Sorting out the Browns wide receiver situation

Little2The Browns announced the signing of Nate Burleson on Sunday night. Burleson will be 33 when the season begins. He has had a nice NFL career, but at this point he isn’t exactly the threat opposite Gordon that would make the Browns a dangerous offense. (Quarterback notwithstanding.)

The Browns currently have the following receivers on the roster: Josh Gordon, Nate Burleson Greg Little, Travis Benjamin, Andrew Hawkins, Josh Cooper, Charles Johnson, Tori Gurley and Vernon Conner.

Gordon is the legitimate number one receiver. He is one of the best in the league and still hasn’t reached his potential. Travis Benjamin tore his ACL last season against the Chiefs in week 8. He should be ready to go for the beginning of the season. Benjamin is dangerous because of his speed and agility. Hopefully he is able to fully come back from this injury. Even if fully healthy, he is a slot receiver and return specialist.

Andrew Hawkins is the free agent acquisition from the Bengals. Obviously the team thinks enough of him to outbid the Bengals for his services. Looking at his career to date, you wouldn’t think that Hawkins is being primed to be the second option behind Gordon. He is a very nice 3rd/4th option.

Cooper and Gurley are what they are. We’ve seen enough of them. Odds would be against either of them being on the team next year.

Charles Johnson is a bit of a wild card in that the Browns brought him in from Green Bay’s practice squad last year, and then discovered that he had an ACL tear as well. League rules stipulated that the Browns keep him on the roster for at least three weeks. Obviously, Johnson never played a snap for the Browns. He didn’t even practice with the team. That makes judging his chances of sticking with the team pretty difficult. They can’t be that good.

Vernon Conner was signed very late in the season off Oakland’s practice squad. He is a slot receiver. That spot is starting to get pretty crowded in the locker room. Conner won’t be around long.

Then there is Greg Little.

What do the Browns do with Little? His salary isn’t a drain on the cap. He’s still on the young end of his prime, and hasn’t had the injury bug. In fact, Little has played in every game of his three year career, and caught at least one pass in all but four games.

But it is hard to feel like Little can be trusted in big situations. Too many drops.

The chances that the Browns draft at least one wide receiver in the first two or three rounds is high. If they draft a pair of receivers, no matter how high, Burleson and Little could be battling for a spot on the roster. You would have to give the advantage to Burleson there.

Photo: Candice Vlcek

  • dimoko

    I sure would love to see Greg Little get his brain right and use his physical gifts…but i’m not holding my breath.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    They should try Little at backup RB or TE. He blocks well, runs well, really does put in effort, he just doesn’t have great hands when it comes to catching passes. He’s a converted RB, why not put him back?

  • Harv 21

    There’s a #1 receiver with the most fragile league status possible and some mixey-matchy #3s and #4s. Three seasons under his belt and Greg Little can neither get open nor catch the ball consistently.

    So, yeah, it’s safe to say they’ll pluck a receiver in a receiver deep draft. If they don’t take one in the first couple of rounds it will represent a rookie GM brain fart. Ray’s presumably too smart to hitch his career to Josh Gordon’s willingness to just say no.

  • Shaun

    …not sure we’ve seen even a .001% of Cooper or Gurley. How many targets did they have last year? I ask you because you’re the journalist, and typically journalists do research before they say things. Don’t be the Fox News of Cleveland sports please

  • Harv 21

    if his college coach thought he was a better receiver than college RB, why do we think he’s a NFL-level RB? He can’t shake press coverage by a single corner – he’s not going to burst up the middle in traffic. Couldn’t do it with a 15 yard running start on kickoff returns. I’m sorry, we all hoped they might salvage value from the carcass of another wasted second rounder but this RB thing is repeated ad nauseum and makes no sense. He already failed against lesser competition. He’d be a skinny TE who cannot catch. He ‘s looks like a football player but cannot play football. It’s over. Time to move on.

  • Root4Cleveland

    Little is the best downfield blocker on the team. That is worth something, but not as much as a wideout who can consistently catch. That said, he seemed to improve last year over the first two, so I’ll be happy if he earns a last shot. I think he is passionate and gifted.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    He averaged 21.5 on KOs, which is solid, and perhaps his physical gifts scream WR, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a RB.

    Plus, 6.0ypc in his career! 😛

  • MrCleaveland

    Admitting that there is no such thing as a “sure thing,” Sammy Watkins appears to be pretty darn close to one. Just take him and enjoy touchdowns for the next 10 years. Don’t overthink it, just do it.

    There’s plenty of time later to draft reaches, projects, hopes, and maybes.

  • Harv 21

    6.0! That’s Jim Brown territory. What am I thinkin.

  • MrCleaveland

    Yezz, Ezz, but nowadays kick returners are starting at least halfway back in the end zone, so 21.5 yards per return only gets you to the 15 or 16 yard line.

  • CB Everett

    Agreed. Every year, there are guys who comment about this obscure WR (or RB or QB) out of Southeastern Colorado State who’s going to be a sleeper, etc etc. It might actually be worse than the guy who wants to tell you about this one obscure indie band…

    Just stop with the overthinking and the “deep” at WR talk. Pick the easy winner (Sammy).

  • Clint

    Can we stop assuming that small guys are slot receivers? According to pro football focus, Anquan Boldin Was the best slot receiver last year. Has nothing to do with size

  • Not just about targets in game. There is camp, practice, etc. Do you really think either of these two are legit contributors at the NFL level?

  • mgbode

    here’s how I see the Browns WR depth chart currently:

    Flanker: Josh Gordon
    Split End: Draft-Pick, Greg Little
    Slot: Hawkins, Burleson, Cooper

    Camp Fodder (I guess possible ST): Johnson, Gurley, Conner

    We have no real depth at WR, which is why Burleson was a smart sign despite a likely limited upside. He’s a good veteran guy and we needed that on our team.

    We still need a top-flight WR in the draft and have to count on him to step in and contribute right away.

  • Shaun

    I don’t know but I’d sure like to see with one QB and consistant play calling.

  • Austin

    It’s Conner Vernon by the way

  • Austin

    Little has had a below average blocking rating in each of his three years according to PFF. I don’t hate Little, I love his passion, but he hasn’t improved in many categories since he came into the league.

  • James Kearns

    i guess you are the coach

  • Grizz

    His college coach thought Gio Bernard was a better RB than Little, that’s why the position change happened. Turns out Butch was right. Either way, he’s not an NFL caliber RB or WR.

  • steve-o

    Watkins makes a lot of sense if available, but that is far from guaranteed. I’d take him if I were the Rams. Even if we do get him, there should be a chance to steal another very good WR later. This is such a good draft for WR’s that grabbing two makes sense, and we’d certainly have room for them.

  • BenRM

    After a certain point, the reason a guy doesn’t get snaps or targets is because he’s just not good enough to earn them, not because he’s not “given a fair chance.”

  • Pat Leonard

    Don’t forget about young Travis Benjamin. What is to become of him?

  • Pat Leonard

    Probably not an assumption for Burleson and Hawkins. I’ve watched both guys play outside and in the slot and have always liked both of them better in the slot. Travis Benjamin isn’t a slot receiver though. He isn’t sure-handed and he isn’t a great route-runner, two qualities you would like to have in your slot receiver.

  • Pat Leonard

    Agreed, and I’ve been beating that drum since we drafted him. He’s a running back in a wide receiver’s body. Tough break for such an athletic guy.

  • mgbode

    will he start the year on PUP? I don’t know. How is his recovery going?

    He’s likely the 2nd string flanker right now though. His best attribute is his straight-line deep speed, which the FL gets to use more than the other spots.

  • mgbode

    here’s how I see

    this phrase indicates that I am making an educated guess based on the roster as currently constructed and am in no way of making a statement as to how it is definitively.

    however, if you are in a position to offer me the position, then I will gladly accept though I think Pettine’s daughter will not think that is cool.

  • mgbode
  • saggy

    i feel like you just cut and paste that comment every few weeks or so…

  • saggy

    i think, pretty solidly, they are what they are. whatever they are…

  • saggy

    i’m thinking he is going to be relegated to only spot duty. Maybe KRs? He’s too fragile for the NFL.

  • eldaveablo

    Carlton Mitchell…

  • Harv 21

    I feel like if you children would just listen to me there would be no need to for me to repeat myself.


    Why would the Rams want a WR? I have it on good authority from Bernie Kosar that they are stacked with very, VERY good wideouts.

  • Weston Pruitt

    Get rid of Little please

  • scripty

    Best case is Little has a big year for us and then leaves for free agent money next year.