2019 Cleveland Browns’ 10 most important players in 2019: David Njoku

    The Cleveland Browns finished 5-3 in the final eight games of last season. Combine that momentum with the offseason influx of impact players, and the Browns are favored to win the AFC North for the first time since it was known as the AFC Central.

    The hysteria in Cleveland is at an all-time high as we head into the Freddie Kitchens era. Which players will be the most important in turning Cleveland into Believeland?

    I continue to breakdown the ten most important Cleveland Browns’ players in 2019. I started the list with two defensive players:

    10. Olivier Vernon

     9.  Sheldon Richardson

    As I climb the Browns ladder, I finally get to the offensive side of the ball. I present to you the No.8 most important player: tight end David Njoku.

    The 2017 NFL Draft

    The Cleveland Browns pursued to add three first-rounders in the 2017 NFL Draft and decided to give up the first pick in the second round and trade up to the Green Bay Packers’ 29th spot and select the University of Miami tight end David Njoku.

    Njoku fit the mold of a high-level athlete that then-general manager Sashi Brown fixated on in the 2017 NFL Draft. The former Hurricane star was a freakish athlete with great size at 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds. His arm length measured 35 1/4″, and his hand size is 10″.

    He averaged 16.2 and 17.2 yards per receptions in the only two seasons he played tight end and 43 receptions with nine touchdowns. According to his NFL.com draft profile, his drop rate was over 11 percent. Njoku, 20, is raw with a humongous upside. The Cleveland Browns noticed enough upside that they released starting tight end Gary Barnidge the day after drafting Njoku.

    Njoku starred at the NFL Combine with monster numbers in speed and explosion. His high-jump background lends itself to imagining Njoku leaping over defenders in the end zone.

    His playmaking potential is off the charts, and even his future head coach Hue Jackson had something to nice to say about his 20-year-old tight end:

    “He has the ability to make plays down the field, and I think you can see that in a lot of his highlights,” Hue Jackson added that day. “He makes contested catches. He can create separation from defenders. He has the ability to be an in-line blocker. He is a three-down tight end.”

    Njoku enjoys a promising 2017 rookie season

    David Njoku had a promising rookie season. He totaled 32 receptions for 386 yards and 4 TDs. He became the fifth tight end in the league history to record 30 receptions and 300 yards at the age of 21 behind Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, and Aaron Hernandez.

    His 386 receiving yards was the fourth most for a rookie TE for the Browns since the 1970 merger. His 32 receptions were the third most, and no other Browns TE managed more touchdowns than Njoju (4) in his rookie season.

    According to Player Profiler, Njoku had a contested-catch rate of 52.9 percent. This was the fourth-best rate among TEs.

    Njoku started hot with three touchdowns in his first five games. The next 11 games yielded just one more. It looked like Njoku wore down toward the end of his rookie season, but the promise of an elite playmaking tight end was undoubtedly noticeable.

    Njoku and the Browns blossom in 2018

    The Cleveland Browns finished 7-8-1 last season despite a coaching change mid-season. Most importantly, the Browns have found their franchise quarterback, Baker Mayfield.

    The coaching changes resulted in Freddie Kitchens calling plays and led to the Browns offensive boom, which included tight end David Njoku.

    He caught 31 passes for 297 yards in the seven games with Todd Haley as offensive coordinator, an average of 9.6 yards per reception. He caught 25 passes for 342 yards in the eight games of Freddie Kitchens calling plays, an average of 13.7 yards per reception.

    Njoku finished with 56 catches on 88 targets for 639 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. He ranked second on the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in 2018.

    His hands have been questioned since he was drafted, but Njoku posted a respectable catch rate of 62.9 percent this past season, establishing that he has improved in that area of his game.

    Njoku continues to raise the ceiling on his potential. What will a full season with Baker Mayfield provide?

    The future is bright in Cleveland

    Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey hit the jackpot with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Dorsey decided to take advantage of his window with Mayfield and went all-in on building the offense around Baker and filling the visible defensive holes.

    There are tons of reasons to love the Cleveland Browns offense. The addition of All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and running back Kareem Hunt to a high-powered offense should cause headaches for all NFL defensive coordinators.

    Beckham and Landry should be Mayfield’s go-to guys in the passing game, but we shouldn’t forget fellow wideouts Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins. Additionally, the running backs group of 2018 rookie sensation Nick Chubb, elite pass-catching back Duke Johnson, and after Week 10, the dynamic Kareem Hunt.

    Of course, how could I forget tight end David Njoku? With defenses occupied trying to cover the deep threats, Njoku will have the middle of the field all to himself. He will be matched up with linebackers who will not have the size or the athleticism to cover Njoku.

    David Njoku should blossom in 2019 as he has improved in his first two seasons in the league. Elite playmakers surround him, and Mayfield trusts him which may lead to Njoku fulfilling his goals for the 2019 season:

    On his personal goals for the season: “I don’t put numbers into my goals. I just feel like if I gave everything I could to the game, work my hardest, I’ll feel like I accomplished. That said, I want 20 touchdowns this year,” Njoku said with a smile.

    We can not forget that the former Hurricane tight end is still incredibly young at 23-year-old. The icing on the David Njoku breakout cake is that new offensive coordinator Todd Monken should provide opportunities to shine. He is an innovative offensive mind who made both tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate an integral part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense.

    Browns’ general manager John Dorsey also believes in his young tight end:

    “The one thing about David is he is a very young man. I love his passion. I love his competitiveness. He is willing to go work day in and day out to master his craft. We have high expectations for David moving forward and he rightfully has expectations for himself,” Dorsey said earlier this off-season.

    “I know one thing that I’d like for him to see – improve your run blocking. David has got all the elements to be a really nice pass-catching tight end who can run after the catch. So I challenge him here today, you know what, improve your run blocking.”

    The elite talent and the opportunity for success are there for David Njoku. That combination along with his physical skills make him a key player for the Cleveland Browns in 2019.

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