Let’s face it – something needs to change with Browns wide receiver Syndric Steptoe.
Last season, Syndric had just 19 receptions (6th on the Browns and way down the ladder compared to other receivers in the Division, the Conference and the League); for a total of 182 yards (4th on the Browns and even further down the ladder compared to receivers on other teams); with an average of 9.6 yards per catch (7th on the Browns and even further again down the ladder compared to receivers on other teams); and zero touchdowns. Not the kind of statistics that you want to brag about at a cocktail party.
Yes – I know – he was a rookie. Yes – I know – he is short, maybe too short to compete well in today’s NFL. In fact, he was the shortest receiver at the Draft in his year. Some profiles list Steptoe at 5 feet 9 inches, but he is likely closer to 5 feet 8 inches tall. He has decent bulk for his height at 200 pounds. Yes – I know – he is not lightning fast. His 40-yard dash times before being drafted were not even the best on his college team and hovered around 4.54-4.56 seconds. No Cheetah.
But there is no point dwelling on the excuses. Let’s do something about it. We can’t trade him because we won’t get anything to speak of. We have to compensate for his height disadvantage by using him differently and getting him more passes. By “differently”, I do not mean in a different position because that has not succeeded either. In 5 kick/punt returns with the Browns, Syndric has averaged less than 16 yards per return and nil big plays.
The answer lies in the passing routes. No more go routes or post routes for Steptoe because he is too short and not fast enough to compete for the football against opposing secondary corners and safeties. No more slants because the 45-cut infield is too difficult to succeed against much bigger linebackers. The hitch should also be avoided because it places Syndric with his jersey numbers facing the quarterback which means that he has to turn into the linebacker or corner and places him at a significant size disadvvantage. The same for most curls.
The best route for Syndric is the quick-out. It is a timing route, and that is Steptoe’s strength. Although it is vulnerable to bumps at the line of scrimmage from defenders, Syndric can minimize that by going in motion more often and by coming off the line less straight up and down.
The second best route for Steptoe is to line him up on the inside and run him 45 degrees to the sideline. Throw him the football 5 yards or so off the line. For that to work, though, the outside receiver needs to run go or post to get that corner out of the way so that Syndric can outrun the LB.
The hiring of George McDonald as the new wide receivers coach in Cleveland should benefit the Browns. McDonald played WR and has coached WRs at a competitive college level for many years. He is not an offensive generalist – he has specialized knowledge and practical experience to bring to our receiver core. Hopefully, he can find a way to utilize Syndric Steptoe more effectively.
There have been successful receivers in the NFL of smaller stature. Syndric has a good work ethic and seems enthusiastic. His hands are fairly soft, and he has good timing instincts. He seems able to learn the playbook. He has potential to catch 50-60 passes in a year. Most of those will be for relatively short yardage, but every yard counts towards a first down. And you never know if Syndric may be able to break one or two.
Have a good year, Syndric. Go Browns!