When Ray Farmer led the Cleveland Browns Organization he made sure to ignore the wide receiver position almost altogether. Besides draft, then cutting, Vince Mayle and the signings of Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, since cut and not signed by anyone else, Farmer left the Browns very thin at wide receiver.
The continued struggles of Josh Gordon made things even worse.
Then Farmer was sent packing and Sashi Brown, Andrew Berry and Hue Jackson came riding in with an obvious desire to upgrade the position.
Suddenly a position that was bereft of talent had a future that was exciting.
Months after the draft we found out that Gordon would return after a 4 game suspension. Then, during Training Camp and the first two games of Preseason, point toward Terrelle Pryor actually being a wide receiver, possibly a very good one.
Halfway through the Preseason seems like a good time to take a look at the Rookie Four. What are we hearing? What is being said? What is going on during the games?
Coleman excited everyone on the practice field. He has drawn comparisons to Steve Smith due to his size, speed, strength and attitude. Not a bad comparison. He fights for the ball, he has speed for days and has shown he can catch the ball consistently. He still needs to develop his route running but that will come with time under Al Saunders.
We have heard nothing but positives out of Jackson and other Browns players, like Joe Haden. Jackson has tried to downplay his prized rookie receiver, saying we need to see it in the games and need to see it consistently.
Sadly, we haven't seen Coleman on the field yet. That changes Friday when he is expected to make his Browns debut. Anticipation is building in the Browns fandom.
Louis' has seemingly been missing in Camp. Scan Twitter during Browns practice and there is little to be found. He missed some days with a hamstring issue. The former QB still has a lot of development needed in his route running and hands.
Even though we haven't heard much from those watching practices, Jackson has sung Louis' praise a few times:
Yet that hasn't translated to game action in the Preseason, a place where coaches often like to see what they got in their rookies. Against the Packers, Louis played in 6 offensive snaps while playing none against the Falcons. He has not recorded a catch.
So far, Louis has seemed like the odd man out, even though he was the second one drafted of this rookie draft.
Payton started off a little behind since his school schedule didn't allow him to participate in some of the offseason activities. Since then, he hasn't set Browns media or fans buzzing but he has earned comparisons to Joe Jurevicius by some. The book on Payton is that he catches everything.
Payton has often been lumped in with "the rookies" when Jackson or players talk about the wide receivers. It makes sense, his upside is as a solid #2 guy but most likely he can be a bigger, slot possession receiver.
His play on the field has been similar, solid but not spectacular. He only got one snap on offense in the first game against the Packers and 10 against the Falcons. In the 2nd game he was targeted three times, catching one for three yards.
"Hollywood" was the last of the four drafted but has been the second most exciting in practice. Higgins believed he was worthy of being drafted in the first 2 Rounds of the NFL Draft. Obviously, teams thought otherwise but that chip is large on his shoulder. He has worked hard and has many excited about what he can produce as a high #2/low #1 type receiver down the road.
Higgins has gotten some time with the Browns 1st team, particularly as Gordon and Coleman dealt with injuries. He has a specific goal for this season:
In Game 1, Higgins tied Louis for the most snaps by the rookies, 6. He had a TD when Cody Kessler made a read on a designed run play and hit him with a back shoulder throw. Higgins once again led the rookies, and all receivers, in snaps in Game 2 with 22. He was only targeted once, pulling in that pass for 10 yards.
At this point, the Rookie Four have excited but Pryor, Gordon and Coleman have stolen much of the spotlight. After Coleman, it looks like the rookies have impressed in reverse order in which they were drafted: Higgins, Payton then Louis.
Maybe none of that means much, much like the Browns "Unofficial Depth Chart" but it is interesting to watch the development of these young guys.
With the Rookie Four, the development of Pryor and the return of Gordon, the Browns once barren WR group not seems to have a different problem: TOO MUCH TALENT. We will take it.
How would you rank the Rookie Four so far before Friday's game?