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Cleveland Browns: Wide Receiver Battle in Tight Race After Fourth Preseason Game
In the final game of the preseason against the Chicago Bears, the Cleveland Browns took a long, hard look at the players that will be rounding out their depth chart. For one position in particular, wide receiver, the game opened up a lot of eyes about what the roster could look like Saturday when they trim down to the final 53 players.
It is obvious that the top four receivers are locked in place. Second-round picks Josh Gordon and Greg Little will be staples all season long, as they have showed time and time again this preseason that they have the most playmaking potential of the group. After that, quarterback Brandon Weeden‘s go-to target and offseason acquisition, Davone Bess will make the cut. As well as dynamic punt returner and deep threat option, Travis Benjamin, will be a safe bet to make the team. After those four, however, the waters grow a little murky.
Most rosters carry a maximum of six wide receivers, meaning the Browns will have to pick two of the remaining four receivers. The situation for Cleveland is a little more out of the ordinary though, as Gordon will face a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy this offseason. Therefore, the team could potentially carry seven receivers on the roster to compensate for the absence of their suspended second-year player.
The most experienced player of the group is former Buffalo Bills and Florida Gators receiver, David Nelson. At 6’5″, Nelson presents a huge target for Weeden, but the problem is that they simply have not seen enough of him. Enduring injuries for much of camp, his first real action came against the Chicago Bears on Thursday night. While he had four receptions for 54 yards, he was also targeted on 10 attempts. With a frustrating drop on one, and a slip on the other, Nelson looked shaky and out of sorts on the field. With the injury history and the limited work sample, it is quite possible that Nelson could be on his way out.
The next option for the Browns is former Oklahoma State slot receiver, and a favorite target of Weeden, Josh Cooper. A small, shifty slot receiver, Cooper has very reliable hands. Capable of coming up with the big catch, he has made a career off of coming up huge in the clutch. He does not shy away from contact and has no fears about going over the middle against bigger and stronger linebackers. With Bess favoring an injured knee, keeping an additional slot receiver like Cooper on the roster might be a tempting idea to head coach Rob Chudzinski, especially given his collegiate chemistry with the starting quarterback.
If the Browns want a big target like Nelson, they only have to look as far as Tori Gurley. At 6’4″ in height, the former South Carolina Gamecock went undrafted after a mildly successful couple seasons in college. This preseason, Gurley has caught everything that has come his way. In Thursday’s game, he caught three passes on three targets for 56 yards, while also making tackles on the special teams unit. With his ability to play at a high level on special teams, Gurley has helped to make himself that much more useful to the organization, and that much harder to cut from the roster.
The final option for Cleveland is Texas-El Paso undrafted free agent, Mike Edwards. Also capable of doing some special teams work, Edwards only managed to haul in four receptions for 39 yards in the preseason. At 5’11 and 200 pounds, Edwards does not bring a particular distinguishing skill set to the table. He has solid hands, but struggles to get open, even against mid-level defenders on the second and third team. While still a raw product, Edwards seems more like a practice squad candidate right now than an NFL starting receiver at the moment. When all is said and done, expect Nelson and Edwards to be the 53-man roster casualties.
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