The Cleveland Browns success this coming year will largely depend on how Deshaun Watson does in his first full season with the team. Following his 11-game suspension, Watson was rusty in his first six games with Cleveland in the closing portion of last season, which was hardly a shocker.
In the 2023 campaign, the hope is Watson can have a resurgent year, after an offseason where he and the team can get fully on the same page, and for the offense to get in-sync. The Browns have one of the NFL's best running backs in Nick Chubb, who is going to be a reliable option for them to deploy once again. It's imperative that Cleveland gets noteworthy production from Watson, though, to ensure the team is more dynamic.
Cleveland is not a club that appears to be in the DeAndre Hopkins' Sweepstakes, but there is reason to believe the Browns could still bring in more help at wideout. Either way, with a full offseason for Watson to get chemistry down with the wide receiver room, which could be bolstered via the draft, or later in free agency, it was sensible for Cleveland to have added some tight end help.
Last week, the Browns signed Watson's former Houston Texans' teammate in Jordan Akins, who should be meaningful depth behind David Njoku, and might provide more legitimacy than Harrison Bryant for next season.
Akins is not going to be taking a ton of usage away from Njoku, or threats such as Amari Cooper, as an aside. The former Texan in Akins should seemingly slot into the No. 2 tight end role, and could feasibly be another big-bodied red zone target for Watson to have in some personnel packages, and he has historically been sure-handed.
The dude is not is going to have the ceiling of Njoku, obviously, as evidenced by his deal having been for two years and a max value of $5.2 million, as was initially reported by Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2 Houston. Akins' deal is guaranteed for roughly $1.7 million, for what it's worth.
However, what Cleveland should be getting in Akins is a player that is another 6-foot-4 tight end that can make plays in the red area if his number is called, and his familiarity with Watson could be a situational factor to help move the chains.
In the 2019 and 2020 campaigns with Watson, for example, Akins had 36 and then 37 catches for 418 and then receiving 403 yards, respectively, and posted catch rates of 65.5 and 75.5 percent in those years.
Last year, Akins was a bright spot for the Texans in a mostly rough season with up-and-down quarterback play, too, as he had 37 grabs for 495 yards. In that 2022 campaign, he also had career-highs in yards per catch at 13.4 and receiving touchdowns with five, and ditto for quarterback rating when targeting him at 120.5, per Pro Football Reference.
So, when examining the recent Akins' signing by the Browns, while it's assuredly not a splashy one, it seems to be a move that's been overlooked.
Akins could provide more steady play than Bryant, who could be expendable at this point, and with the Watson connection, this move was a sensible one, even with Akins set to enter his age-31 campaign. He has good hands, and should be pretty reliable in a tertiary role, and be able to play in short yardage as well, to some degree, at least.