Cleveland Browns: Predicting Josh Gordon's Rookie Impact

Barbara BrunoContributor IIJuly 23, 2012

Cleveland Browns: Predicting Josh Gordon's Rookie Impact

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    Is Josh Gordon the next Randy Moss? Let’s hope the hyperbolic comparison of Gordon to Moss by “an NFL executive” (talking anonymously to ESPN’s Adam Schefter*) is limited to flying down the field and waving his arms just prior to catching a touchdown.

    Cleveland fans do not need their new “flashy” wide receiving unit trying to mow down a meter maid.

    Another faceless league suit was quoted on rotoworld.com and called Gordon a “faster Brandon Marshall.” Uh-oh. That's a scary prospect no matter the talent level. 

    Anonymous sources always puzzle me. I mean, if you’re not exposing steroid use or massive malfeasance, why not go on the record? It’s not as if anyone is going to confuse an NFL executive with Deep Throat, for Pete’s sake. But I digress.

    If these comparisons are even 60 percent accurate, the young man has skills. If the stats and video from his single year of true college participation bear out, the Browns may have just found the last piece of their very own multi-wideout set.

    From Tom Heckert to the Dawg Pound, Cleveland Browns aficionados are dreaming of formations featuring Greg Little, Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon. In this fantasy, the trio streaks downfield to capture bombs launched by Brandon Weeden.

    It’s a legitimate plan, but don’t expect it to spring full-blown from the forehead of Mike Holmgren on Kickoff Weekend.

     

    *These remarks to Schefter are quoted here through rotoworld.com and nfl.com. The original was printed in ESPN Insider. You’ll have to take my word for it unless you pay for the premium service.

Physique: Check

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    Brandon Marshall is 6’4” and weighs in at 230 lbs. Randy Moss is a high-wire act from top to bottom at 6’4" and 210 lbs.

    Cleveland’s newest wide receiver measures in at 6’3” and 224 lbs. He fits the new NFL mold of the big, vertical, physical WR made popular in this NFL generation by Plaxico Burress (6’5” and 232 lbs).

    Almost every contender has one—and every quarterback wants one:

    1.  Andre Johnson: 6’3”, 226 lbs  (Houston Texans)

    2.  Calvin Johnson: 6’5”, 236 lbs  (Detroit Lions)

    3.  Larry Fitzgerald: 6’3”, 218 lbs  (Arizona Cardinals)

    Tom Heckert summed it up (in post-draft remarks quoted by sportsillustrated.com)

    "He is a big kid, he can run and he has huge hands and long arms. An impressive looking kid."

    Genetics has blessed Mr. Gordon in this area, and he has certainly developed the original product. However, size and strength aren’t the only attributes possessed by Brandon Weeden’s newest target.

Talent: Check

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    When will the NFL and draft specialists stop worshipping at the altar of the 40-yard dash?

    Jerry Rice routinely clocked between 4.65 and 4.7 in this supposedly crucial test of wide receiving talent. Three-hundred-and-three games and 197 receiving touchdowns later, no one is going to call Jerry slow.

    Well, not to his face. He might point out that he also scored 10 rushing touchdowns. Yes, that means running the ball. 

    Steve Largent would probably have considered 4.7 to be a personal best. 

    However, if you aren’t born with Steve Largent’s hands or had a father who used to throw bricks at you in the Mississippi heat, it’s good to be fast.

    You may notice in the video of his 94-yard scoring scamper, Josh Gordon doesn’t even look that swift on the first viewing. Upon further review; however, that may be because he makes everyone else simply look like they are running in a different dimension. A slower dimension.

    Travis Benjamin runs so quickly that Brandon Weeden has acknowledged (to cleveland.com's Matt Florjancic) having to put more, well, "umph" into his throws against the wind in order to keep up with the speedster.

    However, Benjamin is 195 lbs. out of the shower. In fact, this relatively diminutive stature is a source of considerable concern in terms of durability.

    Gordon is a large and sturdy target who can go beyond out-running people: He can also catch the football.

    Much has been made of the fact that Josh pulled a quad muscle when running his second 40-yard dash at his pro day.

    Witnesses universally reported that he went on to catch an impressive array of passes. Adam Caplan shared the capper for thesidelineview.com:

    Not only did Gordon catch every pass from former University of Mississippi QB Jevan Snead during the passing drill, he caught a 60-yard pass down field in stride.

    (Yes, this was post-muscle-pull.)

    Gordon has almost punt-return speed in an almost-tight end body. No wonder fans are salivating.

Risk: Uh, Check

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    Good old Merriam-Webster defines risk as:

    Someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard.

    Do you think a wide receiver kicked out of college for smoking pot that hasn’t played a down since 2010 qualifies as a risky use of a second-round draft pick? Let's hope so or you shouldn't ever be allowed to visit Vegas.

    Cleveland has a recent history of this kind of gamble after selecting Greg Little in 2011. Little also missed his last year of college due to a suspension.

    Little impressed in that he was able to become a starter after not playing for a year and after a lockout-shortened summer. He has also been a trouble-free Dawg Pound citizen. 

    However, if he doesn’t improve dramatically in the holding-onto-the-football department, fans will consider him a bust. Period.

    When measuring an unknown quantity, it’s wise to examine parallels and examples. How about Cris Carter and Kenny Britt?

    Both were tremendously talented players who struggle(d) with off-the-field problems, but were drafted despite their inherent behavioral risks. 

    Kenny Britt certainly did not disappoint as a rookie. He played in all 16 games, started six, had 42 receptions for 701 yards and three scores. Not bad. Certainly encouraging. 

    And it’s been all downhill from there. Currently, Britt has just had a third knee procedure after experiencing his eighth run-in with the legal system since becoming a pro. In three years. You have to really be trying.

    The Browns front office took pains to assure the media of their due diligence in the Josh Gordon pick. Tom Heckert told reporters after the selection (from sportsilllustrated.com):

    We kind of did our homework on him, no question about it. We brought the kid in, I talked to a zillion guys and I couldn't find one guy to say something bad about the kid.

    Cris Carter repaid the Eagles for drafting him by showing tremendous promise and being a tremendous pain in the posterior.

    Fortunately for him (and Minnesota football fans), after the Eagles dumped him, Carter changed his life and is HOF-bound. (Yes, he’ll get in eventually.)

    If they had known he would come around, Philly would have kept him because in his rookie season Carter played in nine games and caught five balls for 85 yards

    Well, that’s kind of lame, you say. Ah, but two of those five catches were in the end zone.

    Not a fantasy lover’s dream rookie season for sure—but a harbinger of touchdowns to come for the supplemental draftee. Now you know where Chris Berman got that phrase.

    So, which will Gordon resemble? Hold that thought for a few months.

    Until then, let’s decide to be positive and believe his words in a phone interview with Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer:

    Despite everything I've been through, despite being a kid with a spotty background, the Cleveland Browns stuck their neck out and risked taking me and put their faith and belief in me, and I won't let them down. I'm grateful, and I know I can't go back to being the person I used to be. 

     

Historical Comparisons

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    In hoping that Josh Gordon’s only rookie-year problems will be adjusting to the professional game, one can check out some current and former star receivers and see how they produced as rookies.

    It’s only fair to consider the respective quarterbacks here, so...

    Receivers playing for less-than-stellar passers:

    1.  Brandon Marshall played for Jake Plummer, who was replaced by rookie Jay Cutler and Marshall played in 15 games and had 20 receptions, 309 yards and two touchdowns

    2.  Plaxico Burress may have won a Super Bowl with Eli Manning, but he started life catching passes from Kordell Stewart. Buress played in 12 games, had 22 receptions, 273 yards and zero scores.

    3.  When it comes to Calvin Johnson, let’s just say that it was the pre-Matthew Stafford era in Detroit. Johnson played in 15 games and had 48 receptions, 756 yards and four TDs. 

    4.  Larry Fitzgerald played in 16 games and had 80 receptions for eight touchdowns and 17.6 yards per reception. And that was before Kurt Warner was lobbing the passes.

    5.  Andre Johnson played in 16 games and had 66 receptions, 976 yards and four TDs. Poor David Carr. How did he stay standing long enough to throw 66 completions? 

    Receivers who should be on their knees in gratitude for their good fortune:

    1.  Terrell Owens: (from Steve Young) played 16 games, started 10 and had 35 receptions and four scores.

    2.  Jerry Rice: all 16 games, 49 receptions, 937 yards and three scores. Rice averaged 18.9 yards per pass from Joe Somebody.

    3.  The aforementioned Randy Moss: played 16 games, started 11 and had 69 receptions for 17 scores

    Oh, and Randy was Rookie of the Year. Well, I guess so.  

    Moss played with the second incarnation of Randall Cunningham (with a QB rating of over 106) with Cris Carter on the other side and RB Robert Smith. The team posted 556 points, a record broken by the 2007 Patriots.

    That team also featured Randy Moss. Coincidence?

Current Comparison

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    Cleveland fans would probably rather die than admit it, but you know that they all secretly hope Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon will be 2012’s Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Is that realistic?

    Well, it’s possible. If, and only if, Josh “Flash” Gordon proves that he is as good, centered, hard-working and gifted as Mr. Green. That is quite a tall order.

    In his sophomore season (2010 at Baylor), Gordon had 42 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns.

    He also added seven kickoff returns for 139 yards (19.9 average) during his collegiate career.

    The Browns currently have a pretty decent return man in Joshua Cribbs.  Perhaps you have heard of him?

    Gordon may spell Cribbs occasionally on special teams, but the Browns want him to turn into the third man on a three-wideout set that they hope will usher in their West Coast future.

    While a sophomore at Georgia, Green made 53 receptions for 808 yards and six scores. He averaged 15.2 yards per catch. His quarterback? Joe Cox. Who? Yeah. 

    Gordon’s QB was Robert Griffin III. Yes, RGIII was just a baby soph at the time—but come on…Joe Cox?

    On a professional team with a rookie quarterback and no offseason, A.J. Green started 15 games (would have been 16, except for that tweaked knee), made 65 receptions for 1057 yards and scored seven TDs.

    He averaged 16.3 yards per reception (that’s per catch, folks), 70.5 yards per game and had a long of 58 yards. He fumbled once. Oh yeah—and he made the Pro Bowl.

    Browns fans will settle for that.

Competition and Prediction

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    The Browns have agreed to pay Josh Gordon a total of $5.3 million, with $3.8 million guaranteed.  

    He will be competing primarily (at least this is the idea) with Mohamed Massaquoi to be the second outside WR.

    Massaquoi now knows exactly how Colt McCoy feels. Wasn’t that Mike Holmgren praising Mo to the heavens mere days ago?

    I think he’s ready to have a breakout year. I think he’s healthy, for one…a receiver like Mo, who has good size and who catches the ball easy, smart…there is no reason to think that he shouldn’t be fine. There is nothing there to tell you this shouldn’t work. Now we have to pass him the ball.

    (from Tony Grossi, ESPNCleveland) 

    But, hey, Mo—we’re going to go draft this other kid. Talk about the kiss of death.

    If Gordon comes down with the starting job, that leaves Travis Benjamin, Joshua Cooper and Jordan Norwood all vying for the slot.

    There are a lot of wide receivers suddenly on the bubble by the lake. Gordon’s arrival will have an unpleasant impact on Massaquoi, Norwood and Carlton Mitchell.

    One intangible to watch will be Greg Little’s emerging relationship with the rookie. They have a great deal in common, but let's not count on Little taking on a mentorship role just yet.

    The entire Browns wide receiving corps suffered from an inability to get open and an inability to hang onto the football.

    Drops will probably be aggressively addressed by new receivers’ coach Nolan Cromwell. With so many in camp, drop-itis will lead to unemployment. 

    Little, Benjamin and Gordon have draft status and salary going for them. Cooper has his friendship with Weeden. UFAs Bert Reed and Jermaine Saffold have speed. One of them was expected to make the squad at least on special teams, but now... 

    The bottom line is that the four or five ball-catchers who can separate from opposing DBs will be the ones who get targeted by their rookie QB. Bank on it.

    So, what is the best-case statistical scenario for Joshua Gordon’s inaugural NFL season?

    Based on history, fans can hope for:

    12 starts, 30 receptions, 500 yards and five touchdowns.

    Trent Richardson is going to compose fully 60 percent of this offense—at least.

    Greg Little will go into the year as the clear first choice (if his hands improve in preseason). Joshua Cooper and Travis Benjamin will also compete for targets. Cooper has the inside track early due to his collegiate experience with Weeden.

    Plus, the Browns have several pass-catching tight ends and a young H-back named Brad Smelley who will at least be featured on some stunts.

    If Josh Gordon approaches the above numbers, Cleveland can hope for a blossoming receiving game for the next five years.

    Even if all Gordon does is force opposing teams to take him seriously and cover him, Little, Richardson and the TEs will all benefit.

    Considering H & H’s utter lack of draft-trading subtlety, fans need to fervently hope that both Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon turn out to be the mother lode and not bridges in the desert.

    Because absolutely no one in the Cleveland front office is fooling anyone in negotiations these days.

    Here’s a note of free advice to Cleveland management: stay away from Texas Hold ‘em.