While they may be overlooked a bit by the club’s running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the wide receivers should draw consideration as one of the league’s best units.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will attract the majority of the attention, and fans will be keeping a close eye on the development of second-year receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie Anthony Schwartz.
Which leaves wide receiver Rashard Higgins in a familiar position.
Higgins, who is entering his sixth season with the Browns, continues to fly under the radar despite being arguably the team’s most reliable wide receiver. He posted his best season in 2020, finishing with 37 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns, while solidifying his place as a solid No. 3 wide receiver and quarterback Baker Mayfield’s go-to guy.
Higgins produces over and beyond what you would expect every time he gets featured in the Cleveland Browns offense. In his two highest-volume seasons, Higgins has generated a passer rating of 122.3 and 119.2 when targeted, with the latter figure coming this past season. Baker Mayfield to Higgins is a connection that just works.
Higgins had a chance this offseason to break out of the long shadow cast by Beckham and Landry in free agency, but the lure of staying where he is comfortable brought Higgins back to Cleveland, he explained after re-signing in March:
“Honestly, I knew where I wanted to be, let’s say that. I knew where I wanted to be. Obviously, there were a lot of team hitting on me and I had decisions, but why not be a Cleveland Brown? I feel like all of the pieces to the puzzle are in place. Why not? We just made a historic run, something that has not been done in 20 years.
“It is just like going to another team, how does that really benefit me? Obviously, for the money, you can say that, but the cap is down. To go somewhere for another million or another two million, then you start over with a whole other quarterback and then you start over with a whole new playbook. It is just like what in another team would you be looking for? We just made a playoff run. We have everything I need here with the Cleveland Browns. Why not?”
Higgins has put together one of the stranger careers from a Browns player in recent memory.
A fifth-round selection by the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft, and the only member of that draft class still on the team, Higgins has gone from barely playing as a rookie, being waived in the final roster cutdowns in 2017 before being re-signed, developing chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2018, and wasting the 2019 season after falling out of favor with former head coach Freddie Kitchens.
During the 2020 offseason, it seemed as if Higgins’ time in Cleveland had run its course, but he eventually returned to the Browns on a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. The season got off to a slow start, however, as Higgins was inactive for two of Cleveland’s first six games and was only targeted six times when he did get on the field.
His patience was rewarded starting in Week 7 after the Browns lost Beckham to a season-ending knee injury. Higgins caught six passes that day for 110 yards and went on to become part of a receiving group that embraced the next man up mantra for the rest of the season.
With Beckham expected back on the field this fall, the number of targets for Higgins will likely decrease.
But if he continues to make the most of his opportunities, he may not only shed his underrated label, but he might also finally secure that elusive multi-year deal.