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Cleveland Browns Depth Chart: Is Miles Austin Capable of Being the Top Receiver?
When the Cleveland Browns released their first depth chart of the season on Tuesday, all eyes were focused squarely on the quarterback position and the battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. However, it is the team’s depth—or lack thereof—at the wide receiver position that should be where the attention goes.
As you can see in the picture to the right, Josh Gordon is listed as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver for the time being. In a shocker to some, former Dallas Cowboy Miles Austin is listed as the starting wide receiver opposite of Gordon at this time—making him the default No. 1 wide receiver if Gordon is suspended.
If you are suddenly hearing alarms going off in your head, it is for good reason.
With one of the game’s top playmakers in Gordon facing a suspension, the Browns didn’t exactly hit the pavement in search of a topflight receiver this offseason. They passed on drafting Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans at No. 4, instead opting to trade down and take Justin Gilbert. They once again passed on drafting a wide receiver with their second pick in the first round, trading up to land Manziel as the potential future of their franchise. And again—despite potential playmakers available in the second round—they passed on wide receiver to draft Joel Bitonio.
Now, this isn’t a knock on Austin, Gilbert, Manziel or Bitonio. Austin has shown the ability to be highly productive—when healthy—and the coaching staff is expecting big things from Gilbert, Manziel and Bitonio. But the simple fact is that the Browns have pretty much rolled the dice on Gordon beating the system, and that is a major gamble that their offense may not be able to afford to take.
In the team’s scrimmage Saturday, the lack of offensive playmakers could easily be seen. Not one offensive unit found paydirt, as only the defense was able to notch touchdowns at any given time. As you can imagine, this is not a good way to start the season—especially in front of fans you are trying to get excited for the “next era” of Cleveland Browns football.
With the uncertainty of Gordon’s suspension looming over Berea, the possibility of Austin being the team’s No. 1 wide receiver with Andrew Hawkins lining up as the No. 2 isn’t exactly the most exciting thing in the world. Austin has been rejuvenated this offseason during workouts, but he has battled injuries over the past few seasons which have limited his effectiveness. If those issues come back, the Browns could be looking at a duo of Hawkins and Nate Burleson leading the way for Hoyer or Manziel.
The fact is that any team is always one injury or suspension away from losing a key player—but it isn’t like this is something Ray Farmer and company didn’t know was coming. Reports surfaced prior to the draft that Gordon was facing a possible suspension for failing yet another drug test. So why was the team’s contingency plan Austin and Burleson?
This is a question we will likely never get an answer to, but it should still be asked—especially if Gordon ends up being suspended for an entire season. In an offseason where Andre Johnson was reportedly available for a second or third-round pick in next year’s class, it is absolutely mind-boggling why we are even having this conversation right now. Even if Gordon wasn’t facing a suspension, the fact you could have a duo of Gordon and Johnson for a mere second or third-round pick should have been a no-brainer.
We will obviously have to wait to see if the Browns gamble ends up paying off when it comes to banking on Gordon not being suspended for the whole season, but it just has never seemed like a wise bet from the get-go. And if the Browns do head into the season with Austin as the No. 1 receiver on the roster, tight end Jordan Cameron better put up Jimmy Graham-like numbers to make up for the major lack of playmakers.
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