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Austin Watkins roster fate will not decide the Browns season

The Browns roster is too talented with too high of goals for the 2023 NFL season

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns training camp has mostly been a boring experience in 2023. DT Perrion Winfrey’s release and the signing of DT Shelby Harris are the two big pieces of news while the struggles of kicker Cade York in preseason games is the big drama.

Otherwise, as shared from being on the ground in Berea, Browns camp has been mundane in a good way.

That leaves room for drama to pop up from the outskirts of the main storylines. In this camp, WR Austin Watkins has been one of those discussion pieces that aren’t primary but have gotten the spotlight.

In three preseason games, Watkins has 15 receptions for 245 yards and two touchdowns. The 6’3”, 210-pound receiver doesn’t have blazing speed or an incredible jumping ability but has been able to make plays against mostly backups and players who won’t be playing in the NFL in a few weeks.

The 25-year-old has not played a single game at the NFL level since leaving UAB after the 2020 season. In college, including the COVID-shortened final year, Watkins had 98 receptions for 1,642 yards and nine touchdowns.

Many Cleveland fans and some media members have taken up Watkins’ cause for making the 53-man roster. Based on the way Cleveland is using him, including into the second half of preseason games, it seems his chances of making the roster are much smaller than many would like. What we have seen in preseason and training camp practices has shown that the following receivers are locks or almost locks to make the initial 53-man roster:

  • Amari Cooper
  • Elijah Moore
  • Donovan Peoples-Jones
  • Cedric Tillman
  • David Bell (lots of reps with starters in practice, barely playing in preseason games)
  • Jakeem Grant (taking a vast majority of kick and punt return duties in practice)

We have seen this kind of receiver hype in Browns camps before:

On top of Davis, Derrick Willies, Khadarel Hodge and a myriad of other receivers have gotten the “have to make the roster” moniker during Cleveland training camps. It is easy to stand out in camp as a receiver but we have to be honest that Watkins could be different.

If Watkins is different and makes the Browns roster, either as the seventh receiver or over one of the ones listed above, his presence is unlikely to make a definitive impact on the team. He could make a play here or there, specifically on kick coverage units, but if Cleveland needs to rely on him at receiver the season has likely gone off the hinges.

If Watkins is different but is cut from the Browns roster, he could certainly catch on with a team with ample opportunity to make an impact. Even so, every team had a chance to sign the UAB receiver but none did, despite 90-man rosters, until Cleveland did in late July. If Watkins produces for another team there is no certainty he would have had those same chances with his current team.

The Browns roster and season goals are such that Watkins’ fate will not make or break the team. Right now, due to the lack of other storylines, it feels bigger than it actually is for the team and their fans.