4. Cleveland Browns targeted the wrong tight end.
Now, what about tight end Austin Hooper? Hooper was the second most targeted Brown with 61 targets in 717 snaps, or one target every 11.8 snaps. That’s not ridiculous for the number one tight end. But in terms of production, he was the 12th highest on the team, with only 5.7 yards per target, even lower than Landry.
So why was he the number one tight end?
David Njoku averaged 9.0 yards per target with a significantly higher, with a higher catch percentage than Hooper (67.9% to 62.3%). He played 670 snaps, and was targeted 53 times or once every 12.6 snaps. Harrison Bryant averaged 8.3 yards per target with a catch percentage of 75.0%. He played 402 snaps with 28 targets or one target every 14.3 snaps. The Browns killed themselves by throwing the ball to Hooper way too often because they had better targets available at that position.
Hooper is a good blocker, but Njoku is better and Bryant is comparable. Overall, if you believe Pro Football Focus, Njoku was clearly the best tight end on the team and Bryant was just as good as Hooper.
Hooper is still a valuable player, but not as good as when he was making Pro Bowls with the Atlanta Falcons. The problem, perhaps, is that Hooper gets paid the most money and the coaching staff feels the need to make the investment work. Hooper signed a four-year, $42 million contract with the Browns. His cap charge for 2022 is a whopping $13.3 million. Let’s not blame the player.
If there is someone that needs to be booed, blame Andrew Berry for overpaying, but it is Kevin Stefanski’s fault for giving him too many snaps, and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and Mayfield have to share major responsibility for targeting him way too often.
Njoku’s fifth year option cost the Browns $6.0 million in 2021. If the Browns franchise tag him for 2022, it will probably cost them $11 million dollars, according to Spotrac’s estimate. That sounds like a deal. But that is a side issue.
The numbers suggest that Browns were determined to feed Hooper, the third best receiving tight end on the team over Njoku and Bryant, who were first and second. They had an injured quarterback throwing to two of the lowest value targets on the team in Landry and Hooper, over and over.
It’s not a recipe for success. The numbers do not say whose fault it is. Take your pick between Stefanski, Van Pelt and Mayfield. But the numbers do say that this was a very poor strategy.