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David Njoku Shines Against Chargers, Must be Featured Target

With his second star performance of the season against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Cleveland Browns must lean in to tight end David Njoku and see if he can deliver in critical situations.
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David Njoku's career performance against the Los Angeles Chargers was spectacular, but it needs to mean more than going forward than just a random great game as the Cleveland Browns sort through issues they continue to face on offense.

Njoku caught seven passes on seven targets for 149 yards, including a 71-yard catch and run for his first touchdown of the season. He is now the team's leading receiver with 14 receptions on 17 targets for 260 yards, including a team leading five explosive plays.

Njoku has been a dominant receiver in two of Browns games this year with the other coming in week one against the Kansas City Chiefs.

After the game, Njoku was asked if he had a sense that he was going to get a ball a lot against the Chargers.

"If defenses try to take things away, we have, you know, other options to use , so today I guess was my day when it comes to stats and you know, is what it is, but at the end of the day our main focal point is to win."

Much of this is seemingly referring to wide receiver Odell Beckham. The Chargers focused their attention on limiting Beckham, which provided opportunities for other receiving threat on the Browns including Njoku as well as Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had five receptions for 70 yards on six targets.

DPJ's performance against the Chargers is great for a player trying to break through, but he's still an extremely young receiver still figuring out nuances of route running and creating space.

It's important that the Browns were able to take what the Chargers were giving them, connecting on 12 passes for 219 yards between Njoku and Jones, but it's not addressing all of their issues.

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In one respect, Njoku has shown to be a real answer to the issues in the vertical passing game. When Beckham is taken away, no receiver has stepped up and proved able to really track and make plays on the ball down the field other than Njoku. He's currently averaging 15.2 yards per target and no other receiver on the team has more than two explosive plays compared to his five.

Unfortunately, that's really all they are currently using Njoku to do. He's either making plays down the field or catching screens. As productive and useful as that is, he can do more. It's galling to consider that Njoku has only been targeted once in the red zone this season. Njoku's targets have come almost exclusively between the 20s. He has just one touchdown through five games and it was his longest reception of 71 yards.

Given how many problems the Browns have had in the red zone, especially on fourth down play calls, it begs the question why Njoku isn't a featured target. Unquestionably, some of the issues they are dealing with down there are about protection, but it stands out that he has just the one target in the most critical area of the field, especially because this is an area of the field he has thrived in his career.

Beckham draws a significant amount of attention as illustrated by the touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins against the Chargers when everyone followed him leaving Higgins wide open. A good play design, it stands to reason they can find ways to utilize a giant, athletic tight end when space is at a premium.

The fact the Browns are experiencing some growing pains with their receivers including Jones and rookie Anthony Schwartz is all the more reason to continue to explore what's possible with Njoku. 

The more they find ways to take advantage of Njoku, which will hopefully start including the red zone, the more difficult it will be for teams to focus so much of their attention on Beckham. As nice as it is that Beckham is drawing attention away from other receiving threats, they need also him to produce if this offense is going to take a meaningful step forward this year to become a contender.

Not all of this is on Beckham as there are opportunities the Browns are not maximizing in part due to quarterback play, but the point stands. Having another proven option would benefit him.

Going forward starting with their game against the Arizona Cardinals, they should continue to feature David Njoku to see if he become a player that can produce in critical situations because that is what the offense currently needs the most.

READ MORE: Kevin Stefanski's Curious Late Game Decisions Loom Large In Loss to Chargers