Browns need to work hard this summer to develop their wide receivers

The Cleveland Browns may be tempted to add another wide receiver in free agency, but a better course of action would be to focus on the players already on the roster.

The Cleveland Browns were facing uncertainty at the wide receiver position entering the summer of 2016.

The team had one veteran, Andrew Hawkins, who was coming off an injury-shortened season; a former quarterback learning to play the position, Terrelle Pryor; four rookie draft picks,  Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton and Ricardo Louis; and the annual folly of Josh Gordon returning from suspension.

Fast forward a year and the Browns are still looking for answers at the position.

Hawkins is gone, released in the ongoing veteran roster purge. Pryor is now with the Washington Redskins after he and his agent misread the market, leading Pryor to accept a far worst contract from the Redskins. Gordon remains suspended and the Browns have made it clear that they have moved on, even if Gordon ever is reinstated.

Related: Browns would be foolish to add a WR in free agency

Kenny Britt is now in town in the veteran’s role. While not a superstar, Britt did manage to finish with 68 receptions for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns last season with the Los Angeles Rams, who have a quarterback situation as unsettled as anything in Cleveland. Those numbers would have easily made him one of the Browns best wide receivers.

The Browns could turn to free agency to add a wide receiver, but after Jeremy Maclin, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday, the options are very depressing unless a 36-year-old Anquan Boldin appeals to you. (And there is no way a 36-year-old Anquan Boldin appeals to executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown.

It may end up being a rough journey, but the best road to follow for the Browns is to give last year’s rookie wide receiver class as much work during training camp and the preseason as possible.

Which sounds like what head coach Hue Jackson has in mind, according to clevelandbrowns.com:

“We have to see if they can play. That whole group has got to take another jump because we are young at that position. We all know that and respect that and understand it. We have to see if those guys can make the jump, and that is what we are getting the chance to see right now.”

Related: Is Jeremy Maclin a good fit for the Browns?

Jackson has already publicly challenged Coleman to perform this season like a player who was the first wide receiver off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft. Coleman showed flashes of his ability as a rookie, but he needs to shake off the hamstring problems that have plagued him since college to become a consistent threat.

As for Louis, Higgins and Payton, the Browns selected them for a reason and it is time to start finding out what they can do. With Pryor in Washington and Gordon doing everything but being an NFL player, the coaching staff can turn its full attention to getting the young guys up to speed.

If Britt can capably fill the veteran role, and if Coleman can stay on the field for the full 16 games, and if rookie tight end David Njoku can quickly become a productive receiver, the Browns don’t necessarily need someone from the Louis, Higgins and Payton group to be a superstar, just being reliable may be good enough.

The Browns have a lot of work to do with their wide receivers this summer. But without any distractions in training camp and the preseason, we should have a pretty good idea of where everyone stands by the time the season opens in September.