Kasen Williams just might be the next star receiver of the Cleveland Browns.
In order to say he’ll be the next star receiver in Cleveland, though, there probably should have been a first one, at least recently. And for the Browns, Josh Gordon’s performance a couple seasons ago is the closest thing they have seen to a star at the position. Yes, the same Josh Gordon who’s potentially on the verge of mounting another attempt at an NFL comeback.
But in case his efforts to stay clean and stay an active player in the league fail, as they have to this point, the Browns have made concerted efforts to stabilize the position without him. The team has played two full seasons without their star receiver, so depending on Gordon hasn’t been something the Sashi Brown-led personnel management group has entertained since their first day on the job.
That brings us back to Williams, a player the Seattle Seahawks cut despite performing at a high level during the 2017 preseason. The Seahawks are seemingly needing another playmaker at the receiver position, so it’s fair to question their decision to release him after he played so well, and fair to question if Williams’ preseason hype will turn into comparable production during the regular season.
Williams looked every bit the part of a breakout player during his 2017 preseason performance. Per Pro Football Focus, he had just one drop in 13 targets despite playing against first-team defenses, and many of those grabs were contested. He caught nine of those 13 targets for 208 total yards and one touchdown, including one of the best highlight plays of the entire preseason against man coverage by Minnesota Vikings standout cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
It’s worth noting that Williams has just one career NFL reception, an eight-yard grab in 2015. But it’s clear from what we’ve seen so far this season that he has the skills to be a quality player in the NFL. Williams is a talented playmaker when contested balls are in the air, and he has the size and body control to win those battles.
“Williams has a knack for making plays on the ball anywhere and everywhere. He goes and gets the football,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said on Monday after the team claimed him. “That is documented. That is seen. He does it as well as anybody I have seen.”
Jackson coached A.J. Green in Cincinnati, so that’s some very high praise. Although indirectly, placing Williams even in the same conversation as Green as a ball catcher is high praise.
But how soon will Williams be able to contribute, and will he continue making the plays that caused the Browns to use a waiver claim on him?
“I hope so. He has to be out there playing. He went and made one of those plays today in practice so it is something he does all of the time,” Jackson said on Wednesday. “I saw it again today so he has a talent for that. I am glad he is on our football team.”
Having Williams already making those catches in practice has to make Jackson sigh a couple sighs of relief at the thought of seeing him replicate that on Sundays.
Let’s pretend Williams does live up to the hype he’s getting, and then Gordon gets reinstated and plays like his old self. Then, the Browns could have an unprecedented — for their franchise, at least — abundance of quality players at the receiver position. What better way to help groom a rookie quarterback than give him playmakers who can make tough catches and make plays after the catch?
Here’s a highlight reel to tide you over until Sunday where you’ll hopefully see Williams make his first catch for the Browns. Hopefully it’ll be a one-hander over Joe Haden in the end zone. And hopefully Gordon follows shortly behind him.