NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks put together his top-five rankings of NFL slot receivers, and the Cleveland Browns’ Andrew Hawkins was ranked fifth. Brooks’ “ranked them according to the "fear factor" they create in defensive meeting rooms around the league,” and noted that, “the quick-rhythm passing game in the NFL has made it imperative for elite offenses to feature a dynamic playmaker in the slot.”
About Hawkins, Brooks wrote, “Hawkins isn't a household name on the national scene, but he has earned the respect of coaches and players around the NFL with his spectacular skills in the slot. He is a dynamic route runner with the kind of short-area quickness that gives even the most polished slot corners problems between the hashes. In addition, Hawkins is an electric open-field runner with the balance, body control and elusiveness to weave through traffic with the ball in his hands. Browns quarterbacks were unable to take full advantage of Hawkins' skills last year, but he could become a dominant playmaker in the new offense of John DeFilippo, which features more catch-and-run opportunities.”
But it’s clear from this piece that Brooks is looking forward to the 2015 season and not back on what was in 2014. That’s because Hawkins wasn’t used heavily as a slot receiver in Cleveland’s offense last year under then-coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In fact, though Hawkins has the body type of a slot receiver, he was used more as a traditional wideout last year, and he ended the season as the Browns’ leader in receptions and yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Hawkins was the leagues 37th-ranked receiver in the slot, but only played 57.6 of his total receiving snaps out of the slot. That’s a low percentage compared to the Green Bay Packers’ Randall Cobb, who Brooks ranked first on his list and who played 87.3 percent of his receiving snaps from the slot last year.
Brooks, though, isn’t wrong that DeFilippo’s scheme will give Hawkins more catch-and-run opportunities. And with the arrivals of Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, along with rookie Vince Mayle, Hawkins seems destined to be primarily a slot receiver for the Browns this season. That may not result in Hawkins again leading the Browns in receptions or yards, but he should be the team’s yards-after-the-catch leader, which may prove to be far more important to the Browns’ offense in 2015.