the active roster, 25 are draft picks. Four others are on injured reserve, including two first-round picks – iron man offensive left tackle Joe Thomas (2007) and wide receiver Corey Coleman (2016).

The Browns have nine players on the roster who were drafted in the first or second round from 2014-17, and six more who were third-round picks.

QB shuffle: Putting aside what the Browns might have – and should have – done differently in the draft in previous years, the position has been relatively stable so far this year in terms of starters.

Here’s the breakdown on the Browns’ current QB depth chart:

Rookie DeShone Kizer: He has started seven of the eight games but has finished only three of the games. Kevin Hogan started one game and replaced Kizer in three others. Cody Kessler played in one game as a replacement for Kizer.

Kizer was drafted in the second round and 52nd overall out of Notre Dame. Kizer won the starting job in the preseason but has struggled. He has completed 111 of 213 passes (52.1 percent) for 1,144 yards, with three touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 51.1.

Kevin Hogan: Hogan has played eight games in two seasons with the Browns. In a losing start against Houston he completed 20 of 37 passes for 140 yards with one TD, three interceptions and a passer rating for the game of 38.1. For the season he has four TD passes and five interceptions.

Cody Kessler: Cleveland’s sixth-round pick in 2016, he started eight games – all losses – as a rookie and had six TD passes against two interceptions. He played briefly in one game this year.