Cleveland Browns: 3 Surprise cuts to get to 53 players

Credit: USA Today Sports/Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal
Credit: USA Today Sports/Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal /

The Cleveland Browns have it down to 53 players on the roster after final cuts on Tuesday, but which three players were surprises to see let go?

The Cleveland Browns released their 53-man roster on Tuesday, which means general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski likely had some difficult decisions to make leading up to the finalized version of the 2021 Browns.

Like many players, preseason football is a time to showcase their skills in hopes of landing a spot with a professional football team or face the dreary reality of being outcast to practice squads — or worse, becoming a long-time free agent.

But now that the Browns have made the official announcement of who will represent the orange and brown this upcoming season, let’s take a look at three players we’re surprised didn’t make the cut.

Surprising Cleveland Browns roster cuts to get to 53 players

3. KhaDarel Hodge, Wide Receiver

This should surprise most of Cleveland’s faithful. KhaDarel Hodge, a 2018 undrafted free agent out of Prairie View A&M, played with the Browns during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. In his first season with the team alone, Hodge played all 16 games and led the team in special teams tackles with 13 while also posting four receptions for 76 yards.

Hodge had been a key piece in the Browns’ special teams unit, often being the designated punt and kick returner while also acting as a gunner on most kickoffs and punts.

While nowhere near a starting-caliber wideout, Hodge showed glimpses of WR4 or WR5 talent, as seen in his spectacular touchdown catch in Cleveland’s third and final preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

There’s a strong chance Hodge makes it back to the Browns’ practice squad if he clears waivers, as he among other cuts leave the Browns fairly thin at the positions. However, with the small shine he gave off in this year’s preseason, matched with his versatility, it is likely we’ll see Hodge wearing a new uniform this coming season.

2. Porter Gustin, Defensive End

Like Hodge, Porter Gustin played the previous two seasons in the orange and brown. Entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of USC in 2019, Gustin had seen increasing snap counts over the past season and played an integral role in assuming duties when All-Pro Myles Garrett was out due to COVID-19.

While not a household name to most outside the Cleveland Browns fan base, many will remember Gustin as the one who intercepted Ben Roethlisberger during the Browns 48-37 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round of the 2020 playoffs.

It’s surprising to see a player who contributed fairly heavily towards the latter half of last season not make the team, but that’s what makes roster day…well, roster day. Expect to see Gustin return to the practice squad later this year, as his familiarity with the defensive scheme will bode well for him later in the season.

1. Jordan Franks, Tight End

Jordan Franks, a 2018 undrafted free agent from UCF and brother of Falcons quarterback Felipe Franks, is a name I admittedly did not know heading into the 2021 preseason. However, after this preseason, he appeared to be a pretty solid prospect.

Franks made several aggressive receptions over the three preseason games. On a team with Harrison Bryant, who suffered from “slippery gloves” last season, and David Njoku, who almost left the team entirely last year,  Franks could have provided needed depth and security at a position HC Kevin Stefanski holds crucial in his scheme.

Franks stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 264 pounds, the exact height and size of fellow Browns tight end David Njoku. While he could have served as a nice TE4, the team appears to have felt otherwise.

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Having not started a regular-season game since 2018, it’ll be interesting to see if his body and preseason tape lands him a spot elsewhere this upcoming season.