What is a reasonable expectation for David Njoku’s rookie year?


The Cleveland Browns are expecting big things from rookie tight end David Njoku, but what would a successful rookie season look like?

The Cleveland Browns surprised many fans and media when they selected tight end David Njoku in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Njoku was one of the three tight ends selected in the draft’s first round – joining O.J. Howard (No. 19 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Evan Engram (No. 23 to the New York Giants). Those selections bucked a bit of trend as, prior to this year, only three tight ends had been selected in the first round since 2010 – Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals in 2010), Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati in 2013) and Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions in 2014).

The 6-foot-4 and 246-pound Njoku has been earning considerable praise during minicamp and Organized Team Activities. Among his fans are tight ends coach Greg Seamon, according to clevelandbrowns.com:

"“He’s really developing. He’s got a great work ethic. I’m excited about his potential. It’s a demanding position because you’re involved in all three aspects of the offense; you have blocking for the run, pass protection and then being a receiver. We’re experimenting a little bit. I think that his athletic ability tells you that he can play in a lot of different areas of the field. He can be a detached guy, he can be a tight end in the traditional sense, he can be in the slot, he can be a wing.”"

Njoku is the 21st tight end drafted by the Browns in franchise history, and only a handful have worked out. The top of the list is clearly Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome, one of the team’s first-round selections in the 1978 NFL Draft. Second on the list would likely be Kellen Winslow, a first-round pick in 2004, who managed to post a lone 1,000-yard season in a career that was stalled by his infamous motorcycle accident.

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After that? Well, it is pretty slim pickings, unless you are a member of the Milt Morin fan club.

The game has changed considerably, even since Winslow was drafted, with teams looking to emphasize the tight end more in the passing game each year. Which got us to wondering what can the Browns expect from Njoku this fall?

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is the gold standard and he only had 42 receptions for 546 yards as a rookie. However, he did catch 10 touchdown passes and played along Tom Brady, a luxury that Njoku does not enjoy.

Looking at the tight ends selected in the first round since 2010 shows reveals that Njoku may not have a very high bar to get over, as the trio of Gresham, Eifert and Ebron combined to average 38 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns their rookie season.

Those are numbers that should not be out of reach for Njoku, even with the current situation at quarterback for the Browns.

More importantly than his rookie numbers, perhaps, is Njoku successfully navigating his rookie season and then going on to bigger things. Gronkowski and Gresham both made the Pro Bowl in their second seasons, while Eifert was honored with a Pro Bowl selection in his third year.

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If Njoku can follow that career trajectory, then things will indeed be looking up for the Browns on offense.