The Browns have completely overhauled their receiving corps from 2013. Davone Bess and Greg Little were disappointing last year and were released. Josh Gordon is expected to be suspended for part or all of the 2014 season for failing or missing a substance abuse test.
Gordon had a breakout season in 2013 with 87 receptions for an NFL leading 1646 yards, including nine touchdowns, but the Browns will likely have to move on without him.
Minus Gordon, the receivers from last year’s Browns roster totaled just five catches for 105 yards—all by Travis Benjamin before he tore his ACL and was lost for the final eight games of the season.
The new veteran receivers are Nate Burleson, Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins and Anthony Armstrong. Burleson had 39 receptions for 461 yards and one touchdown, despite missing half the season for the Lions in 2013 with a broken arm. Austin had 24 receptions for 244 yards an no touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2013 in an injury-plagued season.
Hawkins missed half of 2013 with a leg injury and finished with just 12 receptions for 199 yards. In 2012, he had 51 receptions for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Armstrong did not play in 2013 and had three receptions for 12 yards in 2012.
Current Receivers: Josh Gordon, Nate Burleson, Miles Austin, Anthony Armstrong, Travis Benjamin, Charles Johnson, Andrew Hawkins, Conner Vernon, Kenny Shaw, Chandler Jones, Willie Snead, Jonathan Krause, Taylor Gabriel
#11—Travis Benjamin (5-10, 175, 24, 3rd year, Miami) – Benjamin is coming off a torn ACL, which sidelined him for the majority of the 2013 season. With game breaking speed prior to his injury, Benjamin is a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball, whether on a punt return, kick return or a pass reception. Benjamin said recently that he expects to be full speed by the regular season in his return from the surgery.
#12— Josh Gordon (6-3, 225, 23, 3rd year, Baylor) – Most everyone surrounding the Browns expect Gordon to be suspended for at least of this season, if not all of it. Gordon’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus said Gordon would have his appeal hearing ‘in the near future’. Losing Gordon will be a big blow to the offense, to say the least, as he accounted for over 1,700 all-purpose yards on his way to his first Pro Bowl.
#13—Nate Burleson (6-0, 198, 32, 12th year, Nevada) – Signed as an unrestricted free agent to play opposite of Gordon, Burleson broke a bone in his arm during OTAs and missed the June minicamp. He is expected to be ready for the start of training camp and is being counted on to post quality numbers. Despite only playing half a season last year, his 39 receptions were just three less than Bess had and two less than Little had in a full season.
#15—Kenny Shaw (5-11, 180, 22, Rookie, Florida St.) – One of five undrafted rookie free agent receivers brought in to compete for a roster spot.
#16—Andrew Hawkins (5-7, 180, 28, 4th year, Toledo) – The Browns made signing Hawkins a high priority as a free agent. They paid him a lot of money so the Bengals wouldn’t match the offer as a restricted free agent. Hawkins has been very impressive in the off-season practices and is expected to be utilized the majority of time in the slot.
#17—Jonathan Krause (5-11, 190, 22, Rookie, Vanderbilt) – He is another undrafted rookie free agent in the mix for a roster spot.
#18—Taylor Gabriel (5-8, 167,23, Rookie, Abilene Christian) – An undersized receiver with great speed trying to catch the coaches eyes during training camp.
#19—Miles Austin (6-2, 215, 30, 9th year, Monmouth) – After news of Gordon’s pending suspension came down, the Browns signed Austin to give them a veteran presence. Austin was plagued with hamstring injuries with the Cowboys in recent years and sat out the OTAs and minicamp with undisclosed injuries. He had just 24 receptions for 244 yards and no touchdowns last year.
#80--Charles Johnson (6-2, 215, 25, 2nd year, Grand Valley St.) – One of the intriguing receivers in camp is Johnson, who has never been seen in a Browns uniform. Johnson was a highly touted player on the Packer’s practice quad last season when the Browns signed him. It turned out he had a torn ACL and immediately had surgery. He is scheduled to be ready for training camp and could land a roster spot with a good preseason.
#83—Willie Snead (5-11, 195, 21, Rookie, Ball St.) – One of the undrafted rookies trying to capture a roster spot.
#85—Chandler Jones (5-9, 185, 22, Rookie, San Jose St.) – Jones made some good plays during OTAs and minicamp and has a chance to get a roster spot.
#86—Anthony Armstrong (5-10, 185, 31, 4th year, West Texas A&M) – A veteran who is familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s system was impressive in minicamp and might have been the reason the Browns parted ways with Earl Bennett so quickly. However, Armstrong hasn’t played in the NFL since 2012 and he had just three receptions that season.
#89—Conner Vernon (6-0, 200, 23, 1st year, Duke) – Vernon was on the Browns practice squad in 2013 and will have to impress quickly to have a chance to make the team.
Summary: The Browns are relying on veteran receivers, who all have an injury history to pick up the slack expected with the loss of Gordon to a league suspension. Burleson, Austin and Hawkins are all proven NFL receivers, but all three missed nearly half of the 2013 season with various injuries.
Johnson, Benjamin or a couple of the undrafted rookie free agents will need to emerge to give the Browns a reliable pass receiving corps.
Ray Farmer has said teams don’t need an elite receiver to win and cited the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. Only time will tell if that is true.
(Next: Tight Ends)