Heading into the 2019 season there are lots story lines and players to keep a close eye on as this squad prepares for its first season with real expectations. For me, Njoku is primed to make a major leap in his 3rd year aka the “lightbulb year” for most TE’s. However, he’s going to need to improve in one specific area if he is to reach his true potential.
First, for fun, let’s compare Njoku’s production thus far in his career (first two seasons) against the first two seasons of some other recent highly productive TE’s.
Njoku’s first two seasons...compared to these guys first two seasons... pic.twitter.com/D3XbTgvWH8— Matthew Lawless (@Lawless2Lawless) January 9, 2019
Yes, we should be excited.
The potential is real.
Given the QB situation and the overall turmoil within the organization in 2017, I think Njoku has played well in his first two seasons and his increased market share in 2018 suggests the team wants to rely on him more moving forward.
This uptick in market share is a double edged sword because for every game where he makes an explosive play(s) or spectacular catch(es) that showcase his athleticism and physical prowess, he seemingly also sprinkles in a drop or two that leaves you scratching your head. That type of inconsistency needs to come to an end in 2019 if he hopes to ascend to the top of the TE rankings and continue to earn Baker’s trust in clutch situations. While some of these drops can be attributed to ball placement, the majority of them are concentration drops - plain and simple. While he improved as the 2018 season wore on, it’s still something to pay close attention to this year.
I have historically believed that “drops” don’t get fixed in the NFL and like QB accuracy, you either have it or you don’t. That’s not to say players can’t improve or haven’t improved, I just tend to feel those marked improvements are the outliers, not the expectation. That said, Njoku offers enough talent and big play potential to overlook a drop rate closer to his 2017 output (8.5%) but the team (Dorsey) will be highly discouraged if he repeats anything close to his 2018 campaign (12.5%)
- Per PFF 27 of Njoku 56 total catches went for 1st downs, tying him with Antonio Callaway for most on the team
- Tied for 10th amongst all TE in deep passing yards with 109
- Baker had a 103.2 passing rating when targeting Njoku
- Top graded player on all EZ fades in 2018 (albeit a small sample size of 3)
- In 2018 Njoku had 8 drops on 64 catchable passes, which was the highest drop rate (12.5%) among all TE’s with at least 35 targets
- In 2017 Njoku had 3 drops on 35 catchable passes, which was the 15th highest drop rate (8.6%) amongst all TE’s with at least 35 targets
Next Gen Stats
- Njoku ranked 3rd on the team in air yards at 14.12% (Landry was first with 30.3% and Callaway was second with 20.4% ) and was the 8th overall TE in the NFL in this category
- The 12th overall TE in Targeted Air Yards at 8.5 — 2 other TE in top 12 both on TB (Monken)
- 22nd overall TE in Catch Percentage at 63.6%
- 7th overall TE in Yards after Catch per Reception at 6 yards
- Multiple TE sets releasing from hand in dirt or as Z near the slot
- Vertically between the seams in zone or man
- High point ability
- Slants / Posts / Digs / Mesh
- Chip and release
- Creates separation along the boundary on slants, outs and posts
Areas for Improvement
- Route running nuance / consistency
- Target efficiency
2017 Market Share
Targets (60) — 10.6%
Receptions (32) — 10.2%
Yards (386) — 10.9%
TD (4) - 27%
2018 Market Share
Targets (88) — 15.7%
Receptions (56) — 15.9%
Yards (639) — 15%
TD (4) — 13.7%
Njoku has flashed every single physical attribute and metric you want in your TE1 and it should not go without saying that the transition to TE typically is a difficult one, especially for a player as young and raw as Njoku. His improved target efficiency as the year progressed in 2018 leads me to believe he can be who we need him to be and if he can find a way to put it all together consistently this year, the Browns will have one of the most dominant TE in the NFL.
Given all that promise and potential, if Njoku doesn’t improve in the drop category during his 2019 campaign, it will be a truly disappointing season for him followed by some interesting offseason discussions.