In Part 2 of our wide receiver preview for Browns training camp, we look at four players either entering their second year of the system, or have some past experience with head coach Hue Jackson.
5. Jordan Payton - Backup Wide Receiver
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 209 lbs | Age: 23
Experience: 2 years | College: UCLA
Drafted in the 5th round last year, Payton was practically red-shirted for his rookie season. He played in 4 games and only caught 1 pass for 3 yards. He was at a bit of a disadvantage last offseason because he missed several offseason programs while he was finishing a college course. Making matters worse for Payton is that he was suspended at the end of last season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Coming out of college, Payton was known for being a possession receiver and a strong blocker. As I said in Part 1 of the WR preview, it was difficult to evaluate most of the team’s rookie receivers in 2016 due to how little they played. I don’t think the team has given up on their potential, but I think they felt most of them needed a year’s worth of polishing. That could include Payton, who receivers coach Al Saunders spoke highly of a few weeks ago:
“This guy is running fast, he's coming out of breaks, he's catching the ball, he's a competitive guy … I know one thing, he can play in the National Football League. He's playing at a level much greater than he did last year.”
One thing is for sure, though: these youngsters can’t afford to have drops like this:
have we talked about this tasty dime from Kizer yesterday (that was subsequently dropped by Jordan Payton) pic.twitter.com/lQSahL6zun— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) June 15, 2017
Final Roster Odds: 60%
6. Rannell Hall - Backup Wide Receiver
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 200 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: 2 years | College: Central Florida
In 2015, Hall was an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp. He spent most of the season on their practice squad, but Cleveland signed him in mid-December of 2015. It’s a little hard to believe that this will be his third year with the Browns in some capacity.
Hall had gotten some positive reviews early in training camp of 2016, after scouting reports praised his combination of size, hands, and intelligence. He had 2 catches for 27 yards in the team’s first preseason game against the Packers, but he broke his leg after catching a 19-yard pass. Cleveland waived/injured him, so he reverted to the team’s injured reserve for the entire season.
Instead of just offering him a one-year tender as an ERFA this offseason, they made it a two-year deal, albeit still at a minimum salary. Because of the momentum he had a year ago, I’m half-expecting Hall to jump ahead of Payton and Higgins on the depth chart in camp.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
7. Mario Alford - Special Teams Wide Receiver
Height: 5-8 | Weight: 177 lbs | Age: 25
Experience: 2 years | College: West Virginia
Alford's NFL career began in 2015 as a 7th round pick with the Cincinnati Bengals -- a time when Hue Jackson was still with the club. As a rookie, he caught 1 pass for 15 yards, but didn’t make the club in 2016. After briefly spending a stretch on the Jets’ practice squad, the Browns signed him in December and had him on the roster for the final three games.
Alford didn’t see any reps at the wide receiver position, but immediately became the team’s primary kick and punt returner. Consider this for some perspective: before Alford, the Browns had 26 returns for 444 yards on kickoff returns, an average of 17.07 yards per return. In his 3 games, Alford had 8 returns for 190 yards, an average of 23.8 yards per return. He also returned 8 punts for 68 yards (8.5 yards per return average). He looked like a natural in both roles, and should be the favorite to return kicks to begin 2017 (although Jabrill Peppers may factor into that).
As a receiver, we’ll see how Alford turns out. He ran a 4.27 at the scouting combine in 2015, although it’s been said that it takes him a few steps before he accelerates into that high gear, and that he didn’t have the most reliable hands. I’d make him a coin flip chance right now at making the roster, more so due to his return abilities.
Final Roster Odds: 50%
8. James Wright - Veteran Wide Receiver?
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 201 lbs | Age: 25
Experience: 4 years | College: LSU
In mid-March, the Browns claimed Wright off waivers from the Bengals. Wright was a 7th round draft pick by Cincinnati in 2014, which was again back when Hue Jackson was still the team’s offensive coordinator.
As a rookie, Wright caught 5 passes for 91 yards and also ran the ball 3 times for 30 yards. A PCL injury forced Wright to miss the remainder of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, though. He returned in 2016, starting 2 games and catching 13 passes for 106 yards on the season. He did not log a reception in either of the Bengals’ two games against the Browns.
Our Bengals affiliate, Cincy Jungle, was surprised that the team waived Wright, attributing it only to concern over the number of knee issues he’s had. Wright also missed three games last season due to knee injuries. Wright was also a contributor on special teams, where he had 4 tackles and 7 assists on the year. We know that Jackson might be seeking a player he’s comfortable giving the ball to on some run plays, and Wright might have that skill set. But until I see more of him, all of his knee-related issues keep his roster odds low.
Final Roster Odds: 20%
We have two poll questions for you today:
Which player are you most intrigued by as a wide receiver?
This poll is closed
If he’s only given a chance as a return specialist, does Mario Alford make the team?
This poll is closed
No -- someone else will fill the role instead