David Njoku: Great talent brings great expectations
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns want to be run heavy in 2017, and rookie tight end David Njoku may hold the key to success in the run game.
The Cleveland Browns were major players on the first night of the 2017 NFL Draft as they selected a trio of potentially transformational players.
In the ensuing months much of the attention has focused on No. 1 overall selection Myles Garrett and his sore foot, as well as safety Jabrill Peppers and his contract situation (among other things).
Garrett and Peppers are important cogs in the rebuilt defense, but tight end David Njoku, the third of Cleveland’s first-round selections, has the potential to impact the offense every bit as much as Garrett will the defense.
The 6-foot-4 and 246-pound Njoku is the type of athletic tight end that the Browns have not had since the pre-injury Kellen Winslow. He may have only played two years at Miami, posting 64 receptions and nine touchdowns, but the mismatch opportunities he can create were too enticing for the Browns to pass up on draft night.
Njoku has gotten off to a rough start in the opening days of training camp in one of the key areas – holding onto the ball – which caught the attention of head coach Hue Jackson, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
"“Hold on to the freaking ball. That has got to stop, and that will get stopped. We will get that corrected because we can’t turn the ball over. That is one of the big goals that we have. We can’t turn the ball over. He gets that. He understands that. That is something where we can’t give the ball away so we need to get that squared away with him.”"
It has only been two days, so there is no need to panic over the occasional ball security issue. But being publicly criticized by the head coach is rough, and we’ve all seen former first-round picks not deal with a similar situation in a positive way.
Njoku is not one to shy away from a challenge, however, and in a media session on Saturday owned his practice mistakes, according to the team’s website:
"“Obviously, they chose me in the first round for a reason. It was to make plays. I just have to work that much harder in this practice this afternoon. I have to hang onto it after every catch. I am just going to work that much harder at holding onto the ball after every catch and tuck it. Obviously, yesterday wasn’t my best performance. That is why today I am trying to work harder on bettering myself.”"
The Browns are heading into the season with a desire to run the ball more than they did last year, and the rebuilt defense will play a role in that. But you can’t discount the role that Njoku and the passing game will play.
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If Njoku can play up to his potential he will be a reliable target for whichever player lines up at quarterback for the Browns. If the opposing defense has to pay attention to him, that is one (or possibly two) fewer defenders for the offensive line to account for, which helps open up the running game.
Additional focus on Njoku also opens things up for the wide receivers, who are being viewed as a major weak spot after Terrelle Pryor turned his back on the only NFL team willing to give him a shot and signed with the Washington Redskins in free agency. Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and the rest of the gang will certainly find life much easier if they only have to work against single coverage on a regular basis.
That might be a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of a rookie, but as Njoku said, the Browns selected him in the first round for a reason.
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And as everyone knows, with great power comes great responsibility.