Josh Gordon: Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Is NFL's Next Big Thing

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon (13) can not make a reception against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick (32) in the second quarter at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is the NFL's next big thing. The 21-year-old has quickly become a dynamic, big-play threat on an anemic offense.

A former Baylor star and favorite target of Robert Griffin III, Gordon's college career ended with a year-long drug suspension in 2011. However, Gordon has rebounded to offer a tantalizing glimpse of his awesome potential at the pro level.

With a full season's experience and hopefully some better support, Gordon could dominate in 2013. That word "support" is the key.

The Browns have to ensure they are better equipped to get the ball in Gordon's hands more often next season. If not, then they will have wasted the second-round value they forfeited to take him in this year's supplemental draft.

Even with Brandon Weeden throwing him the ball and some conservative play-calling, Gordon has posted impressive numbers. He has caught 46 passes for 766 yards at 16.7 yards per reception. 

He has 12 catches for 20 or more yards, including three of 40-plus yards. Of Gordon's five touchdowns, four have been over 30 yards.

It's that big-play ability that will make soon make Gordon a star. He has similar qualities to two other dynamic deep threats.


Combining Victor Cruz and Randy Moss

Gordon's finest quality is his vertical speed. Gordon is a legitimate deep threat, and nothing scares pro defenses more. Combining that speed with a stout and angular 6'3", 225-pound frame makes Gordon a lethal weapon in the passing game.

When the Browns selected him, Gordon prompted comparisons to Randy Moss. He has lived up to that lofty comparison at times during his debut season.

However, he also showcases some of the skills that made Victor Cruz an overnight sensation last season.

Take a look at the following screen shots to see examples of how Gordon terrorizes defenses deep. The first is from his breakout game against Cruz and the New York Giants in Week 5. 

(All Screen shots courtesy of CBS Sports and Game Pass.)

Look at the formation and notice that Gordon is lined up in the slot, shown by the highlighted portion. The Giants, obviously not knowing much about Gordon at the time, are covering with a linebacker.

The G-Men will fall into a Tampa-2 coverage. Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn will drop to cover the middle, shown by the black arrow. Blackburn will split the gap between the two deep safeties, who are shown by the red boxes. However, Gordon's ability to stretch the field deep soon destroys this coverage concept.

The screen shot below shows what happens at the snap.

Gordon attacks the middle with typically straight-line speed. He is soon past Blackburn, shown in the highlighted portion.

This forces the safety to scramble across, but Gordon's speed will always be too great. The screen shot below shows how far in front of Blackburn Gordon is and how easily he has beaten safety Antrel Rolle.

Even though they've used Cruz in the same way against countless opponents, the Giants weren't ready for the threat Gordon offers from the slot. The result was a 62-yard touchdown.

Stretching the middle deep is the classic way to beat two-deep coverage concepts. Slot receivers who can threaten vertically are redefining the dynamics of the passing game. A player with Gordon's skills can destroy the kind of man-under, two-deep looks many defenses are favoring.

However, Gordon's threat doesn't just emanate from the slot. If the last play proved comparisons to Cruz are valid, the next shows Gordon doing his best Moss impression.

It comes from Cleveland's Week 13 road win over the Oakland Raiders.

Gordon shows how he will punish any defense that shows single coverage on the outside with only one deep safety. The screen shot below shows how.

Gordon is split to the outside, shown in the highlighted portion. The Raiders, meanwhile, show a single-high safety, indicated by the blue box.

Again, an opponent has failed to take into account Gordon's talent for stretching the field. At the snap, his speed on the outside simply takes over, shown in the screen shot below.

It takes just a slight move and direct speed for Gordon to easily escape one-on-one coverage on the outside. The red box shows how easily Gordon has got a step or two in front of his cornerback.

His speed has once again put the deep coverage in an impossible situation. No safety is going to have the closing speed to break over the top of Gordon's route once he is in the clear.

The final screen shot shows Gordon complete the 44-yard scoring pass.

The highlighted portion shows the cornerback trailing behind at Gordon's feet while he makes the catch. The safety hasn't been able to get across in time.


Potent Combination

Not many receivers possess both elite size and genuine, game-breaking speed. That's the potent combination Gordon offers.

He presents matchup problems for both inside and outside coverage. Gordon will make a mockery of single coverage and can also split deep-safety help. His speed will change the game plan of every defense he faces.

Considering he is still just 21 and very raw, the rest of the NFL should be very scared about how prolific Gordon can become.

He needs a more accurate quarterback delivering the ball and some refinement to his route-running and overall technique. If that happens, Gordon will be a dominant force as the league's next big thing.