Cleveland Browns Must Find Way to Overcome Lack of Receiving Depth

By Casey Drottar
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the NFL world is spending their time focusing on who’s winning the Cleveland Browns’ QB battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. However, the team itself needs to start worrying about the players these two quarterbacks are throwing to.

The main takeaway regarding Browns wideouts appears to be that, beyond the soon-to-be suspended Josh Gordon, there are no real threats at all.

It seems every daily review of training camp has included the following sentence: “(insert receiver’s name here) had some big drops today.” It’s almost as if Braylon Edwards left pairs of cursed gloves all over the locker room. So far, the defense seems to be winning all the camp 11-on-11 drills, and even SI NFL guru Peter King made note of how the Browns’ wideouts could be a big concern.

Unfortunately, even if some of the more recognizable names in Cleveland’s receiving corps can consistently catch, they still don’t look like they’ll be striking much fear in their weekly opponent. Miles Austin has had some good days at camp, but his hamstrings are going to be a concern all year. Andrew Hawkins has looked great, but he’s not someone the Browns want to lineup in their top receiving pair. Nate Burleson seems like a great locker room guy, but can’t seem to stay healthy.

Other than this, you have players like Charles Johnson, Anthony Armstrong and Willie Sneed, guys who’ve had flashes of potential at camp, but still could miss the final roster.

All in all, whichever QB the Browns end up picking when the regular season opens, the team will need to figure out a way to win games despite a lackluster receiving corps.

Obviously, one of the best ways to win games despite a questionable offense is by shutting down the opposing team through defense, which looks to be Cleveland’s main focus. The team made considerable upgrades at various positions throughout the offseason in attempts to increase both defensive quality and toughness.

Cornerback Justin Gilbert was drafted eighth overall to pair with Joe Haden, possibly creating one of the league’s best duos. The Browns signed veterans like safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Karlos Dansby hoping to infuse experience, leadership and grit. Each will play a crucial role in coach Mike Pettine‘s “attacking” defense, and will hopefully keep opponents from putting points on the board.

Another way Cleveland has been attempting to work around the receiving issues has been bolstering up the running game.

Last year, the Browns scored a total of four rushing touchdowns, an appallingly low amount which put them at the bottom of the league in this statistic. As a response, Cleveland signed former Houston Texans rusher Ben Tate, who has already looked far and away better than anyone who lined up at running back for the Browns last year. They also drafted Terrance West from Towson, fresh off a season in which he scored 41 rushing touchdowns (more than the Browns have scored in the last four seasons combined).

New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan hopes he can utilize both West and Tate in his zone blocking scheme and help Cleveland score as many touchdowns on the ground as possible.

The Browns will rely heavily on both defense and rushing as a means to counteract their limited depth at wideout. Whether or not it’ll succeed remains to be seen, but at the very least the team has made the upgrades necessary to give them a good shot.

We still don’t know who will win the Browns’ QB competition, but right now, it looks like whoever it is probably won’t be airing it out too much this season.

Casey Drottar is a Cleveland sportswriter for Follow him on Twitter @CDrottar19 or “Like” him on Facebook

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