Cleveland Browns Rookie WRs: Realistic Expectations

After ignoring the position for a couple of years, the Cleveland Browns added four wide receivers in the 2016 NFL Draft. What should Browns fan expect from them this season?

While fans don't want to hear it, draft classes take time to develop. The general consensus is that teams should not be graded on their draft class until after they have played three full seasons. Fans tend to be impatient, and in the Browns case, sometimes for good reason.

This three-year wait period is often most true for quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs. The nuance of those positions is difficult for many seasoned veterans but rookies face a unique challenge. The college game is mostly simplified. Receivers run very few routes, quarterbacks can wait for a player to get open before throwing the ball and DBs don't have much to think about.

As Browns fans, we have seen the struggle. Brandon WeedenColt McCoyBrady Quinn and Johnny Manziel not being ready to throw receivers open. Early in his career Joe Haden struggled with the variety of routes he had to guard and super athlete Justin Gilbert has shown no ability to mentally grasp the details of the game.

Even though it hasn't been recent, wide receivers the Browns have drafted have greatly struggled. Greg LittleJaJuan DawsonBrian RobiskieQuincy MorganAndre Davis and more have struggled adjusting to the speed, route running, physicality and overall game in the NFL, despite being drafted in the first three rounds.

That leads us to this year. The Browns ended the long drought at the position, Ray Farmer stubbornly seemed to have no interest in drafting anyone at the position early in the draft. The Browns ended up with four rookies at the position from the draft: Corey ColemanRashard HigginsRicardo Louis and Jordan Payton.

Each seems to have a role that, long-term, could position the Browns to be pretty set at the position. Coleman is the do everything, electric receiver in the mold of Steve Smith. Payton is the quality possession receiver who can work from the slot and will catch everything he gets his hands on. Higgins is the bigger receiver that can work the middle, go up and high point the football and make plays in traffic. Louis is the wildcard, project receiver who has the physical skills but has a long way to go in terms of route running and hands.

Browns fans have been excited since the Coleman selection. Like thirsty souls wandering the desert looking for water, their wide receiver need was quenched with a real oasis of talent.

That excitement, while expected, might need to be tempered a little bit.

First, the return of Josh Gordon, as tenuous as it is, could lead to more limited opportunities, or a rookie not making the team. Gordon is suspended for four games, which should give the rookies a shot but Flash is clearly the most talented WR on the team.

Second, Andrew Hawkins and Terrelle Pryor are veterans that are likely to get first crack at making an impact. Hawk provides a quickness that none of the rookies do while Pryor is expected to be a focal point for new HC Hue Jackson.

Third, as stated at the start of the article, rookie wide receivers don't regularly make big impacts. Last year, only two rookies had over 60 receptions: Amari Cooper and Browns RB Duke Johnson. Only four rookie WRs had more than 40 receptions with only five having four or more touchdowns. Four, including Cooper's 1,070 yards, hd more than 600 yards receiving. Rookie wideouts making big time 

Rookie wideouts making big time impacts is extremely rare. Most take some time to develop. Allen Robinson, a favorite of mine going into the 2014 NFL Draft, only had 48 receptions his rookie year before exploding for 80 catches, 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.

Finally, the Browns are putting in a new system and trying to get Robert Griffin III back to his former performance. RG3 and Hue Jackson will likely rely on reliable pass catchers to help get the QB into a rhythm. Hawkins and Gary Barnidge could be the main recipients. Jackson has also made it clear he wants to be a run-first team which will limit the opportunities for the rookies. 

Safe throws, either short, timed passes or deep, catch or incomplete (No INTs) passes, should be expected. That could lead to fewer chances for catch and runs, with a few "wow" plays thrown in. Not exactly the Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers led offense that spreads the ball around and gives receivers more chances.

Of the four, Coleman is the obvious one that could have a Cooper like season. He can lineup all over the field including in the slot or out of the backfield. Yet, Coleman's development could be tough coming out of the Baylor offense where he ran about four routes total. 

Browns fans should be excited about the four new rookie wide receivers, as well as the possible upside of Gordon, Pryor, Duke and Barnidge. However, expecting much more than 45 receptions from Coleman and a combined 45 catches from the other three might be pushing it.

The most important thing for the Browns rookie receivers is to show development in games, in practice and especially in the film room.

What are your expectations for the Browns rookie WR class?


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