One of the needs the Cleveland Browns have is a wide receiver and depending on who is asked, they could use more than one. Josh Gordon is great as long as he can stay on the field and the Browns signed free agent Andrew Hawkins. Hopefully, Hawkins can provide a spark with his speed and athleticism, but really, after Gordon, the team has nothing proven at the spot. The Browns can and should take a receiver, perhaps two because of the overwhelming depth of the position, but there is also a nice crop of tight ends in this class that could help mitigate some of that need or give them flexibility in their offense. Getting another tight end, specifically one that can help block and be a receiving threat would be an ideal situation for the offense and what Kyle Shanahan appears to want to do in terms of scheme and fits the mindset that Mike Pettine has laid out for this team.
The joker style of tight end that predominately plays in the slot is obviously hugely popular, but the Browns appear to be one of the few teams that is extremely fortunate to have that player on the team. Jordan Cameron is a big target that can make plays down the field, attack the middle of the field against linebacker too slow for him or down the field or on the outside against defensive backs too small for him. The Browns have been reported to be engaged in contract negotiations with Cameron to keep him with the team for years to come.
The Browns signed Gary Barnidge last year as a utility guy who had played under Rob Chudzinski in Carolina when he served as the offensive coordinator there. He proved to be just that; a utility guy. It remains to be seen if he will be retained, but if he is, it is likely as a third or fourth tight end.
This year, the team has signed Jim Dray who has been more of a blocker for the Arizona Cardinals. Dray did have 26 catches this past season, which is almost 9 times better than his previous season high. Bruce Arians mentioned at the owners meetings that he wished they could have kept Dray. Dray seems likely at this point to get the first shot at locking down that inline tight end spot.
The Browns also still have a project they inherited last year in MarQueis Gray, the former quarterback from Minnesota who has become a tight end. Lastly, they brought in Andre Smith from the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad who looks impressive from a physical standpoint but has not showed any polish to this point and Keavon Milton, who is just about the size of a lineman.
Technically, the Browns have six tight ends on the roster and they may like what they have right now. However, there were reports that the Browns reached out to 6’7″ 260lb Scott Chandler before he opted to resign with the Buffalo Bills, who was Buffalo’s top tight end and that dual threat tight end. Chandler is big and works as an extension of the offensive line but he also caught 53 passes with 26 of them going for first downs. 655 yards in all, he also scored a pair of touchdowns.
If the Browns were indeed interested in Chandler after they signed Dray, they could be similarly inclined to be looking to make a big upgrade to the position. In Kyle Shanahan’s offense with Washington, they used a lot of tight ends in different roles. They used four tight ends prominently; two joker style tight ends and two inline blocker types. The offense used quite a few double tight end sets and allowed to put various pressure on defenses depending on how they lined it up.
Typically, the team would want to line up a tight end next to the right tackle. The formation gives them flexibility as an extension of the offensive line that can help with the running game in their zone scheme they want to use. Last year, the Browns under Chud used Barnidge quite a bit to help Mitchell Schwartz in pass protection. They also have options with play action, something that is a staple of Shanahan’s offense. Having a credible blocker who can also go out and make catches gives the Browns an added element to gain yardage and create space.
Cameron is not really a credible blocker, but he is a dangerous receiver. So for example, if the Browns use a formation with Gordon lined up out to the right with a tight end inline next to the tackle and Cameron lined up either in the slot to the left or the right with a rookie receiver or Hawkins lined out to the left and a single back in the backfield, the Browns are able to create a number of lanes. Additionally, the hope is they are credible running the ball, so the team still has to account for Ben Tate in the backfield. If teams first have to worry about the run with Tate, then worrying about Gordon and Cameron, it creates options for Hawkins. Lastly, there is another big bodied receiver who is getting next to no attention and can find a spot and make a play.
That is a small taste of the options the Browns could have if they can find that guy. Maybe Dray can be that guy, this year’s draft offers four players that could give the Browns a nice inline blocker that can also be a receiving threat.
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame – Niklas measured in every bit of 6’6″ 270lbs, so he offers the most from a physical potential standpoint. He is also the rawest of the group in that he can block and can be a receiving threat, but has the most to learn in that respect. Nevertheless, his overwhelming size and athleticism has him in that Rob Gronkowski mold.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington - Jenkins is another huge body at 6’5″ 262lbs, which is actually down from where he played this past season. He looks the part of a power forward, can be powerful as a blocker, but can also go up and high point the football. At the combine, they found a foot issue that will basically have him working probably right before the draft if he is able to work out at all. Not being able to see how he moves at 262lbs as opposed to close to 280lbs would be difficult as it forces a team to project what he can do, but he has a ton of talent.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa - Fiedorowicz is the most accomplished and consistent blocker of the group with the least in terms of ability to receive the ball. He has shown the ability to help in that department, but the Hawkeyes struggled to get him the ball as well as do much of anything. Fiedorowicz has an intriguing amount of potential in that regard and could really blossom in the right situation. He showed a great deal at the Senior Bowl.
Arthur Lynch, Georgia - The smallest of this group, but is the most polished at all aspects of the game at this point. Lynch has done a nice job of blocking against some top competition, but was also increasingly a featured part of the Bulldog offense and especially when injuries mounted, got more and more opportunities to shine as a receiver. Lynch in that 5-7 yard area became like stealing both at Georgia and in Mobile.
There are a ton of different ways to build an offense and there is no question the Browns need more receiver help, but the NFL’s rules are begging teams to load up on talented tight ends. The Browns really could use a good one to complement Cameron who may not be as dynamic a receiving threat but can be a good blocker and extra receiving threat.
Much like they had with Steve Heiden to Kellen Winslow before injuries ended Heiden’s career, that credible pair of tight ends with different skills really benefited the offense as a whole. If the team can find a great blocker who can also be a nice fourth option in the offense that can catch some passes, move the chains and provide more size in the red zone would be a fantastic way to create more space for their outside threats and make it easier for them to run the football. It also fits what Shanahan does offensively. Perhaps the Browns think Dray is the guy I have outlined. Personally, I am really hoping the Browns can come away with one of these four players in this year’s draft.