NFL teams are staring to utilize 12 personnel more and more, which was a major focus for the Cleveland Browns since Kevin Stefanski was hired as head coach. Between the talent the Browns have at their disposal combined with the many ways they've yet to explore using this personnel group, expect see to see it more in 2021.
12 personnel consists of one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers. In 2020 the Browns ran the grouping on 28% percent of their offensive plays, which was good for sixth-best in the NFL.
The team generated a large portion of their explosive plays out of this personnel grouping. They were able to dictate matchups in the second level by bringing in a second tight end but didn't sacrifice any athleticism by bringing in either David Njoku or Harrison Bryant.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield has also operated better out of 12 personnel than any other grouping since entering the league in 2018. He looks more comfortable with multiple tight ends on the field, and the number support it; he led the league in EPA out of the grouping.
The Browns have a talented tight-end group. During the 2019 offseason, they signed Austin Hooper to a historic deal for the position, valued at $42 million over four years.
He wasn't the star many expected him to be in his first season, but he improved as the year went on has developed obvious chemistry with Mayfield. Hooper caught a touchdown in the playoff win vs. Pittsburgh and had a crucial catch on a fourth down against Kansas City in the divisional round.
Njoku is entering a contract season and is reportedly very happy in Cleveland. When the Browns run 12 personnel, the defense has to cover him with an off-ball linebacker, and Njoku is usually the far superior athlete.
He had a lot of raw ability when the Browns select him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Since then, he has flashed his talent in spots and has steadily come into his own in recent years.
When the team needs to spell Hooper or Njoku, they also have an intriguing No. 3 option: second-year pro Harrison Bryant. The Browns took Bryant in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and the rookie quickly delivered.
His play was spotty throughout the year, but he proved that he should be given opportunities moving forward. His route running ability jumps out at first glance. Bryant routinely broke free from defenders, caught the ball in stride, and had a lot of space to create after the catch.
Some limitations kept the Browns from running even more 12 personnel in 2020. They were trying to bring along rookie tackle Jedrick Wills, and considering how often they ran play-action out of multiple tight end sets, it would have been unwise to put the rookie in tough spots continually.
The offensive line has had a year of continuity to grow together and learn to play as a unit. The Browns got better passing out of 12 sets as the year went on and won multiple games because of their efficiency out of it.
The running game also thrived out of these sets in 2020. The additional tight ends allowed the Browns to throw a variety of run looks at defenses, which gave the running back leverage advantages.
Stefanski called a variety of counters, pulls, and guts out of 12. He would put tight ends in the slot, motion them in-line, and then have a guard kick out to the second level to open up a lane.
The icing on the cake is what using more of this can do for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham tore his ACL in the 2020 season and will be making his return this year.
Defenses will have to match the personnel the Browns put on the field, and in 12 the defenders will be much closer to the line of scrimmage. Opposing teams will throw a lot of one-high safety looks at the Browns when they put multiple tight ends on the field.
That means it will be more difficult to devote extra defenders to stop Beckham. His sole objective will be to beat his defender off the line of scrimmage, and once he does that there should be some explosive plays that can happen.
The NFL has been moving towards 12 sets in recent years. The tight end position is being revolutionized by athletic freaks who can create separation like receivers.
Stefanski has been at the front of this movement and won't waste an opportunity to get more tight ends on the field in 2021.