The battle for the Cleveland Browns No. 2 TE has a clear leader
The Cleveland Browns are three days into their padded practices and a few things are becoming apparent. Most glaringly, David Njoku is having a rough start to training camp and is having an even harder time getting it turned around. At the same time, Harrison Bryant is consistently getting open and catching the football. The rookie tight end is doing all that he can to take Njoku’s job.
The rough start could not come at a worse time for Njoku. With the addition of Austin Hooper to the tight end room, it was a foregone conclusion that Njoku would no longer be the centerpiece of the position group. However, in the Browns’ new offensive scheme, there will be plenty of opportunity for whoever earns the second tight end spot. For the first time in his four-year career, Njoku was going to have to prove himself during training camp in order to earn repetitions.
While Njoku has struggled, Bryant has emerged as a sure-handed precise route runner. The young tight end out of Florida Atlantic is constantly getting open and making plays. Bryant’s stock is skyrocketing while Njoku’s stock is at an all-time low.
Wednesday’s practice was the perfect embodiment of how training camp has gone thus far. Njoku was again dropping passes and not coming up with the big play when the opportunity presented itself while Bryant was catching everything thrown in his direction. During a seven-on-seven session, Bryant snagged touchdown receptions on back to back plays.
Njoku’s practice can be summed up by a live red zone drill where Baker Mayfield found the tight end in the back of the endzone with a perfect pass. The ball hit a leaping Njoku in the chest and Terrance Mitchell was able to strip it away before the tight end could come down and complete the catch. That is a play that Njoku has to make.
From a production standpoint, Bryant has outperformed Njoku by leaps and bounds. Has the rookie done enough to surpass Njoku on the depth chart? The answer, quite simply, is yes. However, it is unclear at this time where the coaches stand on the pecking order for the tight end room. With no preseason games, the fans will have to wait and gauge the competition by usage when the Browns take to the field in the season opener.
What makes Njoku’s situation even more concerning is, catching passes is the only tangible skill he brings to the tight end position. The fourth-year tight end’s blocking ability has always left a ton to be desired. If Bryant can prove, even by a minuscule amount, that he can handle his own on the line of scrimmage, then the role of the second tight end in this offense has a clear leader.
Given his athletic profile, it is highly unlikely that the coaching staff would just give up on Njoku. However, if Bryant is able to keep stacking stellar practices between now and the end of training camp, then this is not much of a competition.
If their trajectory stays the same, it is fairly obvious who the Browns should be able to count on in a crucial situation. This is a new coaching staff, so they will not be playing favorites. The NFL is a pass-fail league, and to put it simply, right now Bryant is passing and Njoku is failing.