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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2021: WR Preview (Part 1)

The Browns’ receiver room will be back at full strength.

Cleveland Browns Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Next up on our list of training camp previews is the wide receiver position for the Cleveland Browns. This will be broken down into three parts, starting with Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Donovan Peoples-Jones.


Cleveland Browns Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

1. Odell Beckham - Starting WR

Height: 5-11 | Weight: 198 lbs | Age: 28
Experience: 8 years | College: LSU

When Odell Backham tore his ACL last season, I didn’t expect him to be ready for the start of the 2021 season. This past year, though, all of the reports about him and video clips showing his running demonstrated incredible progress. Although one can expect that the Browns will take it easy on him in training camp, it sounds like he is “back” and will be a full-go for Week 1.

In 7 games last year (it was basically 6 games), Beckham caught 23 passes for 319 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also had 3 rushes for 72 yards and 1 touchdown. After Beckham’s injury, the Browns didn’t seem to miss a beat at the receiver position, with Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones stepping up in a major way. Baker Mayfield looked more comfortable than ever. That immediately led to the debate about whether the Browns should trade Beckham in the future, but I’ve never been in that boat. What I do hope it demonstrated is that no single person on this offense needs to be over-used: there is enough talent to put trust in and let everyone stay fresh.

Take the running back position, for example, and how Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are able to spell each other. At receiver, I think we should see a reduced workload for Beckham throughout the season. The team doesn’t need him to be having 10 catches and 100+ yards every week: they just want him to make electric plays. If that means one or two electric plays a game, so be it. I would love for the Browns to keep Beckham’s workload at 70% or less, and make sure a guy like Higgins stays involved in the offense.

As far as Mayfield’s chemistry with Beckham, I think we saw an improvement in that last year, but Mayfield would occasionally try to force the ball to Beckham for the sake of getting him the ball. He definitely played a bit more free and loose without him on the field. I don’t blame Beckham for that; if anything, it’s something Mayfield has to work on, because this offense has a much higher ceiling when Beckham is in it.

Final Roster Odds: 100%


Cleveland Browns Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

2. Jarvis Landry - Starting WR

Height: 5-11 | Weight: 196 lbs | Age: 28
Experience: 8 years | College: LSU

In 15 games last year, Jarvis Landry caught 72 passes for 840 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was also a Swiss army knife, completing 4-of-4 passes for 74 yards and 1 touchdown, while also rushing 4 times for 10 yards and 1 more touchdown. It was pretty amusing how every time Landry passed the ball, he would get absolutely blasted by a defender (sometimes drawing a penalty), yet he’d connect with his target on the money. In the postseason, Landry also had 12 catches for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Landry is often viewed as the heart and soul of the Browns’ locker room, and one of the guys who helped turn the culture of the team around. He even played through a broken rib last season, and only missed a game (the first of his career) due to being a close contact to a COVID-19 case late in the season.

One interesting stat from last season is how effective Landry was against zone coverage vs. man coverage. That’s not something the Browns can necessarily control per se, but they could give him some better matchups again by putting him in the slot more often.

Final Roster Odds: 100%


Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

3. Rashard Higgins - Backup WR

Height: 6-1 | Weight: 198 lbs | Age: 26
Experience: 6 years | College: Colorado State

I’ve made no secret over the past few years that I love what Rashard Higgins brings to the table at receiver, as well as the chemistry he has with Mayfield. I actually used to undersell his abilities by only referring to him as a solid route runner with good hands. He has proven to be savvy at winning match-ups as an outside receiver and catching passes downfield too. Look at the average depth of his targets, as well as how 53.1% of his targets were first down catches, ranking fourth in the NFL.

KhaDarel Hodge was the Browns’ third receiver over Higgins to begin the regular season, but Higgins’ playing time picked up in Week 6, and then really took a leap forward after Beckham’s injury in Week 7. Higgins finished the season with 37 catches for 599 yards and 3 touchdowns. He added 7 catches for 116 yards in the playoffs, although he had that untimely fumble against the Chiefs before the end of the first half (yes, we know the hit was illegal).

I’m glad that Higgins got to prove his value to Kevin Stefanski, but training camp will still tell us a lot about how the team intends on using Higgins this year. He was only re-signed to a 1-year deal again, which didn’t show a strong commitment to him for the long term. With Beckham returning as an outside receiver, does that put Higgins back to the bench with someone else being the slot receiver in three-receiver sets? I’d like to see Higgins and Beckham on the outside with Landry in the slot in three-receiver sets, with Higgins also playing the outside in two-receiver sets in a reduced workload for Beckham. Only time will tell regarding that. Higgins has been training leading up to camp:

Final Roster Odds: 99%


Divisional Round - Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

4. Donovan Peoples-Jones - Backup WR

Height: 6-2 | Weight: 212 lbs | Age: 22
Experience: 2 years | College: Michigan

It’s a bit hard to believe that with the number of big plays he had, Donovan Peoples-Jones only had 14 catches for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2020. He made an impression, though, with memorable plays like these the ones below.

How do you build on Peoples-Jones’ momentum in his sophomore season? That’s where Stefanski’s utilization of talent will again be tested. He mastered it very well in 2020, and found key moments like the plays below to get the rookie involved. But what about when you add rookie speedster Anthony Schwartz to the mix now? The pickle here is that Peoples-Jones has a lot of upside, but I don’t know how realistic it is that he sees more than a handful of snaps per game, barring injury.

Final Roster Odds: 100%


Poll

How should the Browns utilize Odell Beckham Jr?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Play him as much as possible
    (97 votes)
  • 65%
    Reduce his workload a bit, to help keep others involved
    (285 votes)
  • 12%
    Trade him!
    (56 votes)
438 votes total Vote Now

Poll

After Beckham and Landry, which WR should receive the most playing time?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Rashard Higgins
    (300 votes)
  • 28%
    Donovan Peoples-Jones
    (127 votes)
  • 0%
    KhaDarel Hodge
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Anthony Schwartz
    (13 votes)
442 votes total Vote Now