Cleveland Browns 2015 position preview – Wide Receivers

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Nov 2, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Gabriel seems to be a lock for a roster spot after catching 36 passes for 621 yards and ranking third in the NFL in average yards per catch, 17.3, as an undrafted free agent.

There is also the fact that the Browns took every opportunity during Organized Team Activities and the veteran minicamp to talk up Gabriel.

“Taylor Gabriel is (a) guy that’s handle himself really well. He was a guy that was essentially an undrafted free agent a year ago and played, I think, overachieved from what we thought we were going to get from them last year,” Pettine told the team’s website. “He’s taken that next step. He’s among our better receivers out there. There’s a trust factor with the quarterbacks. If you ask the defensive guys whose difficult to cover, his name usually pops up in the first one or two names.”

Judging from those comments alone, it seems safe to say that Gabriel will be on the sidelines when the Browns open the season against the New York Jets.

Not quite as secure is Travis Benjamin, despite the fact that the third-year receiver led the Browns in receiving touchdowns last year. (Although he only needed three of them and he had all of those by Week 4.)

Benjamin’s biggest contribution to the Browns used to be as a punt returner. Prior to injuring his knee after eight games of the 2013 season, Benjamin had averaged 16.24 yards per return and scored two touchdowns. But he struggled so much last season that the Browns eventually gave his punt return job to Jim Leonhard.

The Browns have publicly expressed confidence in Benjamin, but the reality is that they also drafted Duke Johnson and Charles Gaines, who have the ability to return punts, so we have to wonder what they think of Benjamin privately.

In his defense, Benjamin did suffer a significant knee injury, one that unless you are Adrian Peterson, takes a player a full year to recover from. Now that he is entering his second season post-injury, Benjamin should show enough to earn a roster spot.

The final spot should go to rookie Vince Mayle, provided he can recover from his thumb injury in time to make an impact during training camp.

While Pettine showed last year that he won’t play someone just because they are a draft pick, or for that matter, where they were drafted, but all six of the team’s selections from 2014 saw action last season, so unless his thumb holds him back, it’s hard to see Mayle not making the roster.

The 6-foot-2, 224-pound Mayle joins Bowe (6-foot-2, 221 pounds) and Hartline (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) to give McCown the type of big targets that can withstand the pounding of the AFC North Division.

Mayle also clearly knows how to catch the ball, as evidenced by his school-record 106 receptions (good for fourth in the nation) and 1,483 receiving yards (fifth best in the nation), last season with Washington State. Some of those numbers are a product of the Cougars’ pass-first offense, but you don’t catch that many passes by accident.

The potential that Mayle possesses, along with his NFL size, should earn him the final roster spot among the wide receivers.

Next: The Enigma