Despite increasing skepticism among Cleveland critics, Browns' receivers are knocking on the door for a breakout season. With a core of essentially three rookies, a kick returner and the most experienced player being slot receiver Chansi Stuckey, it's only natural the doubters would come calling.
After the departure of wide receiver Braylon Edwards last season, it left the No. 1 receiver slot to be filled by rookie Mohamed Massaquoi. Massaquoi showed flashes of greatness last season, putting up great numbers against Cincinnati, Detroit, and Pittsburgh totalling 18 receptions for 346 yards.
Unfortunately, like most rookies, his consistency just wasn't there, often going quiet for streaks of games. However, the good news with numbers like that is that the potential is there.
Slated to be the No. 2 receiver is Massaquoi's draft classmate Brian Robiskie. After being pegged "the most polished receiver" in the draft last offseason, Robiskie looked like a boy amongst men on the field, barely seeing the field and grabbing merely 106 yards in receiving.
There were reports towards the end of the season that the reason he wasn't seeing field time was due to his reluctance to mix it up on Special Teams, something that, given Eric Mangini's mentality, doesn't seem like a stretch. When finally getting on the field, Robiskie was also contributing in the return game, so it would appear those concerns are now in the past. Expect to see him on the field from day one this season.
Rounding out the receiver core will be a combination of 26-year-old Chansi Stuckey, who was acquired from the Jets midseason in the Braylon Edwards deal, the jack of all trades player posing as a receiver from time to time, Joshua Cribbs, and sixth round pick Carlton Mitchell, who has drawn physical comparisons to Brandon Marshall despite his rough edges.
Still, the biggest knock on this core isn't potential, it's that the front office did not acquire a veteran receiver presence to teach these kids to play in the NFL.
So why does last year's leading receiver Mohamed Massaquoi remain so confident?
“If you just came and saw us work, seen how much we’ve grown, I think that question would be answered by itself. Robiskie is primed for a good year. I’m primed for a breakout year. Stuckey’s been working hard. Josh is still going to be the dynamic player that he is."
Confidence is a big factor leading into the season, something last year's core seemed to have none of, as they looked lost on the field almost every play. The big question is, was it their fault or a lack of leadership on the field? Massaquoi points to the fact that although the quarterbacks were working hard last year, a lack of stability made for a difficult season.
“It's hard to get in a rhythm when your [quarterbacks are] rotating. Ultimately, the quarterback position is the face of the franchise," states Massaquoi, "Without having that one guy week to week who is ‘The guy,’ it’s sometimes hard for the whole team to get into a rhythm."
That won't be a problem this season, as the Browns have paid Jake Delhomme just over $7 million this season to be the clear-cut starter on offense, avoiding any training camp controversies. With OTA's, training camp, and preseason leading up to the 2010 regular season, the receivers will be working with a veteran quarterback who knows what it takes to get the job done.
“You plug in a guy like Jake Delhomme…he’s a Super Bowl quarterback. I was a huge fan of his growing up in Charlotte. He’s very capable. He brings in a lot of knowledge where he and [offensive coordinator Brian Daboll] and Mangini and Holmgren can bounce stuff off each other. He’s going to tell us what he expects out of us. We’re going to be able to learn from him and grow more," said a hopeful Massaquoi.
Can a veteran quarterback really have that much impact on the wide receiver position? Look no further than last season to Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb, who helped blossom their young receivers into starting caliber wideouts. Can Jake Delhomme do it this year for Cleveland?
With the help of Wonderlic-leading veteran tight end, Benjamin Watson and experienced quarterback Jake Delhomme, there's no reason to believe that Cleveland's receivers will be nothing short of starting caliber this season.