Looking for positives in another playoff-less season for the Browns? Their 2011 rookie class is a good place to start.
Three rookies — DE Jabaal Sheard, DT Phil Taylor and OLG Jason Pinkston — have started every game. Sheard, a second-rounder, and Taylor, the Browns' No. 1 pick, were drafted to start right off the bat. Meanwhile, Pinkston, a fifth-round pick, has filled in for Eric Steinbach, who has missed the season with a back injury.
Rookie WR Greg Little, a second-rounder, is the club's leading pass catcher. He has made 10 starts. FB Owen Marecic, a fourth-rounder, is the club's top blocking back. CB Buster Skrine (fifth round) and S Eric Hagg (seventh round) have contributed in reserve roles, and TE Jordan Cameron (fourth round) has seen more playing time lately.
All eight of Cleveland's draft picks made the club out of training camp, as did undrafted rookie CB James Dockery and LB Quinton Spears. All told, the Browns have 14 rookies on the roster.
Sheard has shown major pass-rush potential as the season progressed. He has five sacks in his last five games and a team-high 7½ sacks on the season. One evaluator familiar with Sheard said he had "dramatically improved" from the beginning of the campaign.
Taylor, whom the Browns drafted with the No. 21 pick in Round One, also has upside. He has recorded 52 tackles and four sacks.
"He's got a chance to be a really good player," said one personnel man, who believes Taylor is the standout of the Browns' rookie class.
Little has had some impressive moments as a rookie. However, he has dropped too many passes, and his route running could improve, we're told.
The Browns drafted Little with a second-round pick that once belonged to the Falcons. Atlanta traded the selection, along with a package of other picks that included its 2012 first-rounder, for Cleveland's No. 6 overall pick. The Falcons selected WR Julio Jones, who has flashed remarkable playmaking ability at times this season but has missed three games because of injury.
Time will tell whether the Browns made the right call trading out of a high pick that could have landed them Jones. But this rookie class has been productive in Year One.