The wide receiver position has become a big question mark for the Browns ever since reports of a possible Josh Gordon suspension. Gordon notwithstanding, the Browns have had a very eventful offseason in regards to the position. In the start of the free agency period, the Browns signed Andrew Hawkins from the Cincinnati Bengals. Later in the offseason, they added Nate Burleson from the Detroit Lions. Post-Gordon, they finished off the wide receiver position by adding Miles Austin from the Dallas Cowboys, Anthony Armstrong, and multiple undrafted free agents. The Browns are clearly looking for depth at the position because of the looming suspension of their Pro Bowl pass catcher.
Here is a look at the Browns wide receiver depth chart heading into training camp.
Projected WR Depth Chart
Last season, Josh Gordon had one of the best years ever for a Browns wide receiver. He broke many records including the franchise single-season receiving yards record. He had 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns in just 14 games. He also broke the record of the Browns single-game receiving yards record—twice—with games of 237 yards and 261 yards, respectively. He is the only player in NFL history to have more than 200 receiving yards in back-to-back regular-season games. He led the league in receiving yards last season too. Gordon was a First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler last season. Gordon is hands down the most talented receiver on the team and the team’s number one target.
Gordon is a physical freak with the ability to take a catch and go all the way to the endzone. He has elite size and athleticism, which give him an upper hand against any cornerback in the league. He is the big play weapon who the Browns have been looking for since Braylon Edwards had his great season with the Browns. Gordon has very good hands, which allow him to go up and pluck the ball out of the air. The only thing he could improve on the field is his ability to go up and get the ball in fade routes in the endzone. But he still is one of the best receivers in the league and one who could still get better.
But with all of these great stats last season, the Browns may not have him for the entire season. The Browns are waiting for the ruling on his possible failing drug test. This is by far the biggest question mark about Gordon. He is still not a player the Browns can trust because of his serious drug issue.
Andrew Hawkins was signed in free agency from the Cincinnati Bengals. Last season with the Bengals, he only played in the final eight games because of an injury at the beginning of the year. He had only 12 receptions for 199 yards in limited playing time. His best season in the NFL was in 2012, when he had 51 receptions for 533 yards and four touchdowns.
He first entered the league in 2011 with the St. Louis Rams after a short stint in the Canadian Football League. He later signed with the Bengals after being waived by the Rams before the season. He is entering his fourth year in the NFL this season.
Hawkins is a speedy receiver with great quickness to make big plays. He can do many things for the offense and line up all over the field. He has very good ability after the catch, which allows him to make big plays down the field. Hawkins can get past defenders with one quick move and turn a short gain into a longer one. He could potentially give the Browns another big play receiver besides Gordon. The biggest question with Hawkins is his injury history. He has yet to play a full 16 game season in the NFL. He will most likely be the slot receiver for the Browns this season. But, he will not always be lined up in the middle of the field. He can come out of the backfield on certain packages, run sweeps from the outside, and even be lined up on the outside. Hawkins gives the Browns a versatile weapon, who could be a game changer next season.
Miles Austin is a talented receiver but with a history of injury questions. Austin has been with the Dallas Cowboys for his entire eight seasons in the NFL. Last season, he only had 24 receptions for 244 yards in the eleven games he played. He was marred with injury last season causing the lack of production. In his career, he has 4,481 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns. He is a two time Pro Bowler and he also led the NFC in receiving yards in 2009.
Miles Austin has the potential to be a No 2 receiver for the Browns this coming season. He has very good size/speed combination that helps him separate from defenders. He also is a very good route runner, which, along with his speed, makes him very hard to cover. Austin has had the ability to make big plays and be a productive after-the-catch player. He can be a terrific addition for the Browns if he can stay healthy.
Nate Burleson was signed in free agency from the Detroit Lions. He is entering his 12th season in the NFL after four seasons with the Lions. Last season, he had 39 receptions for 461 yards and 1 touchdown in nine games. He has had a very productive career with 5,630 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns.
Burleson is a veteran slot receiver who can give the Browns a sure handed target. Burleson is a very good route runner who will be a very reliable target for the Browns. He has very good hands, which make him someone the quarterback can rely on for a big catch. He will also be very good for the young receivers to learn from in terms playing in the NFL on and off the field. Burleson is an older receiver so the team will not expect the same production from him as his previous seasons. But, he can still be one of many quality receivers who can help the offense for the Browns. Burleson is most likely the third or fourth receiver for the Browns this season, especially with the looming Gordon suspension.
Travis Benjamin could be a big weapon for the Browns’ offense next season. Benjamin is entering his third season in the NFL and coming off a season-ending injury. He only played in eight games and posted five receptions for 105 yards. He had a great year in the return game with one touchdown and a total of 257 punt return yards on 22 punt returns. In his career, he has two punt return touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns.
The Browns have not been able to fully use Travis Benjamin’s skillset. He has blazing speed, which makes him one of the fastest players in the league. He can run past any defender in the league with his speed and agility. Benjamin is not a very polished wide receiver in terms of running routes. He will probably not be a starting receiver for the Browns because he is not a polished receiver who can run intricate routes. But, he can be a huge weapon who the Browns can line up in many different ways on the field. He can run go routes and be a deep threat for the team. He also could run sweeps and even run packages with him in the backfield. His biggest contribution for the Browns will be his returning ability. He is a big play player who can change a game with a single play.
Anthony Armstrong is a player who flourished under Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Washington. He is entering his fourth season in the NFL after not playing last season. He is a 5-foot-10-inch speed receiver who has declined since leaving the Redskins after the 2011 season. He had 51 receptions for 974 yards and five touchdowns in his two seasons with the Redskins. Armstrong could be someone who could be a surprise in training camp because of his familiarity with Shanahan’s offense. He will be competing for one of the last receiver spots on the team with the likes of Charles Johnson and the many undrafted free agents. He has proven in the NFL that he can play well, so he could have a leg up on the others because of his experience.
Charles Johnson is the biggest enigmas of all of the wide receivers on the Browns’ roster. Johnson was signed off the Green Bay Packers practice squad last season. He did not play in any game last season due to a season-ending injury upon coming to the Browns. Johnson has not played in a NFL game yet, but he could be a player who can make an impact for the Browns. Johnson is a super athletic player who has great size and speed combination. He is 6-feet-2-inches and ran a reported 4.38 seconds 40-yard dash at his pro day before the 2013 NFL Draft. He is a receiver with a lot of upside if he can develop his receiving skills. Johnson will be competing with Armstrong and many of the undrafted free agents for one of the last spots on the wide receiver depth charts. Johnson should have the upper hand because of his freakish athletic ability and big upside.
Willie Snead is another 2013 undrafted free agent on the Browns. He was a very productive player at Ball State with 106 catches for 1,516 yards, and 15 touchdowns in 2013. He is a 5-foot-11-inch slot receiver, who is very good at route running and making catches over he middle. Snead is prototypical slot receiver because of route running, hands, and toughness. He is not likely to make the 53-man roster, but he could be a player the Browns place on their practice squad.
Kenny Shaw is a 2013 undrafted free agent from Florida State University. Last season at Florida State, he had 54 receptions for 933 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is a 5-foot-11-inch receiver, who has good hands and quickness. He is another slot receiver type because of his ability to make catches over the middle and ability to make plays after the catch. He also can be a player who can contribute as a returner for the Browns. He, just like all the other undrafted free agents, is more likely to make the practice squad then the 53-man roster.
Conner Vernon was signed to the Browns practice squad at the end of last season. He is entering his second season in the NFL after playing with the Oakland Raiders in last season’s preseason. In his college career at Duke, he had 3,749 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. He is a 6-foot slot receiver, who runs good routes and has great hands. He is not a fast or quick player, so he has to use his route running and bigger size for a slot receiver to get separation. He is most likely in the running, along with the undrafted free agents, for the practice squad.
Taylor Gabriel is a 5-foot-8-inch speed receiver from Abilene Christian. He is an undrafted free agent from the 2014 NFL Draft. In his senior last season, he had 73 receptions for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is a very athletic player who is best suited in the slot. His biggest question is whether he can withstand the punishment of the NFL with his small frame. He will be competing with the rest of the undrafted free agents for a spot probably on the practice squad. It will be very difficult for him to make it on the final 53-man roster.
Jonathan Krause is a 2013 undrafted free agent from Vanderbilt University. Last season at Vanderbilt, he had 42 receptions for 714 yards and 3 touchdowns. Krause, who is 5-feet-11-inches, has great speed, which gives him the big play ability. He is also a good punt returner, which will help him in making an impression in the preseason. He, just like the other undrafted free agents, will have a hard time making the 53-man roster, but could be competing for a spot on the practice squad.
The Cleveland Browns receiving corps all depends on the status of the Josh Gordon. Gordon is the team’s No. 1 eceiver and the best receiver on the roster by a big margin. If Gordon misses any time next season, the Browns will have a hard time trying to fill his role. Gordon’s absence will cause other players to step up and be quality targets for the Browns’ quarterbacks. The team did add more depth this season and removed players, who hurt the team more then helped, like Greg Little and Davone Bess. They added a lot of experienced players who have had productive careers in the NFL.
So if Josh Gordon is out for a period of time, the Browns will have many options to try and replace his production. Andrew Hawkins gives the Browns someone who can open up the field and be a big play weapon. Hawkins figures to be the starting slot receiver for the Browns next season. He could also be used in different places on the field and play many roles for them. Miles Austin will most likely fill in as the X receiver if Josh Gordon is suspended for a period of time. Austin gives the Browns someone who could potentially be their top target if he can stay healthy. Nate Burleson figures to play the Z receiver and start along side Miles Austin. Burleson is a quality veteran who can still contribute for the Browns. Travis Benjamin will most likely get the fourth receiver spot for the Browns. The last two spots on the 53-man roster will come down to Charles Johnson, Anthony Armstrong, and one of the other younger players including the undrafted free agents. Charles Johnson could be a favorite to win the one of the last spots because of his athleticism and upside. Anthony Armstrong might also gain an advantage on making the team because of his familiarity to Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
The Browns are lot deeper at the wide receiver position then last season. They added an explosive weapon in Hawkins and three experienced receivers in Austin, Burleson, and Armstrong. The biggest questions with this group are whether they can be productive without Josh Gordon and if they can stay healthy for the entire season. The Gordon suspension is a huge hit to this group and so it will make others have to step up in his absence. Also, Austin, Hawkins, and Burleson have injury history that has caused them to miss time over the past couple seasons. The group must stay healthy especially if Gordon is not in the lineup. Overall, the Browns have upgraded the wide receiver position with more depth and experience. But, the team will be hurt a lot by the possible suspension of star receiver Josh Gordon.