Cleveland Browns: Is Rashard Higgins’ bubble about to burst?

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 17: Wide receiver Rashard Higgins #81 of the Cleveland Browns gets a drink following the Browns loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on September 17, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 17: Wide receiver Rashard Higgins #81 of the Cleveland Browns gets a drink following the Browns loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on September 17, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

With the emergence of younger, unknown wide receivers, could Cleveland Browns veteran wide receiver Rashard Higgins be on the way out.

The Cleveland BrownsRashard “Hollywood” Higgins is on the bubble and might lose his job to a lesser known wide receiver candidate.  He is the last survivor of Sashi Brown’s 2016 haul in which he selected four wide receivers from a draft thought to be very weak at the position.

In addition to Hollywood, prospective stars included Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, and Jordan Payton.  However, Louis is on IR, Payton is long gone, and Coleman was traded to Buffalo for a roll of athletic tape.

If you look at last year’s stats, Jarvis Landry is far and away the most prolific achiever, with nearly 1,000 yards from Miami.  Among the 2017 Browns, several wide receivers clocked in with between 300 and 400 yards.  So, for example, Higgins might seem to have been about as good as Josh Gordon (312 yards versus 335 for Gordon).

2017 Cleveland Browns Receiving Yards Per Snap & Catch Percentage

PLAYERPositionRec YardsOffensive SnapsReceiving Yards/snapCatch Pct
Josh GordonWR3352581.3042.9
Duke JohnsonRB/SLOT6935661.2279.6
David NjokuTE3865000.7753.3
Sammie CoatesWR70920.7654.5
Seth DevalveTE3955310.7456.9
Corey ColemanWR3054490.6839.7
Ricardo LouisWR3575740.6244.3
Kenny BrittWR2333520.6647.4
Kasen WilliamsWR841330.6350.0
Bryce TreggsWR791620.4927.8
Rashard HigginsWR3126630.4754.0
Isaiah CrowellRB1825360.3466.7
Randall TelferTE362990.1275.0
Jarvis Landry (Miami)SR9879291.0669.6

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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However, if you look at the total snaps in the table above, Gordon was on the field for only 258 offensive plays, whereas Higgins led all skill position players with 663 snaps – two and a half times as many as Gordon. Hence in terms of yards per snap, Higgins was an underachiever.

In fact, his production was significantly worse than Kenny Britt and Sammie Coates, both of whom were heavily criticized last year, and who are now gone.  The only skill position players below Higgins were blocking tight end Randall Telfer and running back Isaiah Crowell. Neither of whom were featured in the air game.

Another factor that hurts him is that he has not been able to establish a presence on special teams.  Clearly the onus is on Higgins to step it up this year, and the fourth exhibition game may be critical.

Higgins seems to run decent patterns and generally catches the ball when it is thrown to him, unlike Coleman and Louis, who are famous for dropping passes.  However, he isn’t going to blow away many cornerbacks with his 4.6 top gear, so he needs to find ways to get open.

The buzz from training camp is that he has improved.  After three exhibition games, he leads the Cleveland Browns with eight catches and 113 receiving yards.  Wide receivers often improve in their second and third years, so there is some cause for optimism.

Most NFL teams usually field about six receivers on their 53-man roster. Landry, Gordon, Duke Johnson (who of course also doubles at halfback), Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley makes four and a half  that seem assured of jobs. Jeff Janis figures to make the team as a special teams specialist who also plays wide receiver. That’s five and a half.

Higgins is going to find it tough to squeeze into another roster spot.  Rather than carrying a sixth wide receiver plus Johnson, the Browns might decide they would rather have another tight end or a fullback, unless Higgins can convince the Browns that he will elevate his game this year.

Among the rookies vying for Higgins’ roster spot, undrafted rookie Derrick Willies played 30 snaps in the Browns 5-0 win over Buffalo, taking advantage of the absence of Callaway, who was out with a groin injury.  Willies had two grabs for 26 yards.  C. J. Board, who is getting a chance with the Browns after being cut by Baltimore in 2017, made the most of his 18 snaps, making four catches from four targets for 46 yards.  That may have caught the attention of the coaching staff.

In college, Board played four years for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he caught 146 passes for 2,032 yards in his career.  Board also ran a 4.38 40 yard dash at his Pro Day, and had an impressive summer camp last year with the dreaded Ravens of Baltimore.

Higgins, meanwhile, led the wide receivers in snaps with 39 and caught two passes for 27 yards.

Another useful stat for evaluation purposes is catch percentage, which is the number of catches made divided by the total number of targets.  Landry had one of the highest catch percentages among NFL wide receivers at 69.6 percent for the Dolphins. Higgins was substantially lower at 54 percent. Meanwhile Gordon, Louis, Coleman and Britt were all under 50 percent, grouped near the bottom of the NFL.

Having improved play at quarterback might allow Higgins to improve, although it may not have been exclusively DeShone Kizer’s fault that Browns receivers put up terrible numbers.  After all, the tight ends and running backs had decent numbers last season. It was mainly the wide receivers that posted terrible numbers, and really only Gordon performed at a level appropriate for a starter.

The other advantage that Higgins has is that he in his third year.  Other than Landry, he is the most prepared to be an every-down receiver, even with a new offensive coordinator in Todd Haley.  The others, even Gordon, will begin the season with a smaller route tree.  Without Higgins, the Browns would probably need to use a lot of two tight end formations versus Pittsburgh.

dark. Next. Browns on roster bubble before final preseason game

Next week the Browns will make a decision on whether Higgins will be kept on the 53-man roster.  Frankly it could go either way with Board probably having the best chance to make this the last hurrah for Hollywood. Keep your fingers crossed.

Preseason snap counts courtesy of Dawgs By Nature