About the Browns’ Wide Receivers and Tough Decisions Coming

During the lockout a lot of us were thinking about what kinds of options the Browns would explore regarding wide receivers for the upcoming season.  Surely after trading the pick that turned out to be Julio Jones to the Atlanta Falcons, the Browns would find a veteran to come in and be a known entity for a receiving corps of question marks.  As we all know, that hasn’t happened and the Browns are seemingly comfortable letting this season be another fact-finding mission about what kinds of players they have on their roster.

The cast of characters is pretty familiar by now.  Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Josh Cribbs are the veterans. Jordan Norwood, Carlton Mitchell and second round draft choice Greg Little are the young guns with an inside track on a job.  Chris Matthews, L.J. Castille, Jonathan Haggerty, Juan Nunez and others are longshots looking to crack the roster.  Somewhere out of those names, the Browns need to find at least two reliable targets who can play every down and then have depth.

According to coach Pat Shurmur, the Browns won’t be holding Josh Cribbs back from any receiving duties to try and preserve him for his return duties.  The company line is that Josh is a tremendous athlete and they think he can handle everything they throw at him.  In previous years with Cribbs returning kicks, running the wildcat and then playing receiver, I would have disagreed.  With the new kickoff rules and a head coach who doesn’t like the wildcat, I can buy it.  Cribbs will have to be even more polished than he was a year ago when he started to impress as a target for Colt McCoy when he was healthy.

The Mangini legacy collection of Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are coming into that pivotal third year when receivers generally establish themselves.  Massaquoi has been a staple at training camp in his walking boot.  Brian Robiskie has again shown flashes with his hands and ability to make an adjustment on the ball even when it is thrown behind him.  The fact is though that Robiskie will need help from this new scheme to gain separation as he still doesn’t appear to be able to generate a ton of space all on his own against the likes of Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden and Buster Skrine in practice.

Greg Little and Jordan Norwood have been the talk of training camp from a wide receiver standpoint.  Norwood has been nursing a hamstring strain, but the diminutive receiver has shown more ability to get into space and make a play after the catch than most of his counterparts.  Greg Little has battled the rust with some drops, but it has seemingly only been a couple practices.  The rest of the time, the stocky, muscular Little has impressed with his athleticism and power.  He also gave us a reverse dunk TD celebration that he named “Boomshakalaka!”

Finally, the wildcards.  Carlton Mitchell again shows flashes, but he has been a bit banged up this pre-season.  Chris Matthews, the 6’5″ monster from Kentucky, has impressed with his hands, but he is still a bit rough around the edges with routes.  Jonathan Haggerty has also shown some sure hands.  Still, he hasn’t been able to really separate himself from the pack.  Same with L.J. Castille and Juan Nunez.

So how many receivers will the Browns carry this year and who will they be?  Last year in week 1 the Browns carried five receivers.  In the final week of the season they had seven.  Obviously Josh Cribbs will make this team (1.)  Greg Little will make the team as Heckert’s draft pick (2.)  Mohamed Massaquoi will make the team (3.)  I can’t imagine a scenario right now where Jordan Norwood doesn’t make this team (4.)

That means the Browns need to choose two to three more receivers between Brian Robiskie, Carlton Mitchell, Chris Matthews, and the rest of the guys.  I don’t want to get into the business of making bold predictions or introduce controversy for the sake of controversy. I do have a very valid question, though.  If guys like Greg Little and Jordan Norwood surpass Brian Robiskie on the depth chart and prove to be able to carry starters reps at receiver, will the Browns be forced to make a tough choice between a relatively known entity with a pretty predictable ceiling (Robiskie) versus some younger guys with attributes like size that you just can’t teach?  Robiskie is still working with the first team as we speak, but a lot can change over the course of pre-season games.

It is a position with more questions than answers right now for the Browns.  Yet, the Browns seemed very comfortable coming into this season looking for answers from within.  It was a bold choice not to bolster the roster with a veteran free agent.  Will there be more bold moves when the Browns look to cut the roster down?

  • stin4u

    From all accounts (none personal since I haven’t been there), I’ve heard that Robiskie has not looked good thus far. The guy really has not made many mark-able contributions to this team and if he is underwhelming in camp I’m just not sure how you keep him around. I personally would much rather see them keep Carlton Mitchell, especially if were not talking about a guy who is going to crack the top 3 or 4 receiving options.

  • Lyon

    agree stin, if Robo is going to be the 4th WR, why not keep a younger more physically gifted kid who could turn into a force?

    I can’t believe we’re really going into this year with a rookie, unproven WRs & a KR as our wideouts. Hopefully Watson, Moore & Cameron are ready to catch some balls.

  • Lyon

    I really want to see Mitchell get a chance. Everyone always raves about the potential he has. Now I want to see it come to fruition.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    For the record, Robo is currently running with the first team offense with Greg Little and Cribbs (probably the third receiver.) MoMass is still injured. Still, with how much they’ve been talking about Norwood and Cribbs getting playing time, once Massaquoi gets back it will be interesting to see who ends up where on the depth chart by the time week 1 rolls around.

  • http://tencentbeerblog.com Chris

    From what I have read this preseason, I thought Robiskie has played pretty well and will be a lock to make the team. MoMass is more likely to be a roster casualty because he can’t get on the field.

  • Andrew Koestel

    At least Austin Kearns isn’t on the roster

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    While neither MoMass or Robo have set the world on fire in their time in the league, Masaquoi has a much more impressive body of work than Robo. MoMass has more than 30 catches in his first two seasons. Robiskie did much better last year catching 29 balls in 14 games.

    Chances are they will both make the team and be here. That being said, if Norwood, Little, Mitchell, Matthews, etc go off in the pre-season and appear to have significant upside, it could force the Browns into a tough spot.

    We’ll see. As I said, Robo is currently taking reps with the first team. That’s why I didn’t come straight out and make some outlandish prediction. Just trying to share what I am seeing / feeling.

  • Dingo Jones

    You also have to consider whether the Browns will look for a WR from the roster cuts of other teams.

  • mgbode

    Robiskie’s best characteristic is that he has improved in his time in the NFL. By the end of last season he was actually making positive contributions on offense.

    Over the last 7 weeks, he had:
    20rec 229yds 3TD (1 each of last 3 weeks)
    AVG: 3rec 33yds 0.4TD

    Those are not the numbers you want out of a starting WR, but they do represent progress on his behalf. I think he’ll make the team, but if he doesn’t continue to progress from that this season, then it’ll be his last on the Browns.

  • http://www.redright88.com Titus Pullo

    How the wide receiver position shakes out will give us another look at Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur are going to rebuild the Browns.

    Will they keep the best players, or will they keep the players they drafted (Carlton Mitchell) because it’s not on them if they cut Robiskie or MoMass (and I’m not advocating for either of them)?

    Hopefully they keep the players they think will help the team the most, and put egos aside. I think that is what will happen, but a lot of general managers are not able to do that.

    or I could be reading too much into this because, with this group of receivers, it may not matter who they keep.

  • bobby

    I agree titus, I dont really think Heckert or Holmgren have to answer much if they cut Robo or Momass. I still dont think it happens, but we’ll see. I doubt we go out and get a vet. Thats the complete opposite from everything we’ve heard and seen thus far from the FO. My prediction would be Robo, MoMass, Little, Cribbs, Mitchel and possibly 1 more. I would say Norwood/Matthews battle for it. Matthews, if he runs crisper routes, could be a beast. When I saw him at camp he had the hands size etc, but was a little late out of breaks or a little sloppy with the route.

    As a side, Mitchell is the guy who should come out of “nowhere” this year. From everything I saw hes just falling under the radar and performing at the top of the group. He finishes hard, has some quick first steps, and runs pretty clean routes. I would not be surprised if hes in the top 3 come week 4.

  • Matt

    Does anyone really believe that we’ll pick up someone cut from another team’s roster? We seem to have a glut of receivers to choose from that our FO has watched practice. I just can’t see them picking up someone else (relative unknown) over what we have in house.

    (Note: This comment void if Fitz, Roddy, or similar are cut. Obviously.)

  • Nicky Z

    Hmmm, what’ll I eat for lunch today – Slugs, eyeballs, or chicken beaks? None of it will be good my friends… not good at all. You can bet your ass that A.J. Green and Julio Jones will be pretty good though…

  • 5KMD

    “You can bet your ass that A.J. Green and Julio Jones will be pretty good though…”

    I’ll wait to see the FIVE players the Browns draft with the picks they got from atlanta before saying they lost out on Julio Jones.

    And I’m pretty sure AJ was gone by the time the Browns picked so not sure what he has to do with this.

  • Harv 21

    Not sure why Cribbs should be considered a lock at receiver. His route running and ball skills when tightly covered are way below average. The WCO is based on quick reads, precise timing and route running, not “try to get him the ball somewhere in space and watch him go.”

    Cribbs has still not shown why he is anything but an excellent special teams player.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    @Harv 21 he is a lock because of his special teams ability. I just meant that he will be one of the roster spots that the Browns use on a WR. That is a slot that the Browns won’t be able to use on a younger, project type of player.

    I also think despite the numbers during an injury-plagued season that Cribbs was massively improved as a receiver. This year, I expect him to take another step forward. Whether he does or not though, he will be a lock on this roster.

    That’s all I was saying.

  • Nicky Z

    @5KMD: I’m as hopeful as you are that the picks the Browns traded for will be HUGE contributors, but I can’t see how adding late round picks would’ve been better than drafting both Greg Little and the Browns’ choice of either A.J. Green or Julio Jones.

    In order to draft A.J. the Browns would’ve had to move up ONE spot. Definitely plausible considering how DISMAL the Browns receivers have been since 2007.

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  • Hashish

    In retrospect, with the new CBA the cost of Julio Jones would have been pretty manageable and a welcomed addition. There was no way of knowing that rookie salaries would have been so dramatically limited. Another reason to hold off on fulfilling the available cap space this year and splurge for the next draft.