The Cleveland Browns should have a significant uptick in the yards after catch department in 2020.
We were all disappointed in the Cleveland Browns passing attack in 2019. It was so unfortunate that Baker Mayfield regressed, as he had a completion percentage of just 59.4 percent. That ranked second-worst among qualified quarterbacks, per Pro Football Reference.
That was absolutely not all on Mayfield, as the Browns offensive tackles, especially, in Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard mostly, had a world of trouble in pass protection. To make matters worse, then-head coach Freddie Kitchens was calling plays that were seemingly too reliant on deeper routes, and that didn’t exactly aid Mayfield and the offensive line, either.
Next season, though, with head coach Kevin Stefanski likely featuring Mayfield more in the play-action game and/or on boots, the ball should get out of his hands quicker. That should relate to getting the playmakers more consistently involved throughout games, and in simpler ways, too.
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Along those lines, a key for 2020 should be a yards after catch resurgence for the Cleveland Browns.
Nobody would say Odell Beckham Jr. really shattered expectations in 2019, as while he did have 1,035 yards, he had career-lows in a number of categories. The big ones were catches per game with 4.6, catch percentage at 55.6 percent, and touchdowns with only four.
That being said, going into his second season with Cleveland, Beckham and Mayfield should have better chemistry, and there should be more deep connections.
That should, in turn, lead to more YAC, and of the post and deep over variety, realistically. Beckham still had 326 YAC in 2019, but the big chunks from getting him more open deep didn’t come much.
That should happen more with Cleveland having upgrades at least at starting right tackle in Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. being so technically sound, and having to play a quasi-blindside tackle role with Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama being a lefty.
In addition to of course one of the game’s best YAC players in Jarvis Landry, we should see Kareem Hunt utilized often with swing passes/screens. Hunt will get his carries in relief of Nick Chubb, sure, but he should get his touches as a receiver plenty in 2020, too. That will lead to a bunch of YAC in its own right with how gifted Hunt is as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.
When it comes to the tight end position, of which Stefanski loves, expect David Njoku to have a big season. Last year, the Cleveland Browns and Mayfield desperately missed Njoku. Njoku appeared in only four games last season due to a broken wrist, causing to be placed on injured reserve.
In 2018, though, Njoku burst onto the scene and quickly became a favorite target of Mayfield’s. He often displayed incredible capability after the catch, as he had 306 yards after the catch then and averaged 5.5 yards after the catch per reception.
Njoku is a tremendous athlete and with him hopefully ready to roll in 2020, expect to see Njoku give Cleveland a ton more pop.
That’s even more so the case with him gaining more chemistry with Mayfield, which should lead to him getting more looks right in stride on crossers/drags, and Beckham’s presence outside the numbers should help Njoku get more room inside the numbers.
Plus, free agent acquisition Austin Hooper should draw considerable interest from linebackers and safeties in instances with Njoku on the field with him, leading to Njoku getting one-on-one matchups early and often throughout games, and he should get a ton of YAC as a result.
Meanwhile, even though he won’t likely play a lion’s share of snaps, rookie Harrison Bryant, if given chances, is really tough after the catch, too. And who knows? Stefanski might use Bryant in some three tight end looks or find matchups to split him out as a mismatch at 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds.
Granted, that’s probably lofty for a rookie, given the depth chart. Anyhow, with Beckham not dealing with a sports hernia injury next season, he should be more dynamic after the catch with him more at full speed and likely getting more separation/being on the same page more often with Mayfield.
Plus, factoring in Landry, Njoku being back and ready to roll, and Chubb still along with Hunt, expect Cleveland to have many more yards after the catch in 2020. The Cleveland Browns ranked a middling 17th in that category last season, per Pro Football Reference, but that shouldn’t be the case in 2020.
Moreover, with hopefully more play-action for Mayfield opening up easy throws with larger windows, that should lead to more after-catch production, too, and more chunk plays with pass-catchers having more room.