Cleveland Browns receiver corps overcrowded?
Often considered a need, the Cleveland Browns might actually have too many wide receivers on their roster already capable of contributing
The Cleveland Browns may not be able to make too many moves to acquire wide receivers this year, simply because the roster already contains too many players capable of playing at the NFL level.
If there is a true stud receiver available, say a first round guy that the scouts say has a chance to start Year One, then John Dorsey may have to draft him. But if the player is in the category of good-not-great players, the Browns have a full complement of players in that category so it might not be an upgrade to take someone in the mid-to-late rounds.
The Patriots’ Super Bowl Roster had only five wide receivers, so it’s not like you have to have a horde of wideouts. The Browns have had six wideouts the past few years, while also giving reps at the slot to Duke Johnson, and frequently let tight ends David Njoku and Seth DeValve split wide as well. The Browns have not had a shortage of wide receivers, though only Jarvis Landry is cemented in the starting lineup as a star.
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Landry made the Pro Bowl and has to be a starter in 2019. This is a no brainer. It’s true that Landry is far from perfect, and generally the Browns look for big physical receivers that are consistent with cold weather playoff football.
Landry is much better suited to be the slot receiver, as he was for Miami. But if your guy collects over 900 receiving yards and makes the Pro Bowl, there is zero doubt that he has to start. Ideally he spends would of his time in the slot but it is incumbent upon the Browns to provide wideouts at the same level as Landry.
Breshad Perriman was a surprise standout in limited duty in 2018, hanging onto balls that he used to drop when he was a first round bust for the Baltimore Ravens. By the end of the year, Perriman was stringing together respectable yardage totals, looking very much like a 900 yard receiver at least. Hopefully they will re-sign him, and if so he may well become first string.
Rashard Higgins was another receiver who improved greatly from the 0-16 team in 2017 and could legitimately be a starter at split end. Playing with Baker Mayfield may have made all the difference because Baker can throw the ball into a much smaller window than any of his recent predecessors.
Higgins’ numbers jumped in 2019 even as his total snaps decreased. Higgins may not have the speed or moves of Antonio Callaway, but he doesn’t get in nearly as much trouble and is probably going to show up for work. Thus Higgins should be considered a slight favorite to wind up as the number two wideout.
Callaway played well at times in his rookie year despite being rushed into the starting lineup by the tandem of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. Off the field issues seem to have been manageable during his rookie year and if that trend continues he will contend for a starting position with Perriman and Higgins, or at least will see significant playing time.
Derrick Willies was starting to emerge as a force on special teams and had actually moved ahead of Damion Ratley on the depth chart and responded with a big game against Baltimore (3 catches for 61 yards, including when it counted) only to break his collarbone in practice. The Browns would like to see a little more or Mr. Willies before donating him to the Patriots or some other team.
Damion Ratley was a sixth round pick, after not being a full-time starter for the Texas A & M Aggies. Still he impressed with his speed and catching skills, though he was very raw as a route runner. The Dawg Pound is still high on him, expecting him to progress significantly in his second year.
If the Browns re-sign Perriman, their top six will be Landry, Perriman, Higgins, Callaway, WIllies and Ratley. So, if another team offers, say, a fourth round pick, should the team be willing to give up any one of these players? If the answer is no, then that says that drafting a wide receiver in the late rounds is a bad idea because someone with higher ability, has to be cut.
Moreover, Ricardo Louis, who was the leader among Browns wideouts in receiving yards in 2017, is coming back after missing all of 2018 with a neck injury. If he is healthy, maybe he can improve like Rashard Higgins did. The knock on Louis is that he didn’t catch every ball he should have, but the evaluation on Louis is not complete, unless the team knows something about him that the rest of us do not.
The Browns could also re-resign someone like recycled veteran Rod Streater, who used to start for the Oakland Raiders. The team will also look at the usual cast of undrafted free agents, and — who knows — maybe there will be another prospect who may emerge. The numbers game could get even tighter in that case.
The Browns need to avoid the situation they found themselves in 2016, when they wound up with too many wide receivers. They drafted four even though the draft was thought to be a poor one for wide receivers: Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton. Holdovers included Andrew Hawkins, Terrelle Pryor and Taylor Gabriel. That’s seven players for a maximum of six roster spots, and realistically considering the low talent level they should have gone with only five spots with Duke Johnson being the sixth receiver.
Hence, in order to hang on to these beloved draft picks, Taylor Gabriel was sent packing despite the fact that he had gained 862 yards in receptions the previous two seasons. The Browns in effect forced themselves to make this move because they drafted too many receivers, without the roster space to accommodate everyone they wanted to keep. Well, Gabriel went on to gain 1645 receiving yards the past three years. In contrast the Browns got only 718 yards from Coleman before giving up on him. Jordan Payton had only three. Rashard Higgins is the only receiver who is established as a credible starter (961 yards). In effect, they drafted four players to try to replace Gabriel who did not need to be cut. None of the four replacements was actually better than the player they got rid of, at least not so far.
In the case of Louis, the team is already in the position of being poised to cut their highest performing wide receiver of 2017. 357 receiving yards is not very many, and his catch percentage of 44.3 percent was alarmingly low. But in a year in which Air Jackson put together the worst passing game in the NFL, it might be worth seeing what he can do when paired with Baker Mayfield.
That probably won’t happen unless Dorsey is able to trade a receiver or fails to re-sign Perriman.
The Law of the Farm applies in football. A farmer can harvest at any time, by killing the present crop. But it’s usually better to allow the crop to have a full growing season. If there is a guy out there who is so fantastic that it is worth dismissing guys like Louis and Ratley, okay, bring him on.
But unless there is something going on that we do not know about, both Louis and especially Ratley still have an opportunity to become impact players. It would be better to complete the normal evaluation of these players before giving up on them.