Cleveland Browns two-tight-end formation underperforming

Jan 17, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper (81) catches a pass as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland (21) makes the tackle during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 17, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper (81) catches a pass as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland (21) makes the tackle during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns tight end Connor Davis attempts to bring down a pass during NFL football training camp, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Berea, Ohio. /

What do the numbers tell us about the Cleveland Browns tight end position?

The numbers say Browns running backs and receivers outperformed tight ends. First of all, the numbers show very strong performance from running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. You knew that already, but if there was any doubt, that is the heart of the team.

Also, for all the carping about Odell Beckham, Jr., he was the most productive wide receiver when he was on the field, even though he usually drew the other team’s best cornerback. There is a folk legend that the Browns are better when he is not on the field, but these numbers suggest that may not be true. OBJ was the best that the Browns had when he was on the field, though Landry, Higgins, and DPJ were also outstanding performers.

The same numbers show dismal performances from the tight ends. Maybe they were providing great blocking and team spirit, blah, blah, blah, but they did not provide very many receiving yards. Oh, they would be fine for a second division ballclub like the Cincinnati Bengals or the New York Jets or some team like that.

What the numbers don’t show is the effectiveness of blocking and the boost that gives to other teammates on the field. In particular, we really need to know how much Austin Hooper and David Njoku help the running game, because their receiving numbers were the pits. All four of the major wide receivers (OBJ, Juice, Hollywood, and DPJ) were vastly superior at making yardage than any of the Browns tight ends.

The tight ends are producing enough to stay in the NFL, but they are not playing well enough to start for a team that expects to make the playoffs. The team cannot continue to trot two of them on the field for 75% of the plays while they underperform.

Cleveland has much more thorough and complex stats than the summary chart, but their complex analysis undoubtedly shows the same trends as this simple analysis. Specifically, the tight ends have underperformed.

So, will the Browns ignore their statistical analysis, or would they reach the same conclusions, namely, that their high-priced tight ends are not performing well enough, and their playing time needs to be reduced? Hooper got to skate free last season, but perhaps not two years in a row.

What they won’t do is run out and overpay for more overvalued tight ends. They already have way too much money invested in Hooper and Njoku. So please don’t even ask for an article about the Browns signing Tim Tebow or some other ridiculous big-name tight end.

This fan was skeptical about Browns coach Drew Petzing at a recent presser for gloating about the Browns having three first-string tight ends. I also thought it was highly inappropriate that he did not mention any other tight end in camp. Why didn’t he at least mention Stephen Carlson, who has been on the team for two years (and in my opinion was better than Harrison Bryant, anyway)?

That’s actually a hopeful sign that the Browns may go with only three tight ends on the active roster, which is what they need to do. Maybe they won’t be taking as many snaps this season. I wrote about that in a recent article, and fan response was surprisingly heavy, and 100% solidly opposed to this opinion.

Answer me this, however. How will the Browns beat the Chiefs if they are getting 1,400 yards from a single tight end on the field, and the Browns are getting 800 yards from three tight ends, playing two at a time? This isn’t possible.

Browns fans need a no-gloat rule until after Baker Mayfield hoists the Lombardi trophy. That should apply to coaches. Yes, coach Petzing, the Browns have three number ones, and the Chiefs only have one. But their guy had nearly twice as many yards as our three guys combined. So we have no business gloating about how good our tight ends are. It just makes the team look foolish.

What you should have been talking about is not TE1, TE2, and TE3, but instead TE4 (Stephen Carlson, who unfortunately is now on IR with a knee injury), TE5 (Connor Davis), and TE6 (Jordan Franks) and how they are good enough to take away the jobs of the players who are currently ahead of them.

If the Browns continue to run the two-tight end offense, they will have only two wide receivers on the field. Odell Beckham, Jr. will be back and is primed to have a great year. Jarvis Landry will be the number two wide receiver, another very effective receiver. However, you are keeping Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and other talented wide receivers on the bench.

Does that feel like a smart idea? The stats say it is not. Would you rather play a second tight end, or play Hollywood Higgins or Donovan Peoples-Jones?

If the two tight ends continue to struggle to make 400 yards per year, that’s a good way to average 25.5 points per game.

By the way, for anyone who wants to put forward the case that the blocking ability of the Browns’ tight ends sets them apart from others, and improves the running game, perhaps this is so. However, in this case, Njoku is clearly the best blocker of the three tight ends by Pro Football Focus, and keep an eye on six-foot-eight, 271-pound Connor Davis. Hooper has never set the world on fire as a blocker, and neither has Bryant.

Matt Williamson of Pro Football Network ranks Hooper as the 18th best tight end in the NFL. PFF ranks as him17th best. That’s about average. Njoku and Bryant are not even mentioned by any of the national evaluators despite the Browns’ insistence that they have three first-string players at the position.

If the Browns decide to de-emphasize two-tight-end formations, it will not result in a cataclysmic decision and announcement. The two tight end formation will still be in the playbook, but will just not be called as often as it was in 2020.

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Stefanski will simply very quietly modify his game plans and have fewer two tight end formations and more multiple wide receiver formations, and make more use of the fullback.