In the aftermath following the disaster that was Johnny Manziel’s first start...
Cleveland Browns Willie Snead Could Be a Game Changer During the 2014 Season
Since Pro Bowl wideout Josh Gordon‘s breakout season last year with the Cleveland Browns, fans had been salivating with the thoughts of seeing him a full season with quarterback stability this year. Unfortunately for the Browns, everyone knows his offseason story, and his likelihood to be with the team this season is very much in doubt. With Gordon atop the depth chart in Cleveland, he would take pressure off whoever the starting quarterback will be in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to his ability to stretch the field and draw defenders.
With reports streaming in that the Cleveland Browns expect to lose Gordon “at least” for eight games this season though, reality has set in that the wide receiving corps needs to step up in a hurry.
Free agent signing Miles Austin has been a quality receiver in camp so far, catching everything in sight and running routes with veteran precision, but the health question-marks can not allow anyone to become comfortable with him as the top receiver. A Pro Bowler with a lot left in the tank, having Austin for a complete 16-game season would be a very welcomed sight for the organization this year, but as the old adage goes, you’ll only believe it when you see it.
After Austin, the Browns have another free agent signing, former Bengal, Andrew Hawkins. In a limited role under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden the past three seasons, Hawkins saw spot-work in the Cincinnati offense, racking up 86 receptions for 995 yards and four touchdowns. 10 of those catches were of 25 yards or more, showing that he is capable of making things happen after the catch, as well as being utilized as a deep threat at times. In training camp, cornerbacks like Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert have noted that he is very difficult to cover and have called him a “jitterbug” on the field.
After those two, the depth chart grows a little murky. A combination of free agent veterans, like Nate Burleson and Anthony Armstrong, combine with primary punt and kick returner Travis Benjamin to round out where a bulk of the targets are expected to go. After that, the team will rely on recently acquired Marlon Moore from the Miami Dolphins, and a promising player from the Packers who has never played a down in the NFL, Charles Johnson.
Long story short, the depth chart is full of question-marks, but the one receiver who has drawn no question-marks in camp so far has been Ball State wideout, Willie Snead. While he may technically be last on the depth chart, if he continues to perform at the level he has up to this point, they are going to have a very hard time keeping him out of the wide receiver rotation on the field.
Snead has been absolutely rock solid in camp so far, making all the tough catches with soft hands and excellent field awareness. He has been a go-to option for both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel whenever the chains need moved, and often in goal line situations as well. Snead has been reminiscent of the reliability and consistency that Joe Jurevicius once brought to the team, something they haven’t had since the celebrated 2007 season.
Snead has a playing style similar to Josh Cooper, who fans became enamored with in camp last season, only he seems to be more aggressive and more explosive. Much like Cooper needed to do though, Snead will need to do it in game situations if he wants to stick on the 53-man roster come September 7th. If Snead continues to perform during the preseason games like he has in camp and OTA’s thus far, he should be a virtual lock to be a member of the 2014 wide receiving core this season and beyond.
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