It's time for Part 2 of the wide receiver preview for the Cleveland Browns, where most of the remaining players will be fighting for a spot on the practice squad. If you missed Part 1 where the potential starters and/or slot receivers were previewed, check it out.
7. SYNDRIC STEPTOE - BACKUP WIDE RECEIVER
Experience: 2 years
Stats: 19 catches in 2008
Your eyes are not deceiving you: Syndric Steptoe, who ended up being the team's No. 2 receiver most of the season, had just 19 catches in 2008. For him to fall to the seventh spot like a footnote this season speaks volumes about just how little of an impact he had last year. The only reason the players beneath him aren't ranked higher is because they don't have NFL experience yet.
After a decent training camp last season, I thought he did warrant a roster spot; he seemed to have improved upon his rookie year and looked like a respectable fifth option, with the option of doubling as a backup returner to Joshua Cribbs. Injuries to Donte Stallworth and Kevin Kasper, coupled with the lack of a return from Joe Jurevicius forced Steptoe into a starting position opposite Edwards. As a starter, Steptoe lacked any ability to create separation, make above average catches, or block. And yet, game after game, even though it didn't seem like we had two receivers on the field, there he was.
It might be harsh to punish Steptoe for being put in a position that he never should've been in, but I'm too turned off to give him another serious look. With more talent in front of him this year, I don't expect Steptoe to be on the roster this season.
Player Potential: D-
Final Roster Odds: 20%
8. PAUL HUBBARD - BACKUP WIDE RECEIVER
Experience: 2 years
Stats: 6th rounder in 2008
What do we have to go by Paul Hubbard? Not very much. Thanks again to the wonderful roster management of Romeo Crennel, Hubbard spent almost all of last season on the practice squad. That's right -- down to starting players like Syndric Steptoe and Steve Sanders, it was apparently too difficult to give Hubbard a shot, even as a third or fourth receiver. Former Browns GM Phil Savage liked Hubbard's potential last year around training camp:
"Paul has some future in terms of his ability from a size, speed standpoint," Savage said. "Is he there yet? No, but he's got the kind of talent we want to hang onto right now."
That seems to be the consensus on Hubbard -- physically, he had the tools, but was still raw in the other half of the game such as catching and route running. That means that we should know pretty quickly in camp this year what type of contributions Hubbard will be able to make -- if he is making plays left and right, he could shoot up the depth chart quicker than anybody else can. If his only asset remains the fact that he's physically gifted though, then we'll have to see if Eric Mangini believes he can develop him further on the practice squad again.
Earlier in the offseason, rufio offer an intriguing thought on Hubbard:
"Hubbard’s physical tools would make me look at him as a gunner on punts."
Player Potential: TBD
Final Roster Odds: 20%
Practice Squad Odds: 60%
9. JORDAN NORWOOD - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT WIDE RECEIVER
Besides Hubbard, Jordan Norwood will probably be the other "long shot" receiver that everyone pays attention to. He was part of a solid group of receivers at Penn State, and while he wasn't necessarily a "steal" as an undrafted free agent, he was a great "value" acquisition.
Over at our college site, The Rivalry Esq, Norwood was one of the top Big 10 receivers that they previewed from this year's draft class:
Jordan Norwood: The senior had a solid year, catching 41 balls for 637 yards and six touchdowns. This capped a remarkable career in which he never had less than 32 receptions in a season. Norwood showed no fear catching balls in mid-air while being punished by safeties. One problem: He weights 170 pounds. Another problem: He became less effective as the season wore due to hamstring injury. Final problem: Dropped a lot of balls this year, something you shouldn't do when paired with a solid QB like Daryll Clark. Isn't even on some draft charts. NFL Comparison: Eddie Royal (but slower - Royal ran a 4.39 last year at the Combine).
While the assessment above questions Norwood's hands, this next assessment in a workout prior to the draft does not:
Watching the last event, the sports authority hands challenge, the player had to catch 8 balls thrown at nearly 90 miles per hour by jugs, go through some ropes, catch a curl and a fade. Norwood won the event followed by Hakeem Nicks. He was also the only one to catch 8/8 from the jugs, and also did it without flinching again the second time around! Even Nicks, a mocked first rounder, didn't come close to catching all 8. Bottom line: Norwood has amazing hands, is agile, and could be a perfect #3 receiver or a slot guy.
Norwood was also noted by the OBR as having one of the best receptions in camp (subscription required).
Final Roster Odds: <5%
Practice Squad Odds: 75%
10. LANCE LEGGETT - PRACTICE SQUAD WIDE RECEIVER
Last year, Lance Leggett did a pretty good job in training camp and during the preseason. He didn't have mental lapses, didn't run the wrong routes, or anything else that would warrant a negative review.
The problem that will probably develop with Leggett is the inability to get over the playing time hump, much like what happened to Steve Sanders in the past (before he played briefly last season). Does Leggett possess skills or flash potential superior to Braylon Edwards, Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Mike Furrey, and David Patten? While Hubbard may be raw, can Leggett overcome the fact that the coaches are intrigued by his big-play potential? Can Leggett, who was Romeo's UDFA, outshine Norwood, who is Mangini's UDFA and has already been making a lot of noise?
I think Leggett is more polished than the five receivers listed in today's Part II and I like what he has to offer, but I don't expect him to be given as much "respect" as the other players trying out. If it was my practice squad, you'd probably see Leggett and Norwood on it.
Final Roster Odds: >2%
Practice Squad Odds: 50%
11. DEVALE ELLIS - BACKUP WIDE RECEIVER
Devale Ellis joined the Detroit Lions in 2007 as an undrafted free agent. He played sparingly, alternating that season on and off the team's practice squad. He finished the year with 4 catches for 41 yards, with his highlight moment being a 48 yard punt return. Ellis tried out for the Lions in 2008, but failed to make the team.
Ellis is a former college teammate of Saints receiver Marques Colston. As a junior when Colston was sidelined for an entire season, Ellis was Hofstra's leading receiver with 74 catches for 1,067 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Based on Ellis' experience, he might have a better chance making the roster if he can contribute on special teams. Even then, his odds are almost slim to none; I probably would've preferred to bring in another undrafted free agent instead.
Final Roster Odds: <0.5%
Practice Squad Odds: Not good
WR Position Quality (from Part 2): D+
This Friday, we will preview the tight end position. With Kellen Winslow over on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Steve Heiden's health in question, the position could certainly shape up to be a lot different than it has been the past few years.
A final word on the wide receiver position, with respect to Donte Stallworth. If his suspension is not for the entire season, if Mangini feels he is in football shape, and if two of the following three players struggle (Brian Robiskie, Mike Furrey, Mohamed Massaquoi) for a good portion of the season, I could see Stallworth returning at some point as our No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. As a receiver, the best way to utilize him is on short routes over the middle and then have him take off with other receivers blocking downfield.