The big news in the receiver room this year is that Odell Beckham, Jr. is set to return. Although there isn’t a set date for his transmute quite yet, the ever-electrifying OBJ should be a jolt of lightning to an already sizzling offensive unit.
In the meanwhile, the dependable Jarvis Landry will hold down the fort. Also in the mix early is Rashard Higgins - re-signed during free agency and a man who not only knows the system, but knows how to get open.
Also in the mix in the receiver’s room is KhaDarel Hodge, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Alexander Hollins and JoJo Natson. In January, Ryan Switzer, Ja’Marcus Bradley and Derrick Willies were signed to reserve/futures deals. All three were practice squad members last year, although Bradley was bumped up to the 53-man roster in early January for both playoff games against Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Hollins was signed off Minnesota’s practice squad in late December last year as depth, but was inactive each game.
Natson will in all likely never see a pass thrown his way because he is mainly a kick and punt return man. Peoples-Jones was taken in the sixth-round of last year’s draft and as the season progressed saw his snap counts gradually increase and is a favorite with the coaches. Who can forget that last second touchdown grab in the second Cincinnati game last year?
Coming out of training camp last year, Higgins was named the third receiver. However, by Week 3 it was Hodge who was getting the snaps and the targets – not Higgins. It wasn’t until OBJ was injured and lost for the remainder of the season that Higgins began getting some reps as he had a very good working relationship with QB Baker Mayfield.
Then the Browns drafted not one, but two receivers in the 2021 NFL draft: Anthony Schwartz out of Auburn was taken in the third-round while UCLA’s Demetric Felton was a sixth-round pick.
On the surface, it appears that Higgins is the third receiver off the bench. But, keep an eye on that. GM Andrew Berry only signed Higgins to a one-year deal – the second type contract in a row. It appears that Berry wants to see more out of Hollywood before a longer term agreement is even considered.
Hodge came to the Browns from the Los Angeles Rams after being undrafted and was part of the Rams losing Super Bowl LIII in 2018. He had great speed out of Prairie View A&M having been timed in the 40 with a 4.39 reading. Hodge is a former high school quarterback, so he is another potential passing weapon just like Landry and OBJ. He is also a special teams demon.
The Browns tendered Hodge on March 15. But look at the receiver room lineup according to Ourlads.com:
Projected starter: Jarvis Landry
Backup: Donovan Peoples-Jones
Others: KhaDarel Hodge, Ja’Marcus Bradley, JoJo Natson, Ryan Switzer
Projected starter: Rashard Higgins
Backup: Anthony Schwartz
Others: Derrick Willies, Alexander Hollins, Demetric Felton
If you noticed, OBJ is omitted from this list as a pre-season depth chart. Once he is healthy enough to return, that means one more roster spot for a receiver will be gone.
One of the questions from the DBN writers in this year’s training camp: what will happen to KhaDarel Hodge with all of these new bodies?
WR KhaDarel Hodge: Stay or Go?
Wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge did an admirable job in 2020 as part of the “next man up” brigade after the Browns lost wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a season-ending injury. Still, in two seasons with the Browns Hodge has rarely seen the field on offense and has just 15 receptions to show for his efforts.
Hodge is nice as a fifth or sixth wide receiver, but the position room is getting crowded in Cleveland and there are only so many footballs to go around on a given Sunday. With Beckham and Jarvis Landry handling the bulk of the duty as the primary receivers, Rashard Higgins back for another year, the expected development of Donovan Peoples-Jones in his second year, and the potential of rookie Anthony Schwartz, the Browns have the wide receiver position covered.
Hodge’s best bet at a roster spot might be if Schwartz can claim the kick return role from JoJo Natson, putting Hodge in a position to make an impact on special teams and give some insurance in case Schwartz gets overloaded.
But even in that scenario, it is hard to see how Hodge’s time in Cleveland has not run its course.
Stay or Go? GO
Hodge is probably gone and isn’t because he can’t help a football team. Obviously he has been good on special teams and has flashed some potential at WR, but at the end of the day the Browns are improving at the WR spot.
OBJ (no, the Browns aren’t trading him), Landry, Hollywood, DPJ and Schwartz will probably be the main five. Don’t forget they also re-signed JoJo Nelson as a kick returner and WR.
With as many TE packages the Browns run and as many bodies as they need at TE, they can’t keep 6-7 WR’s. Just a numbers game.
Stay or Go? GO
Hard to imagine that the Browns drafted not one, but two wide receivers and yet will keep KhaDarel Hodge. Felton was listed as a running back, but in the Senior Bowl this year he participated only with the receivers and is expected to be placed there with the Browns.
Hodge had a roller coaster of a year last season. He was the Number 4 coming out of training camp, but almost immediately was being used as the third receiver. That is, until OBJ went down. But instead of him being elevated to the Number 2, that became Higgins’ new role. As the games rolled off the calendar, Peoples-Jones began to get more targets and take snaps away from Hodge. Plus, he had hamstring issues last year. Now, DPJ has a full year of experience.
The receiver room is now bulging. Normally, the Browns will only keep six at this position. We know Landry, OBJ, Higgins and DPJ are a given. It is the hope of the coaching staff that Natson will finally be unleashed for the job he was hired for before his injury last year. Schwartz is a third-round pick and not many of those get cut their first year.
That leaves basically one spot left – two until OBJ is again activated. Hodge is one of the few carry-overs from former GM John Dorsey’s tenure so Berry has no emotional ties to him. With the Browns only keeping six guys, he will need have to have an exceptional camp.
Can he possibly make the roster if he is able to wrangle away the kick return gig from Natson? When Natson went down last year, it was DPJ (punts) and D’Ernest Johnson (kickoffs) who handled these duties and not Hodge. I believe his most difficult competition will be from Ryan Switzer who has played in 41 NFL games. Hodge will make the final roster, but once OBJ returns, the roster spot Odell will be added to will become the roster spot Hodge vacates.
Stay or Go? STAY
President: Browns Backers of West Georgia
So the question is- should KhaDarel Hodge stay or go? Mr. Hodge is known for his special teams work, leading the team in 2019. He has made 15 catches as a Browns receiver, averaging 17-yards per reception. He caught six passes (three each) in Week 11 and Week 12 last year. I like this man and hope he has more and greater success in the NFL - though I am afraid it will be difficult for KhaDarel to make the final cut with the Browns in 2021. The competition will be tough I would like to see him stay, but I’m sorry to say that he will go.
Stay or Go? GO
What say you? Stay or Go? Will KhaDarel Hodge be on the 2021 opening day roster?
This poll is closed
I believe he will
Cut on the last cutdown, then added to the Browns practice squad
Cut on the last cutdown, then claimed by another NFL club