Having jettisoned their top two quarterbacks from last season, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, in favour of the aging Jake Delhomme and veteran Seneca Wallace, the Cleveland Browns next logical move would seem to be repairing the desperate situation at wide receiver.
Or perhaps not.
With new general manager Mike Holmgren having an offensive background, most observers felt he would focus his attention on that side of the ball in free agency and that has proven to be true.
In addition to addressing the quarterback position, the Browns went the free agency route in acquiring right offensive tackle Tony Pashos and tight end Ben Watson, as well as re-signing guard Billy Yates and tight end Greg Estandia. They also picked up fullback Peyton Hillis from the Broncos as part of the Quinn trade, and he can also fill in at running back.
However, despite having the worst passing offense in the league with a woeful 129.8 yards per game last year, the Browns have not addressed the wide receiver position in free agency. To put this in perspective, the next worst passing offense was the New York Jets with 148.8 yards per game, 19 yards a game better than the Browns. The Browns were really, really bad.
More proof of the anemic passing attack was that the Browns were the only team in the NFL to complete fewer than 50% of their passes. They averaged a league worst 5.1 yards per attempt and had the second lowest number of touchdown passes with 11. The team’s wide receivers caught only five of those touchdown passes.
And yet the current depth chart at wide receiver remains unchanged from the end of last season with second-year players Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie accompanied by former Jet Chansi Stuckey and Josh Cribbs. Combined, they caught 80 passes last year for 1,063 yards which would be considered solid production from a team’s number one receiver, not its top four.
With the remaining free agent wide receivers consisting of aging veterans and journeyman, the Browns will be forced to address the position in the draft, barring a trade. The top wide receiver available is expected to be Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant but his draft stock is sliding due to questions about his character and poor 40-yard time, making it unlikely the Browns will pick him with the seventh selection in the draft.
Massaquoi is the only wide receiver on the roster that has shown the ability to develop into a productive starter. At 6’2” and 207 pounds, he has good size and displayed some big play ability as a rookie with 34 receptions for 624 yards and three touchdowns, averaging an impressive 18.4 yards per catch.
However, he was very inconsistent with a large portion of his production (407 yards and two touchdowns) coming in four games, the only games in which he topped 40 yards receiving. In addition, his average yards per catch as a rookie may be deceiving since he doesn’t possess great deep speed. Nonetheless, he projects as the Browns top wide receiver in 2010 and as a low end fantasy WR4 with limited upside.
Robiskie’s lack of production as a rookie was particularly confusing since he was considered to be the most polished wide receiver coming out of college last year. Despite being the fourth pick in the second round and possessing decent speed, he was active for only 11 games, many of which he barely played, and caught seven passes for 106 yards. He was targeted only 21 times.
Barring major improvement during the offseason together with a solid training camp, he does not currently project as a player worth drafting in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues.
Cribbs has displayed some obvious big play ability but in five years, the most yards he had from scrimmage in a season came last year when he totalled 516. In the previous four years, his combined total was 292 total yards. Although the Browns list him as a wide receiver, there is little doubt that his biggest potential for fantasy purposes lies in his ability as a running back.
With Jerome Harrison having basically a solid half-season out of four years in the league, Hillis a marginal talent and James Davis coming off a wasted rookie season, Cribbs could have surprising production as a runner in Cleveland provided there are no additions to the depth chart prior to opening day.
As for Stuckey, he was reasonably decent for one season as a third wide receiver with the Jets in 2008 as part of an offense that put up solid passing production. Last year, the Jets gave up on him after he started three of four games with minimal impact. He’s a marginal talent at best and isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot in 2010.
The Raiders, Rams and Buccaneers also possess depth charts at wide receiver that are severely lacking but those teams possess some decent veterans and a speed element, neither of which exist in Cleveland at the moment.
Add it all up and it seems clear that the Browns currently possess the worst group of wide receivers in the league.