The trade deadline came and went, and after the dust settled the ClevelandBrowns found themselves as sellers instead of buyers. The only business that the Browns conducted during the trade deadline was dealing starting wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones to the Detroit Lions for a sixth-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft.
Peoples-Jones was in the final year of his rookie deal, and it was trending towards the wide receiver moving on in free agency following the season, so the Browns opted to trade DPJ and recoup their original investment in the receiver.
Cleveland wouldn't make that trade during a season where they still have playoff aspirations if they believed it would hamper their own expectations. General manager Andrew Berry insulated the team to be prepared to pivot if they were unable to re-sign Peoples-Jones when they drafted Cedric Tillman in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
But because the Browns dealt DPJ, Tillman will get his opportunity sooner than anyone outside of the organization expected. To be clear, this is a gamble and there is risk involved. Tillman's lack of experience as well as his recent injury history will keep him from being a one-for-one snap count and workload swap for DPJ this season.
In the four games that Tillman has been active for this season, the rookie has has only been on the field for 45 offensive snaps. Juxtapose Tillman’s snap count with DPJ’s 439 offensive snaps, the most by any Browns wide receiver, and it becomes obvious that it will take several receivers to occupy that role the remainder of the season.
The Browns will likely divvy up DPJ's vacant snaps between Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell, and perhaps even Austin Watkins, Jr. However, it would be shocking if Tillman did not receive the Lion’s share of those available opportunities.
From a frame and skillset perspective, Tillman provides the most upside as a true x-receiver. Plus, when you factor in his age and the investment the Browns made in drafting him, all of the clues lead to Tillman getting his opportunity.
Due to the lack of targets that Peoples-Jones had seen during the Browns first seven games, there should not be a massive production expectation placed on Tillman right away. However, what Tillman can absolutely do this week is make a splash in terms of impact plays in the passing game. One element this offense is currently missing is completing chunk plays in the passing game down the field.
The Browns have only completed 11 passes for more than 25 yards so far this season, which ranks them at 22nd in the NFL. While Tillman didn't test as well as DPJ coming into the league, the tape that is available on the rookie shows that Tillman is more than capable of creating separation in his breaks as well as at the catchpoint, down the field.
Regardless of who the quarterback is, whether it's Deshaun Watson or if it is P.J. Walker, Tillman should see opportunities to come down with a couple of big catches against this Cardinals secondary on Sunday.
Tillman will have to prove his meddle as a willing blocker in the running game, which is something DPJ excelled at. But one aspect of Tillman’s game that will be an upgrade over what DPJ offered is Tillman’s ability to be viable target in the redzone. Expect to see Tillman get opportunities if the Browns find themselves in a passing situation inside of the Cardinals’ 20-yard line on Sunday.
Tillman’s predicted stat line against Arizona: three receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown.