2017 Browns Season Position Preview: Wide Receiver

The Cleveland Browns wide receiver position has been very fluid over the few seasons with players coming in and out each year. The position is a young group overall. Currently, the Browns have Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton, Josh Gordon, Rannell Hall, James Wright, Mario Alford, Josh Boyce, Jordan Leslie and Richard Mullaney on their depth chart with Duke Johnson also going between running back and wide receiver to contribute at both positions.

What can we expect from the wide receivers on the Browns roster? Well WFNY has that answer. Here is a preview of the Browns wide receiver group going into the 2017 NFL season.

Additions: Kenny Britt, James Wright and Richard Mullaney

Subtractions: Terrelle Pryor, Andrew Hawkins and Dennis Parks

Projected Starters: Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman

The starting wide receiver spots on the Browns seem to be set with Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman manning those spots. Britt led the Los Angeles Rams’ receivers unit in offensive snaps last season. In 15 games last year with the Rams, he caught 68 passes for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns. Coleman was third last season in offensive snaps in the receiver unit, behind just Terrelle Pryor and Andrew Hawkins, who are both gone. In 10 games in his rookie season, he caught 33 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns.

Kenny Britt was signed this offseason to replace Terrelle Pryor, who left to sign with the Washington Redskins. Britt is a similar player to Pryor. At 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, the former Ram is a big receiver who gives the quarterback a large target to throw to, especially in red zone opportunities. He has good hands, which will make him a reliable target for whoever lines up under center for the Browns. In his career, he has had his share of trouble. He has been involved in numerous off-field problems, which caused his career to start off very slowly. But since going to the Rams in 2014, he has improved each year and has not had the off-field problems that clouded his early career.

Corey Coleman’s rookie season was greatly affected by injury, curtailing his performance quite a bit. He had a great first two games of the season last year, catching seven passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns in those games. But, the momentum of his rookie season stalled in Game 3 when he broke his hand. This caused him to miss 6 games and hurt his progress for pretty much the rest of the season. Coleman is a receiver with great speed and explosion, which makes him a dangerous player after the catch. If he can stay healthy, I expect a coming out party for Coleman, showing the league why the Browns selected him in the first round last season.

The Browns starting wide receivers of Britt and Coleman complement each other pretty well. Britt is the big receiver who supplies a nice target to the quarterback, while Coleman is the explosive smaller receiver who can make plays after the catch. The success of this starting unit, I believe, will depend the development of Coleman. If he can stay healthy and show the level of the performance he did in the first two games last season, then the starting unit is in good hands. Britt’s experience should be a big help to the position. I would be surprised if any other receiver on the roster supplants these two receivers in the starting role.

Possible Contributors: Duke Johnson, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton

The Cleveland Browns possible contributors at the wide receiver position are made up of a group of mostly young players. It will be an interesting battle between a group of young receivers with a wide range of talents. In my opinion, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton, Rannell Hall and, yes, Duke Johnson make up the possible contributors at the wide receiver position.

I believe the biggest possible contributor beyond the starters in the receiver unit will be Duke Johnson. There has already been talk of him being the No. 1 slot receiver on the team. Last season with the Browns, he was third on the team in receptions and receiving, catching 53 passes for 514 yards in 16 games. His route running is not of a running back, but of a receiver. He has been tasked with lining up in the backfield, but also out wide as a receiver. He has good hands, dropping just three passes of his 68 targets last season. The Browns need to get the ball into his hands as much as possible and putting Johnson out wide more will do just that. He has make-you-miss ability that can create huge plays for the offense.

Ricardo Louis is a player who performed higher than my expectations had him doing in this rookie season. In 16 games, he caught 18 passes for 205 yards. Physically, he has all the traits teams want in a receiver. He possesses good length at 6-foot-2, but also impressive athleticism for a man his size. But, his issue is his hands and being a reliable receiver a quarterback could rely on. Out of college, his hands were a big question mark and his rookie season did not erase those questions. He dropped three passes of his 32 targets last season. If he cannot improve this weakness, he will not be long for the field.

Before last season, Rashard Higgins was thought by experts to be one of the rookie receivers who could immediately contribute in his rookie year. But that was not the case. In 16 games, he had just six receptions for 77 yards. He is a solid route runner with very good hands to be a reliable receiver. But, he does not have the great athleticism like Louis. It will be interesting to see his development over the offseason and if he performs well during the preseason. He has a chance to overtake Louis and get some playing time.

Jordan Payton was a complete no show in his rookie season. In four games last year, he had one reception for three yards. He was suspended during the season for failing a test for performance enhancing substances. It was a season to forget. He is a possession receiver, who is limited athletically, but has good hands and route running ability. He must perform in the preseason or he could be cut.

Biggest Strength: Youth

The Browns are filled with youth throughout the wide receiver depth chart. Kenny Britt is the oldest receiver on the roster at 28 years old, with just two receivers older than 25 years old. Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins are all entering just their second season and they all could be contributors this season. This means that the players should be ascending and not descending in performance. Youth is good to have because it means the position has higher upside and potential. With development of these young players, the Browns could be in position to have some nice young receivers to build their offense around for years to come.

Biggest Weakness: NFL Production

With youth comes inexperience and a lack of NFL production to rely on at the receiver position. Kenny Britt has the most experience of the group, with eight seasons of NFL experience. Beyond Britt, the Browns are filled with second year players or players will little to no sizable NFL production throughout their career. It is a group with potential, but not much reliable production history to lean on for comfort. The Browns quarterbacks will not have a lot of experience to throw to, meaning mistakes could be more likely in the passing game.

Key Player: Corey Coleman

The key player for the wide receiver unit is Corey Coleman. At their current state, the Browns lack a true No. 1 receiver with the ability to change games with big plays. Coleman has the physical talent to be just that, in my opinion. He is a player who has the physical talent to cause defenses to gameplan for him specifically. But, he must stay healthy and be able to keep improving on the field. Coleman has the chance to really settle the receivers group by taking ahold of the No. 1 spot and letting the rest of the unit be in more suitable roles. There is no other receiver on the roster with his upside and potential.

Top Training Camp Battle: Ricardo Louis vs Rashard Higgins vs Jordan Payton

The Browns’ biggest training camp battle in the wide receiver unit is for the fourth receiver spot between Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton. This fourth receiver will likely get the rest of the snaps that are left over from Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt and Duke Johnson. It is the last spot that will get consistent playing time on the field. I believe the leader in the clubhouse for this fourth receiver spot is Ricardo Louis. He received the most snaps of the three last season and he is the player with the most physical ability. But, his hands may keep him back and allow either Higgins or Payton to pass him and win the fourth receiver spot.

Overall Opinion: 

The wide receiver unit is a position with a lot of ifs and potential. It is a unit made up of mostly young receivers who still are developing their NFL game. This position saw a big change this offseason, losing Terrelle Pryor and Andrew Hawkins, who led the receivers in offensive snaps last season. So, the position will see two new receivers lead the unit in snaps. As I said, there are a lot of ifs.

Kenny Britt was a good signing this offseason to replace Pryor, who I was very upset to see leave given his development over the past few years. Britt gives the receiver unit much needed experience and veteran leadership, but also a player who has performed well over the past few seasons. He is a player, who can be a safety net of sort for the quarterback. Corey Coleman is the key to the position as I said earlier. Coleman has the potential to be the No. 1 receiver and a dynamic receiver. But, he needs to continue to develop and stay healthy to reach that potential. Another key player for the position could be Duke Johnson, who could be the leading player to start at the slot receiver spot. If he can secure that role, it puts less pressure on the younger receivers on the depth chart. The young receivers can be eased into playing time as they develop.

In terms of Rannell Hall, James Wright, Mario Alford, Josh Boyce, Jordan Leslie and Richard Mullaney, it looks to be a numbers game with all of them, making it a very low chance any of them make the squad let alone contribute. I believe one of these receivers will make the squad, but contribute only as a special teamer. And please don’t get me started on Josh Gordon. His time playing for the Browns has long been done.

Overall, the position is a bit of an unknown right now. Besides Britt, there is not a lot to go on with any of the receivers. It is all about coaching and developing the talents of the young receivers. Al Saunders will be a huge factor for the success of this position. Development of the potential will either make or break this squad. I believe this position could turn into a strength by the end of the season.

2017 Browns Season Position Preview Series: Quarterback, Running Back/Fullback, Wide Receiver

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