An elite pass-catching tight end has become the most valuable commodity in the NFL today. For the Cleveland Browns to contend in 2012, Jordan Cameron must take the next step and emerge as a Top 10 player at his position.
This is a lot to ask from a guy who barely played football at the University of Southern California.
However, Cameron's 2012 performance thus far would indicate that his 42-yard fly pattern snag in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions was not a mere flash in the pan.
Cameron has moved ahead of Evan Moore on the depth chart—who has outstanding hands and good size in his own right—as well as veteran Alex Smith. All indications suggest Cameron has put the work in this offseason to make up for his lack of football experience.
Now that Cameron is back after an injury suffered on the best catch of his young career, the Browns should plug the raw but immensely talented 24-year-old into the No. 1 tight-end slot.
Veteran Benjamin Watson has been a stellar player at the position for years, but he is what he is at this point. It's clear as mud that he isn't in the mold of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates.
It's far from guaranteed that Cameron will morph into a player of that caliber, but the possibility looms given his athleticism and 6'5", 254-pound body.
There are many moving parts and inexperience on offense, so what does it matter that an additional second-year player gets thrown into the mix?
Is Jordan Cameron ready to break out in 2012?
The more players that can be developed at once, the better, and the ideal way to do that is game day pressure and intensity.
The Browns have rookies Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon likely to fill in starting roles at receiver. Trent Richardson will be the workhorse back, and Brandon Weeden is in his first year under center in the NFL.
In the West Coast offense, a tight end that provides a vertical threat would be a huge asset to a young receiving corps and quarterback.
Since the scheme is based on timing, short crossing routes and slants, Cameron racing deep can open up underneath routes and opportunities for yards after the catch.
Quick, dynamic receivers such as Benjamin, Gordon, Greg Little and especially Joshua Cribbs would love the added dimension Cameron would present.
Whether it's been poor pass protection, failure to establish the run, the receivers' inability to get open or spotty quarterback play, the Browns haven't been able to get it to their playmakers on the outside for years.
With Gordon still adjusting to the pro game and struggling with camp legs, it would be great to snap off quick throws to build his confidence and get him in open space. From there, Gordon could use his natural football instincts to produce big plays for the Browns.
The presence of the powerful Richardson in the backfield may also lessen the need for Cameron's blocking ability, which is the part of his game he needs to work on the most.
Teams may not be able to load up the box as easily to stop Richardson if the passing game can keep opponents honest, and Cameron's production would determine whether or not that could happen.
Plus, a tight end is a young quarterback's best friend. A healthy Watson would be serviceable for Weeden, but growing two youngsters together would be better for the team in the long run.
If Cameron can emerge as a security blanket as well as a downfield threat this year, the Browns will feel like they hit the lottery on the 2011 fourth-round draft pick.
A more balanced Browns attack could lead to a surprisingly successful season for Cleveland, but it starts with Cameron.