Cleveland Browns: Should They Add More Wide Receiver Help?

The Cleveland Browns shouldn’t add wide receivers this offseason beyond re-signing Terrelle Pryor. In the event they do, it should be a value too good to pass up.

With the offseason comes the discussion of how the Cleveland Browns should try to improve. Despite drafting four wide receivers last year and uncovering a diamond in the rough with Terrelle Pryor, the overall ineffectiveness on offense has some still raising the question as to whether the Browns should either draft or sign additional help at the receiver position. The short answer is no, but the reasons why are important.

A previous article discussed the issues that the Browns receivers had in 2016 and what need to do to improve them. Beyond technical improvement, the key to addressing their various issues is reps—all the reps they can get.

Pryor still has a lot to learn about playing wide receiver and he is making up for a lifetime of reps at the position that other guys have gotten. Corey Coleman and Ricardo Louis were incredibly raw out of college and are basically just learning how to be a true wide receiver with all the technique that comes with it.

All of them need to improve route running. Pryor needs to play with more physicality. Coleman and Louis both need to gain enough confidence to play the man rather than the route, so that they can use their immense physical gifts to create separation and be the playmakers the Browns hope they can be.

Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton not only need to keep improving, but on some level, they are competing for roster spots, Payton probably more than Higgins. They didn’t get a ton of opportunities during the regular season last year and Payton did himself no favors in that regard with a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs.

The only receiver on the Browns roster that doesn’t need a ton of reps is the lone veteran, Andrew Hawkins. He needs to get his work to get ready for the season, but for him, it’s all about establishing timing with whatever quarterback the Browns plan to start. He knows how to do his job.

Sep 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) warms up before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) warms up before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There are only so many reps to go around in training camp and preseason. The Browns learned this the hard way with their poor handling of Josh Gordon last year.

While plenty will argue that because of the immense talent, because of the nothing contract (and will argue for them again if and when he’s reinstated), that it was worth seeing if Gordon could benefit the Browns (again). The fact that he once again did not play a single regular season snap proves it wasn’t just a shot that didn’t work—it was a huge waste of reps.

It’s important to note that, even had it worked, those rookie receivers still missed out on reps they needed. Gordon having success would have masked the problem to some extent, but it still would have held back their development.

After drafting four receivers and having an incredible raw Pryor, everything for them was about getting reps. Every rep Gordon took, both in practices and in preseason games, was a rep one of the rookies couldn’t get. And since Gordon was a featured part of the offense in preseason, he took a ton of those reps, both in the games and the practices leading up to them.

The argument will be that Gordon took reps from the end of the bench. That’s not how it works. Those were starters reps that Coleman could have gotten. Then Coleman is taking reps that Louis or Higgins or Payton could be getting and on down the depth chart.

If the Browns decide to draft a receiver or sign a veteran, those reps have to come from somewhere. Is it as simple as giving them to the reps that would go to the guy on the bottom of the depth chart? Only in the event that new addition is going to be at the end of the bench.

Otherwise, Coleman not only needs all the reps he can get, he needs as many as possible with the starters. Hue Jackson’s plan for this offense is that, if the Browns are in a two receiver set, that it’s Pryor and Coleman on the field. That’s why they drafted Coleman.

If they go to a three receiver set, Louis for example could go to the outside and move Coleman into the slot, but he could also stay outside and Hawkins could go to the slot. The Browns do not view Coleman as a slot receiver nor do they see him as a part-time contributor. They view him as someone that can contribute on every down and play all over the formation. That’s not going to happen if he can’t get the necessary work.

The other part of this issue is the tight end group. The Browns don’t have a true inline threat at tight end. Hopefully, they will add someone that can block and run routes from an inline position. What they have are some extremely talented space tight ends in Gary Barnidge and Seth DeValve, which amount to being yoked up wide receivers.

Sep 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) chases down Cleveland Browns tight end Seth Devalve (87) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bears won 21-7. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) chases down Cleveland Browns tight end Seth Devalve (87) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bears won 21-7. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Barnidge has been utilized inline, even though he shouldn’t be, but he’s also used in space. DeValve is exclusively deployed in space. Short of being putting in the backfield as an H-Back, there is nothing that prevents a receiver playing in DeValve’s spot or vice versa.

In other words, receiver reps are not only going to all of these wide receivers, but they also have to get reps for DeValve and Barnidge in the same spots. Practically speaking, it becomes seven players vying for those receiver reps.

If the Browns are going to add another receiver, be it the draft or free agency, it should be a deal they can’t refuse and it has everything to do with reps. Wide receivers coach Al Saunders already has a lot on his plate with Pryor, Coleman and Louis in particular. Asking him to fit in another receiver, especially if it’s a big signing or high pick, is wildly inefficient.

After going with such a heavy handed approach to the position in 2016, the Browns should wait until 2018 to address it again. The group will have two years to be developed and fully evaluated. At that point, it should be pretty clear where this is position is headed.

Even if players like Coleman and Louis aren’t fully realized players in 2018, it should at least be obvious what more is needed, if anything. And again, the space tight ends should be part of that equation. DeValve is on the same schedule as the receivers and by 2018, Barnidge will be 33 years old and turn 34 that September.

The Cleveland Browns made their bed at the receiver position in 2016 for the time being. They added what amounted to five new receivers and need to thoroughly evaluate them before they make another significant investment. The weapons on the offense need to be developed, but continuing to invest there doesn’t make a ton of sense until they have a better handle on guy supposed to get them the ball: the quarterback. Until they do that, the team is largely spinning its wheels at receiver.

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