The Browns wide receiver group is one of the youngest units on the team. With the young age, the position was as volative as would be expected during the 2016 season. The Browns starting receivers for most of the season were Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman with Andrew Hawkins and Ricardo Louis serving as injury fill-ins. Rashard Higgins was the only other receiver to get more than a handful of snaps this season. Let’s take a look at what the wide receiver position did in the 2016 NFL season and what needs to happen before the 2017 season.
Wide Receivers on the roster: Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins, Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, Rannell Hall, Josh Boyce, Dennis Parks, Mario Alford and Jordan Leslie
Terrelle Pryor: Caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns, while also adding eight rushes for 21 yards and a touchdown.
Corey Coleman: Caught 33 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns.
Andrew Hawkins: Caught 33 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns.
Ricardo Louis: Caught 18 passes for 205 yards.
Rashard Higgins: Caught six passes for 77 yards.
Terrelle Pryor had his coming out party as a wide receiver in the NFL. In his second full season as a receiver, Pryor really showed off some impressive receiving skills. His route-running and footwork really developed nicely in second year, showing technique that many receivers who have been working on it for years still do not have. With these improved techniques, Pryor was able to put that together with his freakish athleticism. He stands at 6-foot-4, but he can run faster than most defensive backs. He still has some development and work to do, but Pryor has the chance to be a No. 1 receiver in the league. The Browns need to sign him to a long-term contract as he is a free agent.
Corey Coleman had an up-and-down season like many rookies. He exploded onto the scene in his first two games, notching seven catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns in that stretch. But after these games, he broke his hand and missed six games. When he returned, it looked like he had fallen behind and was not able to return to performance level of the first two games. He has great speed, elusiveness and playmaking ability, but he is still raw as a receiver. Coleman needs to learn the finer points of route-running, amongst other receiving techniques. With more development and time, Coleman can be a dangerous receiver, who can make big plays for the offense.
Beyond Pryor and Coleman, Andrew Hawkins saw the most action. His skills and athleticism have diminished, but he is a solid veteran to have in the room with the younger receivers. Hawkins provides the position with a reliable veteran, but he is a player who may be let go if the Browns add a receiver this offseason.
Of the three other 2016 rookie receiver draft choices, Ricardo Louis had the biggest impact. He showed off his great size and athleticism, but he also showed his questionable hands, which landed him mostly on special teams later in the season. His biggest impact was on special teams. Rashard Higgins saw limited action, but he could see an increase in time next year. Jordan Payton did not see much time on the field, and he also was suspended during the season for failing a test for performance enhancing substances.
The ongoing, frustrating enigma in the receiver unit is Josh Gordon. He has been involved in trouble throughout his NFL career and his status with the Browns and the NFL is highly in doubt. Mario Alford has a chance to make the roster next season because of his returning skills, which he showed off pretty well this past season.
The Browns receiver unit has potential and youth, but it needs development and time. The unit was not consistent enough this season. The Browns have a potential really good tandem of Pryor and Coleman. But behind those two, Cleveland really did not have a great option to go to. Hawkins is aging, while the three rookies contributed very little in Year 1. It is a position with a lot of potential, but also a position with a lot of work to do.
Potential and Youth
The Browns wide receiving group is a very young group with a lot of potential. The average age of the group is 24.1 years old with just Terrelle Pryor and Andrew Hawkins older than 25. Especially with Coleman and Pryor, the youth means that there is still a lot of potential in this group. With development this offseason, the Browns could have a really talented group of receivers. Coaching and work ethic will be key this offseason for the youth to turn their potential into on-the-field production.
Depth and Reliability
The strength of the team also relates to the position’s weakness. The Browns have a lot of young players with a whole lot of potential, but right now it is hard to rely on them. This past season, the Browns only had three receivers who produced consistently when they were healthy. The young rookies, besides Coleman, struggled to get on the field. The coaches could not rely on these players yet. Other than Andrew Hawkins, the Browns lack a veteran presence, who can be a stable and reliable target for the Browns quarterback.
To Do List
- Re-sign Terrelle Pryor to a long-term contract
Terrelle Pryor is priority No. 1 for the Browns, regarding their receiver position. The Browns must re-sign Pryor to a long-term contract. Pryor showed this season that he has the makeup and talent to be a No. 1 receiver, even after just being at the position for two years. The team cannot let the young talented receiver to get away like some of the young talent they let go last offseason.
- Let Josh Gordon go
The Josh Gordon era is over. With his most recent slip-up, Gordon has blew past all his chances the team has offered him in his career. The Browns cannot wait for him and they cannot muddy the receiver group with his presence. It’s time to move on.
- Find a veteran backup receiver
The Browns lack a reliable veteran backup at the receiver position. This does not need to be an All-Pro. The team just needs someone who can help guide the young receivers on the team with his actions. Players like Pierre Garcon, Anquan Boldin or Vincent Jackson could be possible options the Browns could target in free agency.
- Develop the young receivers
The Browns have so many young receivers. This offseason, the team must focus on their development. If the Browns can develop Pryor and Coleman, the team could have one of the more dangerous receiver duos in the league. Pryor and Coleman have some development to do if they want to achieve that potential. The young backups must also make the jump this offseason in order to create better depth at the position. If at least one of these other young guys can develop, it makes the unit that much better.