The Browns receiving corps appears to be in much better shape than it has been in the recent past. Part of the improvement has been with the improvement of the young receivers. Gordon, Little and Benjamin all look to have made significant progress during the off-season. Benjamin was very impressive during the OTAs and minicamp.
The additions of Bess and Nelson could have the biggest impact on the receivers. Bess should fill the third down role better than any receiver the Browns have had since Joe Jurevicius was the go to guy on third downs in 2007.
Nelson didn't take part in the minicamp, but if he can come back healthy from the ACL injury, he could be the starter opposite of Little to start the season in the wake of Gordon's suspension.
Gordon (6-3, 225, 22, 2nd year)—After a promising rookie season, big things are expected out of Gordon in Norv Turner's offensive system. However, a two-game suspension to start the season imposed by the NFL will not allow Gordon to get off to a fast start.
Gordon displayed his big play ability in 2012 as he caught 50 passes for 805 yards, including five touchdowns. His yardage total was the third best among all NFL rookies and he averaged 16.1 yards a catch. He is the downfield threat that the Browns offense is designed for.
Little (6-2, 220, 24, 3rd year)—Little had his second-straight productive season, but seemed to play better in the second half of last season. He led the Browns with 53 receptions for 647 yards and four touchdowns in 2012 after having 61 catches for 709 yards as a rookie.
The Browns are counting on Little to emerge in his third season as a key part of the Browns offense.
Bess (5-10, 195, 27, 6th year)— Bess joined the Browns in a draft day trade in April and should be the Browns third down receiver. He has been a very productive receiver in the NFL over the past four years while with the Dolphins. He has caught 267 passes since 2009, which is the 14th most productive receiver in the NFL in that time span. He might have been the biggest addition the Browns made to their offense, in terms of personnel, this past off-season.
Nelson (6-5, 215, 26, 4th year)— Nelson had just broke into the starting lineup to start the 2012 season after a breakout year in 2011 with the Bills when he caught 61 passes for 658 yards with five touchdowns. Nelson had caught 94 passes for 1,042 yards, including eight touchdowns in his three seasons in Buffalo.
However, Nelson tore his ACL in the season-opener against the Jets and has been rehabbing the knee ever since. Nelson signed as an unrestricted free agent during the off-season, but was not able to take part in OTAs and minicamp. He is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
Benjamin (5-10, 175, 23, 2nd year)—Benjamin caught just 18 passes for 298 yards as a rookie, but definitely showed his game-breaking ability. His 16.6-yard average was the best on the team. He had a 69-yard reception for a touchdown against the Redskins and broke a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown, setting a new Browns record. Benjamin also rushed for 66 yards on just six carries.
Norwood (5-11,180, 26, 3rd year)—Norwood played in just two games through the first five games in 2012 until he was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury for the final 11 games. After being inactive for the first three games, Norwood caught four passes for 56 yards in his first action against the Ravens. He followed that with a career best of nine receptions against the Giants for 81 yards. Norwood had his best season in 2011 with 23 receptions in 14 games for 268 yards and a touchdown.
Norwood has shown he can be productive in the slot on third down, but has had trouble staying on the field. With the addition of Bess and Nelson, Norwood needs a big preseason to make the team.
Cooper (5-10, 190, 24, 2nd year)—Cooper had an impressive training camp and was able to land on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2012. After spending the first five weeks on the practice squad, Cooper was elevated to the 53-man roster and caught eight passes for 106 yards in the six games he was active.
Cooper will have a battle with Norwood to make the team, but the suspension to Gordon will help his cause.
Gurley (6-4, 230, 25, 1st year)— Gurley originally was signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2011, where he spent the season on the practice squad. In 2012, he bounced around on several team's practice squads, including the Vikings and Chargers. He also spent some time with the Ravens. He has potential, but is still considered a rookie. He will battle Davis, Roberson, Edwards and Croom to catch the coaching staff's eyes during training camp.
Davis (6-2, 220, 22, rookie)— Davis is an undrafted free agent rookie from Iowa. He will battle the other rookies for at least a shot at the practice squad.
Roberson (6-4, 205, 22, rookie)— Roberson is a tall, rangy receiver from Stephen F. Austin, who was signed as an undrafted free agent.
Edwards (5-11, 200, 23, rookie)— Edwards is an undrafted free agent rookie from Texas- El Paso who has been compared to Cooper.
Croom (6-2, 190, 22, rookie)— Croom is one of four undrafted free agent rookies vying for the roster. He played collegiately at Central Arkansas.
Summary: Unlike in previous seasons, the Browns appear to have the potential to be very solid at the receiver position. The additions of Bess and Nelson are the types of veterans that can be good examples for younger players like Gordon, Little, Benjamin and the rest.
(Next: We take a look at the tight end position)