Every year the Cleveland Browns seem to think Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins has nothing to offer and it’s time to let him go, and every year he proves them wrong.
In 2020, Higgins had 599 yards on 37 catches in 52 targets, for a catch percentage of 71.2, while playing in 60 percent of the Browns offensive snaps. Extrapolating that to 100 percent, he accumulated yardage at the rate of 998 yards per full season.
Those are excellent totals, to say the least.
2021 was a different story. Higgins played in 52 percent of his team’s snaps, but accumulated only 275 yards; i.e., the rate of 528 yards per 17-game season. His catch percentage was only 51.1, which is not up to NFL standards. That’s not good enough to keep an NFL job.
So, is Higgins through?
Nope. He’s not, and here is why. Throughout his career, the buzz on Higgins and Baker Mayfield has been that Higgs is a possession receiver with great hands and a high ability to make difficult catches in traffic.
For his part, Mayfield has been able to deliver accurate passes to places where only Higgins can catch the ball and shield the defender from competing for the ball. So, for example, Mayfield can throw a low pass at knee level and Higgins will go low and get it and there is nothing that the defensive back can do about it.
In 2021, however, it has been pretty much admitted that Mayfield lost considerable accuracy to wearing a body brace to hold his left shoulder together after suffering a full shoulder separation and totally torn labrum. Many analysts had assumed that he would not be able to play after that injury. You know what? They were right.
No longer could Mayfield throw into a small window. After the injury, it was more like Mr. Duncan’s toy store window in Home Alone II. “Huge!” as the owner of the Plaza Hotel might have said. That did not play to the special skill set that Higgins possesses, namely, hands like the Sticky Bandits.
Predictably, the result was disastrous. Defensive backs were easily able to cover Higgins and bat down the scatter-armed slop that Mayfield was offering in lieu of NFL passes. That is why Higgins put up poor numbers.
Mayfield’s left shoulder is expected to be repairable sufficiently to allow him to throw footballs without wearing a body brace in 2022. Mayfield’s career as a defensive back is over, however. Next time he throws an interception, he has to get out of the way and allow someone else to make the tackle. Call him a wimp if you want, but the coaching staff has to issue the strict order that he’s not to be tackling linebackers unless it is a playoff game.
If Mayfield is out of the restrictive brace, there’s nothing obviously wrong with Higgins and therefore no reason why he cannot do what he did in 2020, namely, catch footballs like a potential 900-yard receiver (based on the earlier estimation).
That of course presumes Mayfield retains his starting job. This fan used to think that the shoulder brace was the only thing wrong with Mayfield, but the stats show that there were some very weird trends last season and the Odell Beckham, Jr. affair was just the tip of the iceberg.
There has also been a narrative that Higgins and Mayfield share this special chemistry, see, and Higgins will never sign with another team because only Mayfield can deliver the ball to him. That is another Cleveland myth. It is true that Higgins should be paired with a quarterback that is adept at running a ball-control offense. He is not going to outrun many cornerbacks for the deep ball.
However, someone like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, who can really thread the needle, would be able to work well with Higgins also. Higgins might not work out as well playing for a team with a deep-strike, vertical passing game.
A substantial element within the fan base, and to some extent even the coaching staff itself, has the persistent delusion that the Browns are a run-and-shoot team, and that Kevin Stefanski is the next Mike Martz.
Well, folks, the Browns ain’t no run-and-shoot team. These are the Cleveland Bleeping Browns, and they have five quality backs in Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, and Andy Janovich, and they ought to gain 2,500 yards on the ground with another 1,500 yards in through the air to running backs.
Once they look in the mirror and figure out that they are supposed to be playing two-tight-end or two-back sets rather than four and five wides, they will realize that Higgins is just the right type of receiver to complement their offense. They don’t have to blow massive amounts of draft and salary cap resources on wide receivers or even quarterbacks.
Just focusing on the offense for the moment, and not worrying about losing four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and two safeties, the Browns have to re-sign or replace their top tight end in David Njoku. Also, is Jack Conklin going to come back to his Pro Bowl form, or if not, is James Hudson going to develop into a starting caliber tackle? If not, the Browns need to fix these spots before worrying about imaginary crises at wide receiver.
Come on, Browns, just re-sign Rashard Higgins.