Browns position analysis – the receivers

As the Browns prepare to embark their second season under Pat Shurmur there are many questions that remain. With training camp opening Sat. July 28, we’re going to take a position-by-position analysis of the current roster as the team heads to camp over the next few weeks.

Part three is the wide receiver position.

Candidates: Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Jordan Norwood, Carlton Mitchell, Rod Windsor, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper, Bert Reed, Owen Spencer and Jermaine Saffold.

For the past two years, fans and media alike have called for the Browns to add a top tier wide receiver to the group, but the Browns have not done so.

However, it wasn’t for the lack of trying. They did try to add to their receiving corps, but missed out on Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan in free agency.

Then in the draft, they reportedly, were set to draft Kendall Wright with their 22nd pick, but the Titans selected him two spots ahead of them. Feeling none of the other receivers remaining were worthy of a first-, second- or third-round pick they didn’t select a receiver until they took Benjamin in the fourth-round.

Tom Heckert didn’t want to add a veteran just to add one. Shurmur and Heckert both feel the current group will take a major step up in 2012—and they’re counting on it.

Shurmur said during minicamp that Little and Massaquoi were the starters from the onset. Little came to camp 11 pounds lighter than his rookie season and looks like he is ready to take a big step in just his second year.

Mike Holmgren called out Massaquoi at least twice during the off-season, saying he expected him to have a breakout year. Massaquoi’s biggest goal might be trying to stay healthy as he’s been dinged in each of the past two seasons, with a broken foot and at least two concussions.

Shurmur and Heckert have both alluded to the fact that Brandon Weeden will make the receivers better. If that doesn’t happen, it will be obvious where the blame will lie.

Benjamin must make an impact. He has the speed to stretch the field and the Browns are hoping he could become as big an impact player as DeSean Jackson is to the Eagles. He showed he has the speed but it’s an unknown yet if he can get away from bigger, more physical NFL cornerbacks.

Little (6-2, 220, 2nd year, North Carolina) – As a rookie, Little played in all 16 games, including 12 starts. He caught 61 passes for 709 yards. His totals were 20 more than the second receiver on the team. Little caught 6 passes in three different games with his biggest yardage production coming against the Cardinals with 131 yards and a score. The Browns are expecting him to emerge as their true No. 1. His biggest problem as a rookie was the inability to hang on to passes as he dropped 12 passes. However, he feels it was a lack of concentration and thinks those problems have been corrected.

Massaquoi (6-2, 207, 4th year, Georgia) – Massaquoi had 31 receptions for 384 yards (12.4 avg.) and two touchdowns in 14 games. Massaquoi caught 34 passes as a rookie and 36 in his second season. His career average per reception is 14.8 yards per reception. Massaquoi had a broken foot at the start of training camp in 2011 and he got off to a slow start. He also suffered his second concussion that sidelined him for two games.

Cribbs (6-1, 215, 8th year, Kent State) –Cribbs had his most productive season as a receiver with 41 receptions for 518 yards (12.6 avg.) and 4 touchdowns, which was good enough for second on the team. His previous best was 23 receptions for 292 yards and one touchdown. He showed last year he can be a productive NFL receiver, especially breaking tackles in the open field.

Norwood (5-11, 180, 2nd year, Penn State) – Norwood saw his most playing time in 2011 as he played in 14 games with four starts. He ended up with 23 receptions for 268 yards and a touchdown. His 11.7 avg. was the third best on the team. He suffered a concussion against the Cardinals and was inactive for the final two games. His best game was a five reception game against the 49ers. He’s the leading contender for the slot position. His biggest question, similarly to Massaquoi is his durability.

Mitchell (6-3, 215, 3rd year, South Florida) – Mitchell had a finger injury that required surgery during training camp that put him behind and he was never able to make a significant contribution. He was active for 11 games and made his first NFL reception in the 15th game against the Ravens. He caught two passes for 12 yards in that game and caught a 19-yard pass in the season finale against the Steelers. He finished the season with 3 receptions for 31 yards (10.3 avg.). Mitchell could be the dark horse player to emerge as he is one of the more intriguing players. He has the size and speed to be productive and could be a boom or bust type player. This is a make or break year for him.

Windsor (6-2, 205, one year, Western New Mexico) – Windsor was on the practice squad for most of the 2011 season until he was activated to the 53-man roster for the final two games. He was inactive for both games. He caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown during the preseason.

Benjamin (5-10, 175, Rookie, Miami (Fla.) – Benjamin was drafted in the fourth round, making him the biggest off-season acquisition at wide receiver. Benjamin has blazing speed, but the question remains will he be able to get off the line against bigger and more physical NFL cornerbacks.

Cooper (5-10, 190, Rookie, Oklahoma State) –Cooper had a very impressive rookie OTAs and minicamp. He is a security blanket for Weeden after being his second receiver behind Justin Blackmon in college. Cooper will battle to be the slot receiver with Norwood and several others to make the roster. As an undrafted free agent, Cooper could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Reed (5-10, 180, Rookie, Florida State) – As an undrafted rookie free agent, Reed needs to have a big training camp to find a roster spot. He flashed in the spring practices, showing good hands and quickness. Reed most likely, is in a battle for a spot on the practice squad.

Saffold (6-0, 200, Rookie, Missouri State) – Similarly to Reed, Saffold is a long shot, at best, to make the team.

Spencer (6-3, 185, Rookie, N.C. State) – Spencer is in an uphill battle as another undrafted rookie free agent.

Better than 2011? One of the factors the front office is counting on is that the returning receivers all know the system and what’s expected of them. They expect Little to take a major step from a very productive rookie season and emerge as the team’s top receiver. Massaquoi is also expected to step up in a big way. Cribbs showed he can be productive and between Mitchell and Norwood, the Browns are expected one of them to break out.

Benjamin is the only new addition and his blazing speed should stretch the defense, but it’s hard to know if he can be the game-changing receiver the Browns hope as a rookie. The Browns will give Benjamin every opportunity to break into the lineup.

Weeden’s bigger arm should help make the receivers look better. The biggest question is whether they will be able to hang on to the ball after leading the NFL as a group in dropped passes in 2011.