When the Cleveland Browns claimed Terrelle Pryor off waivers on June 22nd last year, training camp was buzzing with the possibility of the former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback and athletic freak making the switch many thought he should have made after he left the college ranks.
Unfortunately for Pryor, injuries combined with a steep learning curve and roster needs elsewhere caused the Browns to waive him on September 10th—seemingly ending the “dream” for a number of fans. However, the “dream” of a 6’4” and 220-pound wide receiver who runs a sub 4.4 40-yard dash would be revived in early December, as the team re-signed him following Josh McCown’s season-ending injury. And in the final game of the season against the Steelers, Pryor would leave fans begging for more after a 42-yard reception.
Thanks to the Ray Farmer “era” in Cleveland, this was what Browns fans were left to look forward to when it came to landing a wide receiver, the possibility of converting a quarterback into one.
After passing on Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson and more in the 2014 NFL Draft class, Farmer would follow it up by passing on DeVante Parker and the rest of the class—aside from Vince Mayle in the fourth round—in the 2015 NFL Draft. So, who could really blame the fans for latching on to the former Buckeye?
With Farmer gone, Sashi Brown and the Browns new front office took the complete opposite approach. They used four picks in the 2016 NFL Draft on wide receivers.
Brown started by using the No. 15 overall pick in the first round on the dynamic Corey Coleman from Baylor, then he selected Ricardo Louis from Auburn in the fourth round, Jordan Payton from UCLA in the fifth round and finally Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins from Colorado State in the fifth round as well.
The plan to add four rookies did not bode well for other WRs on the roster, as Dwayne Bowe was cut before the NFL Draft and Brian Hartline was cut a few weeks after. With Josh Gordon’s status up in the air at the time, it looked like Brown and company were cleaning house by drafting “their guys” at wide receiver to go with the likes of Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Marlon Moore and Darius Jennings.
But the “dream” of Pryor was still looming for Browns fans. The team re-signed him to a new one-year deal in March, and Browns head coach Hue Jackson had history with him from a brief tryout stint in Cincinnati last year.
Fast forward to August of 2016, and not only is that “dream” alive and well, but it appears Pryor is the odds on favorite to start opposite of the rookie Coleman come opening day for the Cleveland Browns.
In the team’s preseason opener, Pryor hauled in two catches for 57 yards—which included a 49-yard big-gainer from Robert Griffin III on the first offensive play for the Browns. Though Pryor was frustrated with his overall performance in game one, there was a noticeable difference watching the Packers defensive scheme during the game. Finally, a team had to account for a taller playmaker on the Browns offense.
With Griffin and Pryor seemingly establishing a connection early on in the first preseason game, it is clear Jackson and the Browns have major plans for Pryor already. But what does that mean for the rest of the wide receivers on the roster?
Since the team completed only 11 passes in the game against the Packers, it is difficult to really tell what the overall plan is based on one preseason game. But when it comes down to the 53-man roster cuts, there are going to be a few difficult decisions to be made.
Who is in as of Now?
It is safe to say that Coleman and Pryor are locks to make the roster. Gordon will start the season off on the suspended list, but you can include him in this category as well. Louis saw a lot of action on special teams and was always around the ball, so it looks like they are finding a way to get the most out of him. Higgins had a very nice touchdown grab and has reportedly been one of the better performers in camp thus far, so I’d slot him as “in” right now.
In: Coleman, Pryor, Louis, Gordon, Higgins
Fighting for Roster Life
Nursing an injury during camp has placed Hawkins in this category, for now. If he can get back on the field soon, I would imagine he finds his way to the active roster. Jackson is familiar with his production from his time in Cincinnati, and he is on a very team-friendly contract of just $1 million this year thanks to Farmer front-loading his contract. With that contract in mind, I would not rule out the possibility of someone acquiring Hawkins if they lose a receiver in the preseason.
Next up on this list are the likes of Gabriel, Marlon Moore and rookie Jordan Payton. It was intriguing that while players like Rannell Hall (injured/waived since the game), Jennings and Moore all saw time—Payton had just one offensive snap. Jackson admitted he needs to do a better job of finding the rookies snaps, but stated the game dictated otherwise. Part of me feels like they were trying to hide him for a potential practice squad stash as well.
In from this group: Hawkins, Payton
Cut from this group: Moore, Hall (already cut), Gabriel, Jennings
Not much needs to be said about Dennis Parks and newly signed Ed Eagan. They are purely camp bodies at this point, especially given the fact Hawkins, Gordon and Coleman have been banged up. Both are undrafted rookies, but maybe if one of them shows flashes they will find their way to the practice squad when it is all said and done.
Cut from this group: Parks, Eagan
The Pryor Effect
Barring a trade or injury (please, please no injuries), the emergence of Pryor is going to force the Browns to make some tough decisions come cut day. Coleman, Pryor, Louis, Higgins, Hawkins and Payton would make up a six-man group at WR while Gordon is suspended the first four games, but someone would likely have to go once he returns because teams typically do not carry seven wide receivers.
On top of that, in order to get to that group the Browns will be forced to get rid of Gabriel (showed flashes two years ago), Moore (consistent special teams contributor) and Jennings (a player they just re-signed in the offseason). Sure, you may not lose sleep over these guys—but a guy like Gabriel was a big play waiting to happen at 17.3 yards per catch (36 receptions for 621 yards) as a rookie in 2014.
Maybe something will change over the next few preseason games, but it is clear Pryor has already caused a shake up with the Browns plans at wide receiver after the draft. Here’s to hoping for the first time in a very long, long time it is a blessing in disguise to potentially have too much talent at the wide receiver position.