Training camp has begun for teams all across the NFL, and the Cleveland Browns are ready to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 season. In this training camp preview, we break down and analyze the Browns wide receivers ahead of 2020. Entering the season, this is a position group that needs to perform well to help out quarterback Baker Mayfield. Who will be the Browns starters, and who will become important depth players behind them?
Who are the Browns starting wide receivers in 2020?
Entering 2020, the Browns will have one of the league’s most talented duo’s at the WR position on the field together. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will return to the lineup in hopes of being able to help the Browns score more points offensively.
Odell Beckham Jr. will look to make more of an impact in 2020
The acquisition of Beckham last season made the Browns the talk of the NFL last season, but his on-field production was one of the lowest outputs of his career. It didn’t appear like Beckham was on the same page with Mayfield, but it was later revealed that he played the whole season with a groin injury that required surgery, a procedure that really should have happened a year before it did.
Not including his 2017 season lost to injury, OBJ finished with career-lows in catches (74), yards (1,035), and four touchdowns. Beckham’s talent is evident when he’s on the football field. His health and chemistry with Mayfield are what fans should be looking for.
Jarvis Landry hopes to remain healthy in 2020
While Beckham had the worst production output of his career, Landry had his best. He caught 83 passes for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns for the Browns last season. Landry’s 14.1 yards per catch was two yards higher than his previous high mark.
It will be important for Landry to enter the season fully healthy, in order to contribute in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense. Landry had off-season hip-surgery back in February, but has since undergone a physical and has been following his rehabilitation schedule. Despite the concern for his hip surgery, he should be ready to go for the Browns in Week 1.
Who will be the Browns third wide receiver in 2020?
Rashard Higgins has a chance to grow into the role
Higgins had a strong season in 2018, catching 39 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns. He developed a strong rapport with Mayfield, and Higgins appears ready to improve on that success and previous chemistry.
In 2019, Higgins ended up being targeted only 11 times all season and missed six games due to injuries and coaching decisions. It appeared as if he was in the doghouse with former head coach Freddie Kitchens for reasons unknown, and his value sat at an all-time low as he hit unrestricted free agency.
Higgins turned down more money from other teams and decided to return to Cleveland for under $1 million this season, citing Mayfield as his reason for doing so. Even with last year’s debacle, Higgins is the frontrunner for the WR3 job, although that role may not be very large, as head coach Stefanski rarely used three receivers during his time with the Minnesota Vikings.
Donovan Peoples-Jones athletic talent and skillset could make him a wildcard
A rookie sixth-rounder out of Michigan, Peoples-Jones didn’t have great college production in large part due to inconsistent QB play. He possesses the elite physical traits that make him a candidate to become a wildcard player for the Browns in 2020. He is very talented, and his 6-2 212-pound frame combined with his 4.48-speed and freakish jumping ability gives him plenty of potential at the NFL level.
Peoples-Jones could contribute right away as a vertical threat and as a punt returner, which is something he did very well in college. Peoples-Jones is not guaranteed a roster spot, but if he can contribute on special teams, both as a returner and in kick coverage, he will make the team and the offensive snaps will come in time.
KhaDarel Hodge will likely be a key special teams contributor
Hodge was signed by the Browns after final roster cuts during the preseason last year, being released by the Los Angeles Rams. He’s a very good special teamer who was given a chance on offense later in the year. His contributions on special teams will be how he makes the roster, but more playing time on offense could be in store for him as well.
D.J. Montgomery looking to build off of early 2019 showing
A player who is the Browns wildcard outside of Peoples-Jones is Montgomery. Montgomery signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent last season and caught five passes for 124 yards and a touchdown during the team’s first two preseason games. He suffered an injury that allowed the team to stash him on injured reserve for 2019. He impressed in training camp last year and will have another chance to make the squad in 2020.
Battle for depth and special teams
Damion Ratley will compete with Peoples-Jones
Ratley was a sixth-round pick in 2018 and has had some nice moments over the past two seasons in limited playing time. He caught 12 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown in 2019 but was a John Dorsey draft pick. New general manager Andrew Berry has preached about being egoless, but if there is room for only one of Ratley or Peoples-Jones, Ratley will on the outside looking in. He has good long speed and got more playing time on special teams late in the season, so he does have a chance to stick around.
Taywan Taylor will have to be more productive to see the field
A third-round pick in 2017, Taylor was targeted 82 times over his first two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, and the Browns sent a 2020 seventh-rounder for him. Taylor was active for three games, unable to catch his lone target. He has talent, but given his lack of production and the versatility of other players on the depth chart, he faces an uphill climb to make the roster.
JoJo Natson faces being the odd-man-out in Cleveland
A 5-7 153-pound return man, Natson was signed for one reason; to improve Cleveland’s return game. However, given that he has all of 21 career offensive snaps, all of which came in 2017, Natson is hardly guaranteed a roster spot. He must prove that he is so much better in the return game than Peoples-Jones that it would make sense for the Browns to cut their sixth-round pick, who can also contribute on offense and in special teams coverage.
J’Mon Moore could be stashed away on practice squad
Moore was a fourth-round selection by the Green Bay Packers but caught just two passes in three games as a rookie. He was cut after camp by Green Bay and was signed to Cleveland’s practice squad in late November. He is a longshot, but Moore does have the tallest frame of any receiver on the team at 6-3.
Ja’Marcus Bradley faces the harsh reality of no NFL preseason
Bradley is fast and solid after the catch, but he seems like the kind of player who would do well to make a practice squad. The Louisiana product caught 20 touchdowns and averaged over 15 yards per catch over the past two seasons. Without a preseason to display his talent, it will be extremely difficult for Bradley to make the team.
The Cleveland Browns projected depth chart at wide receiver
For the Browns, these are the players who are projected to be the team’s six-deep WRs.
WR1 – Odell Beckham Jr.
WR2 – Jarvis Landry
WR3 – Rashard Higgins
WR4 – Donovan Peoples-Jones
WR5 – Damion Ratley
WR6 – KhaDarel Hodge
Beckham and Landry go without saying. Higgins will be the Browns primary WR3, with Peoples-Jones seeing maybe 5-10 snaps per game early on, due to his ability to take the top off of opposing defenses. It would not be surprising to see his role increase as the year goes on. Ratley and Hodge will likely see minimal time on offense, instead functioning as special team’s contributors.
Players who will likely miss the cut on the depth chart
Taylor, Moore, and Bradley don’t offer Cleveland anything that the team doesn’t already have. Natson is good at what he does, but his lack of versatility hurts him a lot, and Peoples-Jones should be able to prove he is a good enough returner to make the Browns comfortable parting ways with Natson. Montgomery is the closest player to making the final roster, and could very well get in over Ratley if he can prove his worth on special teams.
The problem for all of these end-of-roster guys is that there just isn’t a ton of playing time to go around at the receiver position especially without preseason games. The Browns will likely use a third tight end (rookie Harrison Bryant) just as much as they use a third WR. Beckham, Landry, and Higgins will make the team, but it will be interesting to see who becomes the other Browns WRs for 2020.