It’s time to start previewing the Cleveland Browns’ wide receivers heading into training camp! Spoiler alert: it’s a group that has a lot to prove and is among the worst in the NFL in terms of proven commodities or consistency.
There are 11 wide receivers on the team, and we’ll be splitting our preview into three parts over the next three days. We start with the four players most likely to see a role on gameday in 2017.
1. Kenny Britt - Starting Wide Receiver
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 223 lbs | Age: 28
Experience: 9 years | College: Rutgers
Wide receiver has been a very frustrating position for the Browns over the past five years. They’ve had two players flash All-Pro caliber talent in Josh Gordon and Terrelle Pryor, but both situations went awry for different reasons. The Pryor departure this offseason forced the team’s hand in committing to one of the better receivers on the market due to the uncertainty of the four receivers they drafted a year ago. That investment was placed in Britt.
I liked Britt’s potential when he was a first-round pick with the Titans in 2009. His first two years in Tennessee weren't bad, as he averaged 738 yards and 6 touchdowns. The next three years with Tennessee saw his stock drop off the face of the earth -- he averaged 324 yards and 2 touchdowns due to a mix of injuries, various issues with police, and simply falling out of favor.
Britt was able to salvage his NFL career over the past three years with the St. Louis and Los Angeles Rams. In fact, this past season, he started 15 games and caught a career-high 68 passes for 1,002 yards and 5 touchdowns. That production was remarkably similar to Pryor's 77 catches for 1,007 yards and 4 touchdowns.
For reference, @PFF had Terrelle Pryor (31st best receiver) rated at a grade of 78.6 and Kenny Britt (39th best receiver) graded at 75.6.— Browns Chalk Talk (@BrownsChalkTalk) March 9, 2017
I don’t want to paint the wrong picture about Britt — he and Pryor have very different skill sets. The edge that Britt has on Pryor, according to receivers coach Al Saunders, is his physicality. The 4-year, $32.5 million deal for Britt is a semi-big commitment to him, but they’re really only tied to him for a year or two if they need to cut bait. He’s making lower-level No. 1 receiver money, so hopefully the fact that he’s coming off his best pro season, and the fact that he’s worked with plenty of below average quarterbacks in his career, makes him a stable receiver for an offense that should predominantly run the ball.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. Corey Coleman - Starting Wide Receiver
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 185 lbs | Age: 23
Experience: 2 years | College: Baylor
The Browns' first-round pick in 2016, Coleman didn't have a banner rookie year. He started 10 games and caught 33 passes for 413 yards and 3 touchdowns. After an injury and a lack of productivity in training camp kept fans anxious, Coleman broke out in Week 2 against the Ravens for 5 catches, 104 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately, during practice the week following that game, a defender stepped on his hand and broke it. When you’re a receiver in the NFL, that’s a body part you kind of need.
Coleman missed 6 games, and when he returned to the starting lineup, his production was minimal and he dropped a handful of passes. The 2017 offseason was supposed to be an important one for his development, but in one of the first practices, he fell on a football to force him out of action. He’s also reportedly been dealing with hamstring issues.
At the beginning of June, DBN’s Mike Hoag had an article on hoping that injuries don’t derail Coleman’s sophomore season. One interesting note is how the team will try to use Coleman in 2017. I think a case could be made that he’d make a nice slot receiver for the Browns, where he only ran 19 routes last season, per Pro Football Focus. At the end of March, when there was still hope that Josh Gordon might come back, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network said that the team was envisioning the possibility of Gordon and Britt on the outside, with Coleman on the inside. Given what we’ve heard about Ricardo Louis’ improvements, maybe that will become a reality for Coleman. When Coleman is at his best, we know he has the moves to make a difference -- but catching the ball cleanly has to be priority number one.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. Ricardo Louis - Competing to be an Outside Receiver
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 215 lbs | Age: 23
Experience: 2 years | College: Auburn
When the Browns drafted Louis in the fourth-round last year, they did so on potential, because he wasn’t viewed as a prospect who warranted that high of a selection. He was billed as a player with good size and vertical speed, but questionable hands, and that description fit him like a glove.
In total, Louis caught 18 passes for 205 yards on the season. The majority of that production came from Weeks 3-8 when Coleman was out with his broken hand, as Louis averaged about 45-50 snaps per week. I thought he showed some decent potential, but as soon as Coleman returned, head coach Hue Jackson only gave Louis 2-5 snaps per game the rest of the season. That tells me that clearly, there were some things Jackson wanted his rookie to work on and develop rather than continue to develop bad habits by virtue of being forced to play.
If you go back to this article in mid-June that pumped up Louis’ stock, everything speaks to the types of improvements he’s made this offseason. Beat reporters also made note of how he looked more refined in his route running. He took the initiative to schedule a meeting with Brandon Marshall to work on some more things. Cleveland desperately needs a receiver to step up in 2017, and Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton didn’t look athletically gifted enough as rookies to get open at the NFL level. Louis showed that capability, so we can only hope that the fine-tuning of his game this offseason brings out more of the consistency factor.
Final Roster Odds: 99%
4. Rashard Higgins - Competing for a Roster Spot
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 198 lbs | Age: 22
Experience: 2 years | College: Colorado State
Last year, Higgins was a 5th round pick, but one who was billed by some as a potential 2nd round pick. I bought in to the production he had in college, with stats that far surpassed what Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton had achieved. I even speculated that there was a chance Higgins could start at the beginning of the 2016 season.
Instead, we also saw very little of Higgins as a rookie, as he finished the year with 6 catches for 77 yards. I’d still like to see what Higgins has to offer, as I feel like most of Cleveland’s four rookie receivers last year were robbed of a chance to truly show us what they do. Higgins' college scouting report praised him as a complete receiver for his route running ability and ball skills, but panned his lack of physicality and inability to break tackles. Questions also came up as to whether or not he had the quickness to separate at the line of scrimmage at the NFL level.
Final Roster Odds: 75%
We have three poll questions for you today:
What are your expectations for Kenny Britt in 2017?
This poll is closed
Breakout, Pro Bowl caliber season!
Productive, similar to what he did in 2016 for the Rams
Average, not really an impact player, but a respectable receiver at times
The next Dwayne Bowe (and I’m referring to the Cleveland version)
Are you buying the hype that Ricardo Louis is selling?
This poll is closed
Does Rishard Higgins make the Browns’ roster in 2017?
This poll is closed