In today's edition of "The Sunday Five," we take a look at how the wide receivers have done for the Browns this year, how many catches the running backs have compared to the other units, why WR Josh Cooper could be in for a big day after the loss of WR Jordan Norwood, and more.
The Browns are still looking for answers at the wide receiver position. Before the season started, I said that the Browns had too many cooks in the kitchen at the position, and that they really needed some of them to emerge. So far, that hasn't happened. Mohamed Massaquoi was the team's best receiver through three games, but has missed three games (including today) with a hamstring injury. Jordan Norwood was coming on as a slot receiver in his two games, but now he's on injured reserve. Greg Little has dropped too many passes already and has drawn the ire of fans after leading the team in receptions a year ago. Joshua Cribbs is being utilized on special teams (which has paid off, given his return game averages). Travis Benjamin was the guy everyone was buzzing about in the preseason, but he only has five receptions in four games, and is now dealing with a hamstring injury of his own.
Without looking at the stats, can you guess which receiver leads the Browns in yardage this season? It's the guy I haven't mentioned yet -- supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon. He has 9 catches for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns. Most of that production came last week against the Giants, but it was also the first time he has seen starting receiver reps all season. The coaches have been praising the progress he's made in practice. As fans, we can't see behind the curtain. We know that Gordon still had a long way to go in the preseason. Can he build upon his success from a week ago? If so, I wouldn't be surprised if Little starts losing some playing time once Massaquoi returns to action.
One of the things Brandon Weeden has felt comfortable doing is checking down to his running backs. These aren't Colt McCoy checkdowns; these are "I've got the defense fearing the long ball, so there's a lot of room for the running back" checkdowns. The Browns' running backs have accounted for 36 receptions this season. By comparison, the wide receivers have accounted for 51 receptions, while the tight ends have accounted for 25 receptions. Back to the running backs, Trent Richardson has 20 catches, while Chris Ogbonnaya has 14 catches. The coaching staff feels comfortable with those two guys, and I half-wonder if Brandon Jackson could be on the way out when Phil Taylor ends up coming off the physically unable to perform list in a few weeks.
How much does Weeden like a slot receiver who can get open? In the two games he was active, Jordan Norwood was targeted 19 times and had 13 catches for 137 yards. Not bad. Norwood is sidelined on injured reserve with a foot injury, but the amount of times Weeden targeted him leads me to believe that we are going to see a lot of catches for Josh Cooper this week. The Oklahoma State receiver didn't get a lot of playing time with Weeden in the preseason, but the pair worked together in the offseason and are very close to each other. Now, the question is whether Cooper can get open at the NFL level and hang onto the ball. If he does, the wide receiver situation gets even more complicated: when Little, Gordon, Massaquoi, Benjamin, Norwood, Cribbs, and Norwood are all healthy, who stays, and who goes?
Let's predict the gameday inactives this week. With QB Thaddeus Lewis being waived and TE Alex Smith returning to action, I have to find some other players to deactivate this week. I also have to take into consideration the health of various players on both sides of the ball. My seven picks for inactive list include RB Brandon Jackson, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, WR Travis Benjamin, OL Ryan Miller, DT Ahtyba Rubin, S Tashaun Gipson, and S Eric Hagg.
The optimistic side of me wants to think that Rubin will make the surprise start since he was only listed as "questionable," but not practicing all week still isn't a good sign. LB Scott Fujita could be a scratch since he missed Thursday and Friday's practice with an injury, but I think they are just resting him. In that case, my "surprise" scratch would be Hagg. It sounds silly, considering it would leave Ray Ventrone as the only backup safety. However, Usama Young and T.J. Ward played 100% of the snaps on defense last week. Ventrone will never be inactive if he's not injured due to his special teams play. Hagg, despite being active last week, only saw one snap on defense and one snap on special teams.
The other thing that wouldn't surprise me is if Jordan Cameron was inactive with Alex Smith coming back. The Browns went with just two active tight ends while Smith was dealing with his concussion, and the coaching staff clearly seems to be in love with Smith.