Cleveland Browns path forward with David Njoku on IR

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 17: Tight end David Njoku #85 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against 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: Tight end David Njoku #85 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on September 17, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns lost their starting tight end to injury as David Njoku was placed on IR. Where do they go from here?

With starting tight end David Njoku on Injured Reserve, the Cleveland Browns have to figure out a path forward without a major component of their offense. His roster spot is taken for the moment by Safety Juston Burris has taken Njoku’s roster spot, at least for the moment.  Burris had been cut by the Browns after summer camp this season.

At first, it was thought that Njoku might be out only a few weeks, as reported by Dan Justik and others, but the decision was made to assign him to the IR, making him ineligible to return to the active roster for at least eight weeks and possibly the entire season. The situation has changed because there is a roster decision to be made now, rather than simply a coping strategy for a few weeks.

Many observers had projected a big year for the former Miami Hurricane who had been taken in the first round by the Browns at 29th overall.

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Njoku is an amazing story, the son of Nigerian immigrants along with eight other siblings including a brother who is a brain surgeon, a sister who is in medical school, another sister who is a mechanical engineer, another brother who has taken his former tight end position at Miami, and another sister who is a nurse.

The entire family seems to have smarts, athletic ability, determination, and character. Heaven knows the Browns could use some of that.

He has great athleticism and is able to pick balls out of the sky that would elude other receivers with less height and jumping ability. It can be a mismatch for defenses to try to cover him. Put it this way, the defender better be able to jump.

That said, it is probably fair to say that Njoku is still developing as a total football player.  John Dorsey called him out last May for his blocking, or lack of it. It sometimes takes a few years for a tight end to develop.  For example, Jordan Cameron did not have a breakout year until year three, when he made the Pro Bowl with the Browns. Well, it is year three for Njoku so the team was hopeful to see the total package this year.

That experiment has been put on hold for at least eight weeks and possibly the entire year.  Since 2017 the rules concerning IR have been modified so that now teams are permitted to bring a player back from IR after eight weeks, but they can only use that option on two players per season.

Using Njoku’s roster spot to bring back Juston Burris makes near-term sense because it seems like almost everyone in the Browns’ defensive backfield has a pulled hamstring this week.  That is not an exaggeration.  According to the Friday injury report, safety Damarious Randall is out with a concussion and fellow safeties  Morgan Burnett and Sheldrick Redwine are questionable with muscle pulls.

Burris can step right in and play having had a full summer camp to learn the system of Steven Wilks. In fact, he might start. It’s that bad.

In a few weeks, the might think about adding another tight end, but in reality, they have talent at the position even without Njoku. They already have Demetrius Harris, who will be the starter despite some misadventures blocking this fall, as well as Ricky Seals-Jones, who has over 500 receiving yards in his NFL career.

Pharaoh Brown is in his second year with the team and has bruised a few defenders with blocks in the early going and also in the exhibition games.  A fourth tight end, Stephen Carlson, is being carried on the reserve squad.

Njoku was productive last year, with four touchdowns and 639 receiving yards. However, Harris and Seals-Jones are not just filling roster spaces. Harris started only three games last year for the Kansas City Chiefs but had three touchdowns and 164 receiving yards.

Seals-Jones had five starts, 343 yards and a touchdown for Arizona. As for Carlson, apparently the Browns are enamored with tight ends from Princeton because that is the same college attended by Seth DeValve, who was cut by the Browns this year after an impressive but injury-riddled three seasons. It’s not like the Browns are left with zero talent.

Orson Charles, who made some friends among the Dawg Pound as a blocking fullback and tight end last year, is currently unemployed. So is Rico Gathers, a tremendous physical prospect who had a trial with the Browns. Gathers was hurt by his lack of experience, however, as he played power forward in basketball in college rather than tight end. He also has a certain affinity for weed, which cost him a one-game suspension.

The Browns could make a trade for the right player, but that is not likely given the options that currently exist.

It might also be mentioned that in today’s NFL, not all formations have a tight end.  Four wide receivers can be viable in the Run and Shoot offense which has been used by several NFL teams over the years with varying degrees of success. On the other hand, the late Buddy Ryan used to call it the Chuck and Duck because the quarterback is not as well protected.

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Njoku will be missed. Hopefully, he will come back after eight games and be a valuable player down the stretch. But even if he is out for the year, there is a plan forward for the Browns.