Cleveland Browns WR3, WR4: The Incredible Invisible Man

Damion Ratley, Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Damion Ratley, Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Browns receivers behind Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry were nearly invisible last year, with very low impact.

If you cannot name the third wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, it is not your fault, because the Browns did not use a third or fourth wide receiver in 2019. Extra wide receivers were almost invisible last year, due to a two-dimensional offense which featured only two wide receivers.

The good news is that the first two wide receivers were both outstanding. Jarvis Landry led the team with 1,174 receiving yards. Odell Beckham, Jr. was right behind him with 1,035 yards, despite playing all year with an injury that required surgery.

Shockingly, there was no third wide receiver, especially after Antonio Callaway was suspended and cut for substance abuse issues. Callaway had eight catches for 89 yards. Overall, tight end Ricky Seals-Jones had the third highest receiving total among non-running backs with 14 catches for 229 yards. Damion Ratley had the third highest total of receiving yards among wide receivers, making 12 catches for 200 yards, including 64 yards in the final game. Then there was Hollywood Higgins, as well as KhaDarel Hodge, both of whom had only four catches.

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The contribution from the third and fourth wide receivers was invisible.

Just go around the division and examine the totals for other teams. The Baltimore Ravens liked to run the ball rather than throw it. When they did throw, it was usually directed at tight ends. Nevertheless, their third best statistical performer was Hayden Hurst with 349 receiving yards.

Third highest in Pittsburgh was JuJu Smith-Schuster with 552 yards in 12 games.

Even the Bengals had four wide receivers with over 500 receiving yards last year.

Although the Dawg Pound was pleased with the acquisition of superstar OBJ, the disappearance of the third and fourth wide receivers from the Browns offense caught everyone by surprise.

Recently, this fan had the temerity to suggest that David Njoku should be moved to wide receiver based on the fact that he is a better receiver than blocker and the Browns definitely need receiving depth. Facebook nearly blew up with criticism, but folks, this is not the Greatest Show on Turf.

The 2019 Browns knew how to throw the ball to Landry and OBJ, and the rest of the wide receivers simply did not put up any numbers. The extra wide receivers were almost invisible, not because they were poor athletes, but just not used in the play designs, apparently. The tight end position was scarcely any better.

In 2018, Baker Mayfield was like a point guard for the team dishing out the ball. Landry was the leader with 976 yards on 81 catches. Njoku was second on the team, putting up 639 yards on 56 catches. Callaway was third with 43 catches and 586 yards. Higgins had 39 catches for 572 yards. In all, they had six players with 340 receiving yards or more.

The 2019 Browns had only Landry and OBJ with over 300 receiving yards. This is an astonishing difference, especially considering that head coach Freddie Kitchens was the putative 2018 offensive coordinator. It is almost impossible to believe how starkly different the numbers are, especially since the 2019 team figured to be improved on paper with the addition of Beckham.

If you’ve read Dawg Pound Daily and other Browns-o-centric publications, you are aware that no one really knows what went on in 2019 to undo the 2018 offense, but there is no question that it was a night-and-day difference. Was Kitchens overly awed by having OBJ and Landry on the team, so much so that he felt his job was mainly to get the ball to only those two players, to the exclusion of others? Regardless, it is now Kevin Stefanski’s problem.

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Stefanski will have the opportunity to rediscover players like Ratley, Hodge, Njoku and Seals-Jones. However, Higgins is very likely gone after being ignored in 2019. Would you return to a team that saw fit to only throw the ball to you four times? Of course, the Browns will have the opportunity to add to the receivers corps via free agency and the draft. But in today’s NFL, there have to, have to, have to be other targets in addition to Landry and OBJ, no matter how good those first two receivers are.