The Cleveland Browns will head into Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season with a decidedly different take on the wide receiver position.
A year ago, the Browns had Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins as their top three receivers at the start of the season, supported by second-year player Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Beckham and Landry alone had combined to play in 194 games with 1,123 receptions, 13,858 receiving yards and 86 touchdowns at that point, while Higgins added 67 career games, 113 receptions, 1,615 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Things did not go as planned, of course, as Landry struggled with injuries, Higgins found himself a non-factor on most game days, and Beckham quit on the team midway through the season.
The Browns released Beckham during the season and allowed Landry and Higgins to leave in free agency, leaving the team to try a new approach this year.
While the team traded for Amari Cooper - who has played in 108 career games with 517 receptions and 46 touchdowns - to be the No. 1 receiver, there is a lot of uncertainty among the rest of the group.
The remaining wide receivers currently on the roster - rookies David Bell and Michael Woods II, second-year player Anthony Schwartz, and Peoples-Jones - have combined for just 58 receptions, 1,036 receiving yards and six touchdowns on the NFL level.
Those sobering stats might give some reason to pause or to wonder why general manager Andrew Berry did not do more to bolster the group, but the Browns see it in a different light.
Rather than being young and inexperienced, Cleveland views the position as young and improving, according to assistant general manager Glenn Cook (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“We are young and they are improving, but that is a part of it. We are trusting our process and what we saw in their abilities for each player when they came out. We are going to give them their opportunities to grow. These guys come along at different points of the season and different points of their careers. Whoever steps up and is ready to go, I think we have faith in them. (Kevin Stefanski) has faith in them. We will be good there.
“I think that is just a part of building teams. There is turnover every year. Oftentimes, the people you are replacing them with are younger individuals. That is just part of it. There will be uncertainty. That is why we have to trust the process. We are not focused on Week 1; we want to make sure that we are hitting our stride midseason and towards the end so we feel good about where we are.”
The Browns went heavy on experience last season at wide receiver and it did not pan out for a number of reasons.
This year they are moving in the opposite direction and hoping that a group of inexperienced receivers can find their stride and provide enough support for quarterback Jacoby Brissett that the team can make it through the 11-game suspension on quarterback Deshaun Watson in decent shape.
It is all part of a process that will continue to play out come September 11 when the Browns open the season against the Carolina Panthers.