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Cleveland Browns Draft: Can Johnny Manziel and Greg Little Ease the Loss of Josh Gordon?
As the 2014 NFL Draft came to an end, news of the potential year-long suspension of Browns star receiver Josh Gordon had reached a frenzied panic in Cleveland. With round one being billed as a home run for the Browns, obtaining CB Justin Gilbert, QB Johnny Manziel and the Bills 2015 1st and 4th round picks, the next couple rounds were met by analysts with complete confusion as they opted to address other positions than wide-out.
With receivers like Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and USC’s Marqise Lee still on the board in the second round when the Browns No. 35 pick appeared on the screen, many fans were completely surprised to see general manager Ray Farmer pull the trigger on Nevada offensive lineman, Joel Bitonio. A stout, athletic lineman, the Browns certainly had a need that Bitonio fills, but the wide receiver position was still the most talked about one at Browns draft parties.
In the third round, fans and analysts again sat dumb-founded as the Browns pick rolled around at No. 71, and again, they opted to address the inside linebacker position instead of wide receiver. Passing on Oregon WR Josh Huff and Mississippi WR Donte Moncrief to select Iowa ILB Christian Kirksey, despite the potential absence of Gordon in 2014, signaled that Farmer has a plan for the team—and it isn’t a short-sighted one.
After allegedly failing his third drug test, Gordon is reportedly set to be suspended for the 2014 season. The loss of Gordon is a one-year issue, however, and it hasn’t even been confirmed yet. To wander from the board that Farmer had set up, is a quick path to disaster. NFL GMs spend months filling out their draft board, they trust their judgement and the successful teams do not panic and stray from their assessments. In the case of drafting Bitonio, Kirksey, Terrance West and Pierre Desir, Farmer stayed true to that plan.
For the Browns in 2014, however, they are now in an interesting position that will see them entering the 2014 season without a proven No. 1 receiver on the roster. The Browns have a solid No. 2 wideout in Nate Burleson, a physical possession receiver capable of moving the chains. Burleson is on the wrong side of 30 though, and his speed has diminished greatly, leaving his ability to stretch the field to a minimum.
Recently signed free agent Andrew Hawkins is a pure slot receiver, a player who does his damage in space by generating yards after the catch. He will be a valuable asset, but you will likely not see him running many deep routes. That leaves Travis Benjamin, coming off an ACL injury, whose height limits his ability to fight for deep passes and jump balls, and Greg Little.
In former North Carolina WR Little, the Browns have a raw product with outstanding athletic potential. A 6’2″ and 220 pound receiver, Little has surprising speed and strength, and is capable of out-muscling most cornerbacks in the league when the ball is in the air. The problem with Little has always been between the ears. With concentration issues, he has a tendency to allow passes that should be caught, drop helplessly to the ground.
With a new quarterback in former Heisman-winner, Manziel, a new coaching staff and energy in the building, a new offensive system that feeds the No. 1 receiver constantly, a contract-year, the pending suspension of Gordon and a media circus set to unfold in Cleveland—every last fan will hope that the light will go on for Little this year. The coaching staff has already expressed their eagerness to get to work with an athletic talent like Little, now the results need to show up on the field.
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