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?