Five years ago, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon totaled 87 receptions, 1,646 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns in 14 games. He was named a first-team All-Pro and played in his first Pro Bowl. But this was in 2013, when Gordon was only 22 years old. In a year that the former Baylor wide receiver led the NFL in receiving yards (1,646) and receiving yards per game (117.6), little was known at the time that Gordon was not even playing football sober.
Since then, he has only played five games in both 2014 and 2017. Between those years, he was suspended by the NFL for over two seasons.
So what has changed since then? Well quite a bit actually.
The talented receiver was granted conditional reinstatement by NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell and actually played the final five games of the 2017 season, recording 18 catches for 335 yards and a touchdown while doing so.
Some has not changed however. Two days before training camp, Gordon announced he would be stepping away from the team to receive mental health treatment, essentially receiving a tune-up to make sure he did not resort back to substance abuse with a season full of expectations ahead.
So what exactly are the expectations for the wide receiver in 2018?
Well he has not played an entire season of football since his rookie year in 2012, so being on the field for the first game of the regular season would be a significant step but possibly an unlikely one at the moment.
Gordon announced his return to the team on Saturday afternoon and was welcomed back at practice on Sunday. As part of his reinstatement conditions agreed upon last fall, he has not been approved to participate in practice until further notice. Meanwhile, he does have the ability to be involved in team meetings and workout at the facility.
There is no telling as to when exactly Gordon will be available on the field. Perhaps that question could be answered on Episode 3 of Hard Knocks Tuesday night, an episode in which “Flash” is expected to make his debut on.
For seemingly the first time since Gordon joined the team as a second-round supplemental draft pick in 2012, the Browns do not need Josh Gordon. Of course, having a guy playing receiver that looks like he was created from a video game would be great to have but it is not exactly a necessity, although it would be a great addition. This is not to say that the Browns are better off without Gordon, but they did a good job of preparing for what happened at the beginning of camp when the team yer again did not have Gordon for almost a full month.
Cleveland’s first step was trading a mid-round pick for Jarvis Landry and signing him to an extension. They also drafted Antonio Callaway, a first-round talent that fell to the fourth round for reasons similar to why Gordon has missed so much time playing football. Cleveland has already made the rookie their starting receiver opposite Landry. Rashard Higgins has been a bright spot as well, continuing to develop into a reliable slot receiver with plenty of upside.
Having Gordon active on Sundays has been a luxury for the Browns because there is no telling if he will be back on the field the next day. It is quite easy to propose lofty expectations for one of the NFL’s best receivers when he’s actually on the field, but it is best to temper them for now. As mentioned previously, let’s start with getting Gordon on the field active for week one against the Steelers. After all, he does seem to be in football shape after training consistently at the University of Florida during his time away from the team.
It is difficult to set forth seasonal expectations because the unknown floats like a rain cloud over the heads of the Browns with no telling when lightning will strike and Flash will be gone again.
Lastly, let’s try to think positive. Let’s say lightning strikes on the football field and Gordon returns to his All-Pro form from 2013. The Browns would then potentially have the league’s best receiving corps with the likes of Gordon, Landry, and a Callaway featured as the team’s front-running wideouts.
I wonder what that would look like with competent quarterback play? Could the Browns have one of the NFL’s best offensive attacks? It may never be answered.
To see Gordon catch 50 balls again and record over 1,000 yards doing so would be quite impressive, but until he is lined up on the field on a consistant basis, it all remains one big unknown. Instead of pressuring a guy that has not played a whole season since his rookie year to return to elite play, let’s dial hope into the league’s most exciting up-and-coming duo in Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry. That would be the smart thing to do.