Cleveland Browns: Top 5 Tight End Targets to Replace Jordan Cameron

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After shocking many by winning seven games in the 2014 season, the Cleveland Browns should have entered the offseason looking for ways to improve their roster. Instead, turmoil has once again engulfed the organization to the point where, like clockwork, you can expect yet another negative report regarding the front office, coaching staff or roster to come out on a weekly basis.

Ray Farmer and the Browns organization find themselves in hot water--again.
Ray Farmer and the Browns organization find themselves in hot water–again.

On Wednesday, the organization had a myriad of reports come out regarding different faucets of the Cleveland Browns. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer released an article detailing additional findings in regard to a member of the front office, apparently general manager Ray Farmer, sending text messages during the game to members of the coaching staff. After Cabot’s bombshell discussed potential sanctions—including the loss of a draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft—the national media decided to get in on the “fun.”

The main national report/scathing account of what has happened during the Jimmy Haslam era came from CBS Sports NFL Insider, Jason La Canfora. Many of you have likely already read the report, which you can read again here, so there really isn’t a need to get into all of the details—but let’s just say it isn’t going to help restore any faith in the franchise anytime soon.

While we could go back and forth about all of the different aspects of La Canfora’s destruction of the front office, I’d rather focus on one of the roster-related quotes in the article. Particularly in regard to soon-to-be free agent, Jordan Cameron.

Jordan Cameron appears like he is on his way out of Cleveland.
Jordan Cameron appears like he is on his way out of Cleveland.

La Canfora wrote, “Jordan Cameron, a talented-but-injury-prone tight end who is also a free agent, is not interested in returning to Cleveland either, sources said.”

News of Cameron wanting out of Cleveland would have been a shocker to many after the 2014 season, one in which the 6’5” and 245-pound tight end racked up 80 receptions on 118 targets for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. However, after an injury-riddled 2014 (24 receptions, 424 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games) in what has seemingly returned to a dysfunctional franchise, nobody should be shocked he will look to head elsewhere to try to return to his 2014 Pro Bowl form.

With the impending departure of Cameron on the horizon when free agency begins next month, the Browns will need to look for ways to improve the position in a big way—no matter who the quarterback is. If they are considering targeting their tight end position like last year (93 total targets between Cameron, Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge), they will need to add one of the following five tight ends in the draft or free agency.

Free Agents

Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos

Okay, maybe this is a pipe dream. Let’s face it, if the Broncos are willing to pay him Thomas probably prefers to catch passes from Peyton Manning next season than Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer, Connor Shaw or a rookie. Despite that fact, the Browns need to pick up the phone and see if Thomas is at all interested.

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At 26-years old, Thomas is likely looking to cash in on one big contract for the first time during his career. After catching just one reception over his first two years in the league, Thomas has cashed in with Manning at the helm—catching 108 passes for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two years. He is a pure receiving tight end, so he would fit right into the position Cameron is vacating as well.

Anyone throwing big money at Thomas will have to figure out if he is a product of Manning and the system, but at 6’4” and 250 pounds it will be hard for someone to not pony up the big bucks for Thomas.

Charles Clay would add much needed versatility to the Browns receiving game.
Charles Clay would add much needed versatility to the Browns receiving game.

Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins

For this writer, Clay should be at the top of the Browns wish list—if his knee is 100 percent. Overshadowed by the likes of Thomas and Cameron in this class, Clay’s versatility as an H-back would be a perfect fit for new offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo.

In four seasons with the Dolphins, Clay played in 58 games and racked up 161 receptions for 1,809 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air. The 2013 season was a breakout one for the Tulsa product, as he snagged 69 passes for 759 yards and six touchdowns.

Clay’s previous contract paid him 2.1 million over the course of four seasons, so a hefty pay raise will be in line for the former sixth-round draft pick. For those who miss out on Thomas and Cameron, Clay could come in at a nice value—one that Farmer and the Browns front office should absolutely look into.

NFL Draft

Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

A 6’4” and 250-pound freak of a prospect, Williams really burst on the scene during bowl season for those who did not know him, catching seven passes for 98 yards and a touchdown against Missouri. That performance likely pushed his draft stock to the late first-round, early second-round—moving up from the second to third-round projection many had during the season.

Prior to that output, Williams’ NFL projection was purely based on his size and athleticism. His career receiving total was 61 receptions for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons, but draft experts love a number of the things that do not show up on the stat sheet. In fact, CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler stated, “Lining up inline and in the slot, Williams is a budding superstar with his combination of size, build and athleticism for the position, using route acceleration to get open down the seam and the physicality to be a bruiser after the catch.”

With two picks in the first round, Nos. 12 and 19 are probably too high to take Williams—no matter how big his upside is. However, if he is around when the Browns pick in the second round, the team should give him a long, hard look.

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Jesse James, TE, Penn State

If measurables—especially size—are your thing, Jesse James from Penn State is the guy for you. Standing 6’7” and 254 pounds, James is hands down the tallest tight end in the draft—and decided to leave Penn State after his junior season.

A three-year starter, James—like most tight ends in college—did not put up gaudy numbers at Penn State. He caught 76 passes for 995 yards and 11 touchdowns, but with his size and frame many expect him to be an elite-level redzone target at the NFL level. Would teams have liked to see more production? Sure, but you cannot teach size—and for the price of likely a third-round pick, James has plenty of it.

Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State

Is this a homer pick to add to the list? Maybe, but every single time I have spoken to anyone regarding Heuerman and the NFL they say the same thing, “This kid is going to be special.”

Standing 6’5” and 255 pounds, the senior from the state of Florida seemed to be forgotten about thanks to all of the talent at Ohio State over the years. Thanks to a primarily run-based attack early on (and for most his career for that matter), Heuerman never accumulated big stats with the Buckeyes. In four seasons, he caught 52 passes for 792 yards and seven touchdowns—with all but nine receptions, 119 yards and one of those touchdowns coming in his final two seasons.

So why is a someone who wasn’t utilized much in college being spoken about highly? First off, he is not only a pass catcher—he has a lot of experience in the zone blocking scheme that Ohio State utilized for most, if not all, of his career. That is huge, especially for teams like the Browns who employ this scheme because he already understands the basic blocking concepts that hurt most rookie tight ends coming in.

On top of that, he has excellent speed for a guy his size—including very good acceleration. His intelligence as an offensive player is another major plus, as Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes lined him up all over the place, including in the backfield.

Right now, many have him projected in the fourth round of the draft—which would be an absolute steal if he lasts that long. Knowing how well he is going to test in interviews and on the field, do not be surprised if he is one of the tight ends to jump up draft boards—possibly into round two when it is all said and done.

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Bob is the Founder, Site Director and Senior Writer of Cleveland Sports Zone. He has been writing about sports for over nine years thanks to his passion for Cleveland sports and a Journalism degree. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, ESPN, USA Today and other major sports networks.

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