The 2017 Cleveland Browns wide receiver position is in the running to be considered the worst position group ever assembled by the franchise, which is impressive considering the franchise has had only two seasons with more wins than losses in the last 18 seasons with an 0-6 start sure leave that total alone in the 19th year of the expansion era.
Consider among wide receivers, the reception leader is Ricardo Louis with 18 catches for 229 yards and no touchdowns (51.4% catch%). At least Louis has spent the entirety of the season on the 53-man roster. None of the quartet of receivers behind him can say the same. Rashard Higgins, with his bevy of 12 catches and 125 yards (44.4% catch% and again no touchdowns), began the season on the Browns’ practice squad. Kasen Williams has bounced on and off the active roster with nine catches and 84 yards to show for his efforts (52.9% catch% and again no touchdowns). Kenny Britt was force-fed to us as a legitimate option given the money the front office gave him to replace Terrelle Pryor, but he has been a healthy scratch due to ineptness. He does have one of the two wide receiver touchdowns on the season, but eight receptions on 23 targets (34.8% catch%) is putrid. He gained 121 yards, the hard way- at least for any fans watching. Somehow, Bryce Treggs has been worse with a 33.3% catch%, but he can at least point to only being on the team for two weeks and a miniscule sample size (three catches on nine targets for 48 yards) as reasoning. These catch% are especially painful with the knowledge that Tyreek Hill has a jaw-dropping 73.4% catch% for his career and was there for the taking when the Browns chose Louis and Payton.
Of course, the expected No. 1 wide receiver was to be Corey Coleman. He did not excel in his two and a partial game played with six receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown (46.2% catch%), but his absence certainly hurts the group now left to scramble for not only rotational pieces but starters.
The Browns have no one to blame but themselves. Though through several different regimes, the team has selected just one wide receiver earlier than the fourth round over the past six NFL drafts- the oft-injured Corey Coleman. The number doubles to two if the oft-suspended Josh Gordon is included in the accounting as a second-round pick was utilized in the 2012 supplemental draft to select him. Ray Farmer summed up the Browns seemingly consistent over-arching theme on the position when he said “A wide receiver may touch the ball 10 times if he’s having a great day so I just like the idea of let’s get the guys that affect the game all the time.”
It didn’t used to be this way. The early expansion Cleveland Browns allocated resources for wide receivers in the draft. Kevin Johnson (315 receptions, 3836 yards, 23 touchdowns), Dennis Northcutt (276 receptions, 3438 yards, 11 touchdowns), Quincy Morgan (133 receptions, 2056 yards, 15 touchdowns), and Andre Davis (93 receptions, 1412 yards, 13 touchdowns) all contributed something as first-or-second round draft picks. Given a complete absence of talent at the position, they filled the void to some degree. Later round picks Darrin Chiaverini, JaJuan Dawson, and Andre King were the only other receiver picks in the first four drafts of the expansion era- each a complete bust.
The team then took three years before they drafted another receiver at all when they took Braylon Edwards at No. 3 overall in 2005. The Browns have not drafted a player who has provided more value to the team than even Quincy Morgan since.
Who did we miss on?
OK, let’s get this out of the way. No, the statistics these drafted players- especially those by stable organizations with good quarterbacks- would not have necessarily or even likely achieved the same levels of success with the Browns. However, the complete absence of any semblance of receiving skills on the team during this duration leads to the belief they could have done SOMETHING. The inability of the franchise to hit on any semblance of a capable wide receiver over the course of 12 different NFL Drafts would be rather amazing if it was not so inordinately frustrating.
After Edwards, the Browns attempted to supplement his skills with Travis “best receiver in the draft” Wilson in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Derek Hagan would be the next receiver taken with Jason Avant and Brandon Marshall selected in the next round. 2007 saw the Browns take a late-round flier on Syndric Steptoe with Chansi Stuckey being taken by the New York Jets with the very next pick.
The 2008 drafts was especially frustrating. A stable organization should have close ties with the surrounding college programs and gain insight into the players coming through their systems. Undervalued assets should get highlighted and give an advantage in evaluation to a team. The Browns, on the other hand, have no such stability or insight as seen most glaringly when a player from Mount Union who has a successful NFL career, Pierre Garcon, is taken 14 picks after the team wastes their spot on Paul Hubbard. A similar tact occurred in 2009 as the Browns took the wrong Ohio State Buckeye in Brian Robiskie rather than Brian Hartline, which is even more glaring of an error over their deep threat choice of Mohammed Massaquoi instead of Michael Wallace. Perhaps a more stable organization would have also been wise enough to see that Michael Thomas was the best receiver in the 2016 class.
OK, take a breath. The next one is on the scale of Spergon Wynn being the quarterback selected in the draft just before Tom Brady. To repeat, it is unfair to pin such a late-round pick as being the sole responsibility of the franchise to get correct. It is the complete absence of any of these picks hitting, while other teams hit on at least a few of them, that is the issue at hand here. Take into consideration that Travis Benjamin (fourth round in 2012 without any substantially better receiver taken near him) is the only wide receiver taken after the second round since 1999 to finish with more than 555 receiving yards with the Browns. So, yes, despite the unfairness of looking at a single selection, it still is painful to see Antonio Brown was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers after the Browns decided Carlton Mitchell was more their speed in the 2010 NFL Draft.
The remaining two receivers drafted are no longer with the team. Greg Little showed heart and blocking ability. If only his body had been built to be an offensive guard. As it was, the poor hands left fans to wonder if pre-2011-draft fan-favorite Randall Cobb would have been able to electrify crowds in Cleveland as he has in Green Bay. The entire Browns receiver draft history of the expansion era though could be summed up by the last mentioned here. Vince Mayle’s scouting profile noted he had a tough time getting separation and had poor hands. Somehow that led him to being taken in the fourth round though he would be waived before his first August Training Camp would complete putting him behind all other receivers selected.1
The Browns have had their issues finding competent veteran receivers in free agency as they recently have whiffed on Dwayne Bowe and Kenny Britt despite throwing money at the issue. Some receivers who have had some success with the team have left such as Terrelle Pryor, Travis Benjamin, and Taylor Gabriel.2 However, the genesis of the Browns’ current wide receiver problem falls directly on their ability- or rather inability- to allocate resources and evaluate properly the position in the draft. Maybe they could look around local sporting websites for a handy guide for the 2018 NFL Draft.