Cleveland Browns Post-Season Positional Review: Wide Receivers

Heading into the offseason following an AFC divisional round loss, the Browns look to review each position and how to improve in 2021. The next position group reviewed will be the wide receivers.
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The Cleveland Browns wide receiver core proved to be very valuable as the 2020 season progressed. Heading into the season the impact of the position group was a slight unknown. Headlined by two stars in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, the money committed to the position group is one of the highest on the team. Next season, Beckham’s scheduled cap hit is $15.75 million and Landry’s $14.75 million accounts for over 14% of the team’s current salary. Behind them was adequate depth with Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge yet there is still room for improvement.

Jarvis Landry

72 Receptions

840 Receiving Yards – 3 Touchdowns

PFF Grades

84.7 Offense Grade (13th / 127)

81.8 Receiving Grade (17th / 115)

Jarvis Landry is the invaluable leader of the offense providing veteran leadership in-game and holding players accountable during training camp. But having such an expensive annual cap hit the franchise expects top dollar production along with his veteran presence. Landry’s production this season was underwhelming compared to his first two years in Cleveland. Landry recorded his lowest reception total of his career, second lowest receiving yardage since his rookie season, and the lowest touchdown total of his career. Being such a talented receiver the expectations are quite high for Landry given the standard he set after making five straight Pro Bowls.

This is the first season since his rookie year that Jarvis Landry has not made a Pro Bowl. It is a positive reflection of Landry’s impact on the field and even with his lower production total he still finished with the third highest overall PFF grade of his career. It is obvious that Landry developed into Baker Mayfield’s security blanket and he consistently finds ways to get open and extend drives. His ability to make clutch plays on third down, beat man coverage, or make heavily contested catches has shown up countless times on scoring drives throughout the season.

Landry also stepped up in the post-season averaging over 9 yards per reception and scoring a touchdown in each playoff game. The numbers he recorded may not be the highest but his overall impact as a sure handed receiver and veteran presence is extremely valuable for this young team. Since joining the Browns in 2018, Landry has built great chemistry with Baker Mayfield and has paid huge dividends in changing the franchises culture. As long as it remains financially feasible for the front office then Jarvis Landry should remain in Cleveland for a couple more seasons.

Odell Beckham Jr.

23 Receptions

319 Receiving Yards – 3 Touchdowns

3 Carries

72 Rushing Yards – 1 Touchdown

PFF Grades

75.3 Offense Grade (38th / 127)

73.7 Receiving Grade

90.2 Run Grade

Odell Beckham has two seasons in Cleveland and still remains the biggest anomaly on the offense. He is an extremely talented receiver whose impact on-field is undeniable, yet it still hasn’t felt to be fully realized with Baker Mayfield. In his first three seasons Beckham posted over 4,100 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns making three consecutive Pro Bowls. This production identified Beckham as one of the elite receivers in the NFL and the last four seasons has left much to be desired. Since 2017, he has missed 25 games due to injury and 2019 was the first year Beckham played a full sixteen games.

This season the injury concerns returned as he suffered a torn ACL in week seven against the Cincinnati Bengals. The injury was more of a freak accident given how it occurred running on an interception return. Yet the play itself showcased the awkward chemistry between Beckham and Baker Mayfield. In the 23 games Beckham has appeared in, his fit in the offense has seemed force and not properly schemed. At different points Mayfield would lock on to Beckham and force targets that wouldn’t be the best read. Fortunately there is still time to make the relationship fruitful similar to what made Beckham take the league by storm.

Odell is under contract until 2024 and he has plenty motivation to come back next season with a vengeance. Nearly every offseason he is attached to trade rumors and different media figures attack his personality or maturity. Producing a Pro Bowl caliber season could put Beckham back in that hall of fame trajectory many expected. Again the talent is undeniable and his road performance against the Dallas Cowboys showed everyone he is still a game breaker when healthy.

Rashard Higgins

37 Receptions

599 Receiving Yards – 4 Touchdowns

PFF Grades

73.4 Offense Grade (48th / 127)

72.8 Receiving Grade (47th / 115)

Rashard Higgins in 2020 once again proved his chemistry with Baker Mayfield is still one of the best on the Cleveland Browns. Higgins route to the starting lineup was an enigma as the improved receiver played only 21 snaps through the first four games of the season. Following Odell Beckham being lost for the season, Higgins had a huge performance against the Cincinnati Bengals catching all six targets for 110 yards. Higgins as starter included good performances against top competition posting six receptions and a touchdown in back-to-back weeks versus the Titans and Ravens.

The most burning memory for many Browns fans regarding Higgins was his fumble in the divisional round against the Chiefs. Higgins made a big time catch and run but a missed helmet to helmet penalty which could’ve changed the pace of the playoff matchup resulted in a touchback. Yet the collection of what ifs won’t change the result and Higgins has shown the ability to create big plays when called upon. The best skillset within Higgins repertoire is his ability to make difficult catches along the sideline.

Higgins skillset is quite similar to Jarvis Landry and his role within the offense is best suited as a WR3. He has value in the run game with an above average run blocking grade (67.7) in the NFL and helped sprung numerous touchdown runs during the season. Blocking by receivers on the outside is an important cog to Kevin Stefanski’s offensive scheme which in turn Higgins brings value. Entering this offseason Higgins will be an unrestricted free agent and with questions surrounding the status of the position group, resigning him may be a favorable option for GM Andrew Berry.

Donovan Peoples-Jones

14 Receptions

304 Receiving Yards – 2 Touchdowns

PFF Grades

67.7 Offense Grade (76th / 127)

68.4 Receiving Grade

Donovan Peoples-Jones entered the NFL as a sixth round draft pick with no rookie minicamp and an unconventional training camp. Yet given the extreme circumstances Peoples-Jones was able to bring value to the team both on offense and on special teams. On a weekly basis the impact from Peoples-Jones was primarily on special teams in the return game. Beginning in week four, Peoples-Jones handled most of the kick return duties before being solely used as the team’s punt returner. The return game is the area during the draft process in which scouts believed he would have the most impact as rookie.

As a returner there was a mixed bag of results, the kick returns were somewhat decent but his punt return production was very underwhelming. Peoples-Jones gained most of these opportunities following the injury to return specialist JoJo Natson. Peoples-Jones brings good athleticism with nice size and his physical measurements are best suited on offense for making plays outside the numbers. He was able to make plays along the sideline and out leap smaller defensive backs in jump ball situations. Mayfield showed some good chemistry with Peoples-Jones resulting in an average of 21.71 yards per reception.

Overall Peoples-Jones showcased growth in his rookie season and has an opportunity to make a bigger jump in year two. His impact on special teams is still a relative unknown but the role he carved out on offense is very beneficial. He provides a big bodied target that can make plays outside the numbers and reviewing the position group Peoples-Jones is the only receiver built in that prototype.

KhaDarel Hodge

11 Receptions

180 Receiving Yards

PFF Grades

69.6 Offense Grade (65th / 127)

69.6 Receiving Grade

KhaDarel Hodge is the final receiver to play a decent number of snaps this season and is a solid depth piece for the roster. Signing a one-year contract last offseason, Hodge began the year as the WR3 over Rashard Higgins. The decision although never clearly stated was likely due to his ability as a run blocker and his speed to stretch the field. Yet the biggest value Hodge provides for the team is his play on special teams especially on coverage units. He brings good straight line speed and the ability to make tackles in open space against returners.

Hodge only played nine games this season as he dealt with a nagging hamstring injury most of the year. That is definitely a factor of why both Higgins and Peoples-Jones surpassed him on the depth chart. Hodge does offer spot value where he can be schemed open to make plays downfield and he had some success doing so at different points in the season. He is a restricted free agent this offseason and there’s a strong possibility he returns given his low cap hit and value as a special teams ace. Hodge also could be insurance to Rashard Higgins if he does not resign.

The Cleveland Browns wide receiver group could look completely different next season or return numerous players depending on Andrew Berry’s financial outlook for the position. The current contracts for Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry will definitely be discussed within the front office which could mean moving from one of the two or retaining both. Also, resigning Rashard Higgins or KhaDarel Hodge could factor into signing other players in free agency or drafting another young receiver. No matter the route Berry decides the position groups talent is currently top heavy and there should be a desire to add more speed and size to the group. This may become a situation where the new salary cap may determine what moves are and are not made.