It’s time to start previewing the Cleveland Browns’ tight ends heading into training camp! There are five tight ends in camp, and we’ll start with the top two in Part 1, and then go to the three-way battle for the third spot in Part 2.
1. David Njoku - Starting Tight End
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 246 lbs | Age: 21
Experience: Rookie | College: Miami
I am completely on board the Njoku bandwagon heading into 2017. Monday morning, I named him the player I’m most excited about seeing in 2017. Last week, I also commented that I thought he could be the 4th most marketable player on the team, due to the hot trend of pass-catching tight ends in the NFL.
If you’re interested in digging deeper into some of the finer aspects of Njoku’s game, here is some of the work he did in college against Notre Dame. Njoku is most known for his ridiculous leaping ability and his ability to create yards after the catch with his speed and elusiveness. He's also known as a capable blocker, but it's an area he'll try to grow in to become a complete tight end, particularly in run blocking.
Another reason to be optimistic about Njoku is that for as many “wow” plays as he had in college, our Miami affiliate said, “he's barely scratching the surface for his potential.” For as much as we praise his athleticism, here are the types of things besides blocking that Njoku needs to polish:
A couple things Njoku can work on are his concentration (there was usually 1 BAD drop per game, and that can be eliminated with focus and repetition), route running (he's bigger, stronger, and faster than most players covering him in college, so that didn't need to be the most refined part of his game, although he ran some GREAT routes, like the whip route for a TD at Notre Dame. That was gorgeous), and blocking.
They also acknowledged that blocking is not a weakness for him — it’s just something that he can still work on technically. I think the AFC is still stacked enough with tight ends, and Cleveland lacks a big-time quarterback, to prevent Njoku from having a Pro Bowl season as a rookie...but I could buy into the thought of him being a legitimate offensive MVP for the team in year one.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. Seth DeValve - Backup Tight End
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 245 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: 2 years | College: Princeton
Even though I anticipate Njoku getting the most reps at tight end for the Browns this year, I expect a significant uptick in reps in 2017 for DeValve. Similar to some of the Browns’ rookie receivers last year, the team was patient with DeValve’s usage. It was a bit frustrating to see him make a nice catch early in games at the tail end of last season, only to be relegated to the bench the remainder of the game. As a rookie, he had 10 catches for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns.
With a beefed up offensive line this year, there is less of a need for a blocking tight end (that’s not to say DeValve or Njoku won’t be used as blockers). Cleveland can present some mismatches with 12 personnel (1 running back, two tight ends, two receivers), and can have one of their tight ends go out to the slot. 12 personnel is how DeValve used his speed to get open last year on a play like this:
This offseason, head coach Hue Jackson described DeValve as an “emerging player.” While drafting Njoku was one big reason that the team released veteran Gary Barnidge, I think the fact that they had DeValve waiting in the wings was the other big reason — they knew they wanted both Njoku and DeValve to see a lot of reps moving forward.
“This is not the same Seth as a year ago. He came out and was banged up and learning his way in the NFL,” Jackson said. “I’m sure he’d probably tell you he felt a little overmatched. But I think he’s worked extremely hard, and I think it shows in what he’s done this offseason to give himself a chance to compete and I think he’s done a good job.”
It also sounds like DeValve might have bulked up a bit this offseason. Although he’s still listed at 245 pounds, Jackson noted in May that he was up around 260 pounds, which should help him be a little more physical.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
Here are your poll questions for Part 1:
What type of rookie season do you think David Njoku will have?
This poll is closed
He’ll thrive and/or establish himself as an offensive MVP (from a receiving perspective — i.e. 1000 yards)
He’ll have some good/promising plays mixed in, but more like an average season productivity wise (i.e. 600 yards).
He’ll be a disappointment as a rookie.
Last year, the Browns' No. 1 tight end, Gary Barnidge, only had 600 yards receiving. What will an "improved Seth DeValve" have in year two?
This poll is closed
Around 400 yards
Around 200 yards