I get it, Cleveland.
We’ve got no choice but to talk about Johnny Manziel and Karlos Dansby, Ben Tate and Donte Whitner, because they are the “key” additions that Cleveland made this offseason. The Browns have a new head coach, a new general manager, and new uniforms on the way to go along with our updated and renovated stadium. But even with all this excitement here and on the horizon, one guy has been unforgivably forgotten.
I fell victim to the same sports media rush as you all did, focusing on the “big guys” that Cleveland was associated with in the offseason. With all the big names and uber-important breaking news of Johnny going to Vegas, it was easy to forget about the restricted free agent wideout that the Browns stole away from Cincinnati back in March. But no longer, Browns fans, will I be subject to the restrictive spectrum of major sports media. No I won’t, because I’m sick of talking about the same stuff all the time.
I want to talk about stuff like this.
I mean, he’s far from being a household name but why is nobody talking about this guy? Maybe it’s because he’s only got four career touchdowns in three years with the Bengals. Maybe it’s because at 5’7″, Hawkins is liable to be the shortest guy on the field in almost any situation. Maybe it’s because this stud wide receiver went undrafted out of Toledo and had to play two seasons in the CFL before he could even get an NFL team to look at him.
Whatever the reason, I’m pulling the cover off of it, because it’s bull. This kid can flat out play.
I can already hear the critics in my ear telling me to shut up and wait to see this guy play on Sundays. Ahhhh, it’s like music to my ears, I can see the comments rolling in saying “You don’t know nothing Mramer, even I could get separation in a 1-on-1 drill you moron.” But aside from the fact that that statement is inexplicably false, I will admit that 1-v-1 drills in camp are very different than live game action.
Hawkins isn’t going to have that much space to work with when there are 11 defensive guys on the field, and the corner will be getting help over the top in most situations. But Hawkins is a slot receiver, and I anticipate most of his receptions coming within that 5-15 yard range that you saw in the video, even if he’s able to break it off for more yards after the catch. In addition, agility and foot skills are traits that will translate to any situation, minicamp or the Super Bowl. Hawkins flashes his unlimited potential in that video, and he showed me some things that make me extremely anxious to see how he pans out on Sundays.
Here’s why I expect Andrew Hawkins to be the most crucial part of the Browns passing attack this upcoming season. (Besides the quarterback of course.)
Hawkins runs a 4.34 40, but straight line speed isn’t what concerns me for a slot receiver like him. It’s the ability to gain separation, and most of that has nothing to do with sprinting 40 yards. He needs to be able to get to maximum speed quickly, to shift directions without losing speed and momentum.
When you watch Hawkins, it’s his ability to get in and out of cuts and juke moves incredibly fast that really catches your eye. This is not only helpful in getting open, but also in gaining yards after the catch, the most undervalued stat in evaluating wide receivers. As a receiver, you’re not going to be able to beat a defensive back over the top on every play, so having an arsenal of moves is critical in consistently gaining separation.
Hawkins displays top-grade quickness and agility, two traits that are even more important than pure speed. If he can juke and change direction as quickly on Sundays as he did in that video, Hawkins will be immensely successful in Cleveland.
Hawkins doesn’t drop passes, and that will always be music to any Browns fan’s ears. I could easily see Andrew Hawkins becoming the guy the Browns thought they were getting in Davone Bess last season. The Browns recognized the importance of having a guy capable of getting tough yards and making big catches to extend drives. Hawkins consistently picks up first downs and rarely lets a ball hit the ground if it’s thrown his way.
I think I saw one drop during that entire ten minute 1-on-1 video, and it was a ball that was thrown high and behind him. If it’s Brian Hoyer under center (which it should be), Hawkins will have an extremely accurate and well-timed passer throwing him the ball. Pair that skill-set with Hawkins’ raw catching talent and you have a piece that the Cleveland offense has been missing for years.
Hawkins will have a bigger impact than the stat sheet will display. My prediction is that he will average around six to eight receptions a game for 50-75 yards, maybe 6 or 7 TDs on the year, numbers that certainly don’t jump off the page at you. But if four or five of those receptions go for first downs and extend key drives, the impact he has is much greater than what the plain numbers say.
Go ahead and tell me who you think Hoyer’s favorite target is going to be this season, because your guess is as good as mine. We all know that Hoyer has great chemistry with tight end Jordan Cameron, but teams have essentially found out the Browns offense before the season even began. Cameron is likely to be locked down without Josh Gordon on the field to keep defenses honest. I highly doubt that Cameron will be able to produce at the level he did last year when Hoyer was under center.
It’s safe to assume that Cleveland will run a ground-oriented system under first year offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who loves to run the ball with his zone blocking schemes. But you have to throw the ball sometimes, and Hawkins is a weapon that could once again fly under the radar when opposing teams draw up their scouting reports. Much like Cameron, Hawkins will excel in those intermediate 5-15 yard routes, finding pockets in the defense that he can exploit. With his speed and agility, Hawkins will be able to make big plays after the catch and gain some critical first downs for the Browns.
Even with Earl Bennett and Miles Austin now in the fold, I could still easily see Hawkins becoming Hoyer’s new favorite target on Sundays. He brings a unique skill set and embodies the “work hard, get rewarded” philosophy that head coach Mike Pettine has tried to instill to this football team. Even with Dansby and Whitner coming onboard this offseason, don’t be too shocked if Andrew Hawkins is the free agent signing who has the biggest impact on the Browns success in 2014.