This is where training camp gets fun: when positions are up for grabs and new players are trying to get acclimated to the system. While the Browns already know what they're getting across the board at the quarterback, running back, and fullback positions, only the top two spots on the depth chart at receiver are definite locks.
Last year, the Browns saw Braylon Edwards emerge as one of the best receivers in football -- not just because his stats were flashy, but because many of the plays he made were miraculous. This season, the team's goal was to add a better threat who would be around when Joe Jurevicius retired. The Browns were active in acquiring depth in the offseason, signing two receivers, drafting one, and bringing in a couple of undrafted free agents to go along with the third-stringers that were in camp last season.
1. BRAYLON EDWARDS - NO. 1 STARTING WIDE RECEIVER
One of the few receivers not to be classified as a bust from the first round in recent years, Edwards has improved upon his season performance in each of his first three seasons. A lot of Edwards' breakout season last year can be attributed to the style of Derek Anderson though. While Anderson's accuracy still needs work, Edwards took well to the style of leaping through crowds to snag his passes out of the air. Even without a stud No. 2 receiver to complement him, Edwards rarely had problems of being overmatched from opposing teams' double teams.
Worst Attribute: Against the Steelers - The same criticism that was brought up in the running back preview for Jamal Lewis applies to Edwards. Despite Edwards' Pro Bowl season last year, guess which team his two least productive games came against? The Pittsburgh Steelers. In two games versus our hated rivals, Edwards caught just 4 passes for 65 yards and 1 touchdown.
To be fair, the year before that, two of Edwards' best games were against the Steelers. However, it wasn't until last year that Edwards reached his "full potential". In our division, it can be argued that one's full potential isn't reached until they prove to be an "X-factor" against their rival (as Hines Ward has been against us, and Joshua Cribbs was against the Steelers). Another thing to look for with Edwards are the dropped passes. While he doesn't have Quincy Morgan or Dennis Northcutt syndrome, there were multiple occasions in which simple passes were dropped. Not everyone's perfect, but it's the next step Edwards needs to take to surpass Marvin Harrison's skill level.
Best Attribute: Field Recognition - Also known as having the toe tap/toe drag mastered, Edwards' field recognition was unreal last season. Personally, I feel this is the most important skill for a receiver to have mastered, especially with a quarterback like Anderson. Anderson's passes to the end zone are often extra high and toward the sideline, as they should be. Edwards has the height and body control to come down with these passes -- ones that only a select few other receivers in the league could come down with on a regular basis. Though I just criticized Edwards' lack of production against the Steelers above, look at his impressive touchdown against them that highlights exactly what I'm talking about:
That is undefendable.
Various Concerns / Comments - Even if Anderson has a down year, I don't see how Edwards could possibly go down. He may catch a few less touchdowns if the playbook calls to spread the ball out more, but in terms of talent, Edwards is established.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. DONTE' STALLWORTH - NO. 2 STARTING WIDE RECEIVER
Eek...scary picture, eh? Anyway, Stallworth's numbers from last season don't look outstanding, but you have to consider his role on the team. Randy Moss and Wes Welker were absolute favorite targets for Tom Brady, meaning Stallworth's playing time and amount of attention received were shortened. It has been very surprising that he hasn't stuck with a team for more than a year since leaving New Orleans. He won't be a rent-a-player for the Browns though, as the former first-rounder looks to embrace an automatic starting role.
Since Stallworth is the first player to be reviewed coming over from another team, the categories appropriately change to "downside potential" and "upside potential", since there is nothing to judge them on from last season in a Browns uniform.
Downside Level: Getting Ahead of Ourselves - In the offseason, before we knew that Joe Jurevicius' chances of playing this season would be slim, fans were calling for the team to sign either D.J. Hackett or Bryant Johnson as slot receivers. Considering what we paid for Stallworth and the current state of Jurevicius, Savage's deal seems to have been wise. However, until training camp comes, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Stallworth.
-Will he have chemistry with Anderson?
-Will Stallworth end up being a "forgotten" man on gameday?
We know that Stallworth has upside, but perhaps Anderson felt more comfortable having a Jurevicius out their on every play blocking or using his frame to shield defenders and convert a first down.
Upside Level: Quickness - Now that the fluff (the stuff above) is out of the way, let's get down to the reason why Stallworth is here: quickness. That easily separates him from what Jurevicius is, so we're not getting a simple replacement player here. Stallworth typically has not been a player that runs a fifteen yard route and makes a catch for a first down. He's either catching a deep ball for a touchdown, or a crossing pattern to break into a race down the sidelines. Here is the proof of his capability to catch the deep ball (or break away):
Reportedly, there wasn't enough to go by in training camp regarding Stallworth's chemistry with Anderson. He has never completely bombed during his six year in the NFL though, so it's safe to say that he can duplicate Jurevicius' numbers from a year ago at a bare minimum.
Various Concerns / Comments - Will Stallworth get "lost" in Cleveland as he did at times in New England? Can Stallworth's presence make Edwards have a better year (if that's possible)?
Job Security: A
Player Quality: B
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. TRAVIS WILSON - SLOT WIDE RECEIVER
(Note: Due to the uncertainty of the status of Joe Jurevicius, he is not listed in our training camp preview.)
Without Jurevicius in the lineup, someone needs to step in as the slot receiver between Wilson, Joshua Cribbs, and Kevin Kasper. Technically, we don't "need" a great slot receiver, because we managed to survive with Tim Carter last season. Seriously -- how does your No. 3 receiver only manage 8 catches for 117 yards on the year?
Anyway, Wilson has not looked very sharp the past two seasons in training camp. Last year, I was forced to feature a "Daily Wilson" report nearly every day of camp, recapping what Wilson did wrong during the practice. According to the local media though, Wilson seems to have risen to the challenge during OTAs and minicamp, showing flashes of being the receiver they expected when they drafted him in 2006.
Downside Level: Cup Check - While OTAs and minicamp are still necessary, we can't fully buy in to Wilson's success until he proves himself in training camp. As stated in the introduction, the amount of dropped passes Wilson had in camp last year was ridiculous -- so much, that many fans were expecting him to be outright released.
For those who were still interested in his potential, the coaches never gave him a shot on gameday (except for 2 catches he made during his rookie season). Wilson's in-game experience at the NFL level is basically equivalent to that of a rookie.
Upside Level: "Coming Into His Own" - Maybe the front office's patience will pay off when it comes to Wilson. The biggest key in the OTA and minicamp reports has been a higher level of confidence. He is running his routes well and has cut down on the dropped passes. The positive is that Wilson is at least on the rise heading in to training camp, as opposed to on the decline.
Don't be surprised if Wilson gets a lot of reps with the first team at the start of training camp. Edwards will definitely be with the first team, but Stallworth might be worked in gradually as he gets more familiar with the system. This will be Wilson's second year in Rob Chudzinski's offense, something Stallworth, Paul Hubbard, and Kasper can't say.
Various Concerns / Comments - Wilson's progression throughout training camp will no doubt be one of the mostly widely discussed situations on the team. I think he will deliver enough to be our slot receiver, assuming Jurevicius is out.
Job Security: C-
Player Quality: C-
Final Roster Odds: 95%
4. KEVIN KASPER - BACKUP WIDE RECEIVER
Something sounds strange when you see a receiver with only 24 catches during a six-year career, playing for at least five different teams. You'd think that after a few years, a player would stick somewhere. Kasper's next opportunity comes with the Cleveland Browns, and he's walked into a situation where he'll be given a legitimate chance to make the final roster.
Downside Level: Not Wes Welker - Earlier in the offseason, way too many people jumped to the conclusion that Kasper could be the next Wes Welker. Welker proved to be a very high quality receiver with both the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. I'm seriously hoping people aren't drawing that conclusion solely based on the fact that they are both white with similar looks to them.
Upside Level: Role Player - Earlier in the article, I mentioned how rarely we utilized Tim Carter last season. Wilson was our fourth receiver last year, but was never active. Keeping Kasper on the roster would assure us depth in case of an injury, a player with all-around special teams capabilities (coverage and kick returns), and most importantly, someone with experience. Kasper likely wouldn't have a problem with a lack of playing time either: he's done it for six years already, and it's not like we'd be stunting his growth.
Various Concerns / Comments - Seriously, why hasn't Kasper stuck anywhere, at least as a special teams contributor?
Player Quality: D+
Final Roster Odds: 40%
5. JOSHUA CRIBBS - BACKUP WIDE RECEIVER
Cribbs will ultimately probably fill the same exact role he did last year with the Browns: mainly a special teams player who will have special packages available in certain offensive sets. Four "actual" receivers make the team, but it seems like five because Cribbs is an option too.
Worst Attribute: Upright Stance - Cribbs can take a pounding, but as a receiver it could become counter-productive. Cribbs is an upright runner all around, including when he's running his routes. That makes him more prone to taking disturbing shots from the defense -- ones that could lead to an injury, or a ricocheted pass for an interception.
Upside Level: There He Goes - Cribbs is magical when he touches the football. In the right packages, he can be productive if the blocking schemes end up being similar to that of a kick return (like on a wide receiver screen). Cribbs isn't our guy to run a ten-yard curl route, but if the Bears can rack up big yards using Devin Hester, the possibility is intriguing with Cribbs.
Various Concerns / Comments - I'd take Cribbs as a kick returner over a wide receiver any day of the week. To compromise that when you have other players capable of playing receiver may not be worth it.
Player Quality: D+ (as a receiver)
Final Roster Odds: 100%
6. PAUL HUBBARD - PRACTICE SQUAD WIDE RECEIVER
Although he had a chance to make an impression at the receiver position, Hubbard was reportedly outshined by Kasper and Wilson in OTAs and minicamp (and rightly so, due to their increased experience).
The Browns like Hubbard due to his size, quickness, and toughness. He's still far from being polished though, showing early signs of miscues in his route running and catching the football. There is one very intriguing note about him though: he has already taken well to blocking, something that Jurevicius did well on offense. If Hubbard shows a decent amount of potential in camp, they will be biting their nails if they have to risk sending him through waivers in order to get him on the practice squad. After all -- Phil Savage did pay a price to get the guy in the first place.
Final Roster Odds: 30%
Practice Squad Odds: 95% (if he clears)
7. STEVE SANDERS - TRYOUT WIDE RECEIVER
As a native of Cleveland, Sanders still has a lot of fans who would love to see him get a chance at significant playing time. Unless Kasper gets cut and Hubbard makes the final roster though, there really aren't going to even be any practice squad positions available for Sanders and the receivers below him. This will be Sanders' third year trying out for the Browns, but chances are the most excitement we'll get out of him will be when Ken Dorsey is throwing to him in the preseason.
Final Roster Odds: 0%
Practice Squad Odds: 8%
8. EFREM HILL - TRYOUT WIDE RECEIVER
Hill was placed on the Browns' waived/injured list last season, and since nobody claimed him off waivers, he collected a paycheck while on the injured reserve. I always look at that as a sign of the team wanting to bring you back to camp for the following season.
If you recall, Hill was on the receiving end of Brady Quinn's first touchdown during the preseason last year. Hill probably saw a significant amount of practice time with Quinn last year, so you have to wonder if he'll actually get a few reps with the second-team offense on occasion. Hill actually showed quite a bit of potential in training camp last year, but again, the numbers are still stacked against him.
Final Roster Odds: 0%
Practice Squad Odds: 8%
*For the record, my rankings for Sanders and Hill are actually a TIE, heading into training camp.
9. SYNDRIC STEPTOE - TRYOUT WIDE RECEIVER
There were too many giggles surrounding Steptoe last season to take him as a serious contender this year.
-The name, "Steptoe".
-He was pegged as a possible punt returner candidate, only to see him constantly look like a nervous wreck fielding punts.
-He doesn't make up for his size with great fundamental catching.
I wouldn't be surprised if Steptoe was waived before or during training camp to bring in another quarterback.
Final Roster Odds: 0%
Practice Squad Odds: 0.5%
10. LANCE LEGGETT - UDFA WIDE RECEIVER
Indeed, it is true: Leggett is the only UDFA wide receiver in camp this season. Unfortunately for him, the scouting reports on him are poor: he's a big athlete who is questionable at catching the ball. In the open field, he has apparantly lacked the instincts desired for the wide receiver position.
Final Roster Odds: 0%
Practice Squad Odds: 0%
WR Position Quality (Overall): B+
What I wouldn't rule out of the question is for Jurevicius to return some time after Week 6. Kasper would hold his roster spot before being waived after Jurevicius' return. Then, I think you would automatically have to bump Wilson back down to the No. 4 spot, regardless of his production. Jurevicius isn't going to come back to sit on the bench. Granted, he knows he won't start, but as a third receiver he'd still see a significant bulk of the playing time.
After Edwards and Stallworth, it's all about finding both a temporary and long-term replacement for J.J. Short-term, it looks like WIlson and Kasper can be that guy. Long-term, I think you can start bringing Hubbard into the mix.
I think trying to acquire another receiver is out of the question at this point. Wilson's potential is too strong to shove to the side for the third consecutive year, and it was proven last season that a slot receiver was not necessary for Anderson to succeed.
NEXT UP: Tight End