Cleveland Browns: Projecting Stats for Greg Little's Rookie Season
Wide receiver Greg Little wasn't the first Brown picked in the 2011 NFL draft (in fact he was the third), but he'll be the Browns rookie facing the biggest scrutiny and saddled with the highest expectations of his class.
Receiver was a much-maligned position for the Browns last season where those expected to perform fell far, far short of the mark. Without the possibility of free agency (at least so far) to look for an upgrade, there's a lot riding on second-round pick Greg Little.
There have been some questions surrounding Little that range from character concerns, to whether he can truly perform as a receiver after spending his first two seasons with North Carolina as a running back.
But mostly what the majority of us see in Greg Little is big potential. The sort of potential that will allow him to eclipse second-round (thus far) disappointments Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie.
It's difficult to project stats for rookie receivers—especially those joining a team with a new coach and a new offensive system and who don't have all that long a track record in college either—but it's worth at least taking a shot at it.
Following are my projections for Greg Little's stats during his rookie season. As always, your comments and opinions on the matter are welcome in the comments below.
Number of receptions is an especially difficult statistic to predict for a specific receiver because so many things play into it that aren't in his control. The number of receptions a WR can get is heavily dependent on a lot of external factors, including: how good the other receivers around him are, how much the team hands off and uses its ground game and what kind of coverage defenses use against him.
I see Little getting 60-70 receptions. Colt likes to spread the ball around, so if the Browns' other receivers are playing well, he won't necessarily get the ball every time he's open. That number may go up if the other receivers can't get open or routinely drop passes.
He would also probably have more on a team that didn't rely as much on the run as Cleveland does. Still, even if 60-70 is as much as he gets, that's a decent number for a rookie receiver. No matter how good Little is or how bad his teammates are, and how many times the ball is handed off to Hillis, no one is expecting him to post 110+ receptions, Reggie Wayne-style.
On a team where the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in 2010 posted just 30 more reception yards combined (Massaquoi 493 yds, Robiskie 310) than the team's go-to tight end did (Watson 763 yds), things couldn't get much worse. Expectations for the team's WRs were low by the end of last season. After all, even RB Peyton Hillis pummeled Robiskie in receiving yards with 477 and nearly matched Massaquoi.
Obviously, the new system and the fact that the Browns are a better team across the board should mean better numbers for Massaquoi and Robiskie as well, but that (and the fact that he's arguably more talented) also means that Little should have no trouble eclipsing the leading yardage mark for receivers from last year's team.
I'm pegging Little at around 800 yards—more if he adjusts to the pro game faster than expected and gets more opportunities from his quarterback, and less if Massaquoi and/or Robiskie play well enough this season to take away some of those opportunities.
800 puts him on par with guys like Derrick Mason and Kenny Britt (though to be fair, Britt missed four games with an injury last season). It feels a little generous for a rookie and a WR on a team that isn't (at least for now) known for its passing game.
Still, if you watch film of Little from his college career, it's very apparent that this is a guy who gets open, hauls in the ball and maximizes the yardage he gets out of each and every occasion in which he's got his hands on the ball.
If you thought the yardage numbers were bleak from 2010 for the Browns receivers, you'll probably be even more discouraged by the number of receiving touchdowns turned in by the teams go-to WRs: Robiskie had three and Massaquoi had two. Yep, that's just five touchdowns for the team's top two guys.
Obviously, both Robiskie and Massaquoi are expected to surpass their 2010 totals in 2011, but I'm also confident that Little will beat out both of their totals from last year (and potentially this year as well).
I don't see Little pulling down a huge number of touchdowns, though. The way the Browns offense is set up doesn't allow for huge numbers of receiving touchdowns. Of course, sometimes good receivers just make their way to the end zone regardless of the play that was set up.
I'm going with a conservative estimate on this one and saying Little will haul in five touchdown catches in 2011. I'd expect that number to go up if, again, the other receivers fail to do their jobs or if the Browns move away from largely relying on running the ball in when they're in the red zone.
If all the receivers play up to potential and McCoy has the opportunity to really spread the ball around to all his targets though, I expect that number to drop a bit.
4. Yards After Catch
I was a big advocate of taking Greg Little in the draft this year despite his short track record and character concerns. That was mostly because his college career indicated that he excelled in one particular area where all Browns receivers failed miserably last season: yardage after catch.
The Browns performed incredibly badly in this area last season, making a guy like Little infinitely that much more appealing. The Browns forfeited a lot of big opportunities to make serious progress down the field on a number of occasions last season because receivers went virtually nowhere from the spot of their catch.
Little, on the other hand, falls at the other end of the spectrum on this statistic. Nearly every scout who was quoted on his skills noted his ability to maximize yardage after a catch.
I don't expect him to be among the league leaders in YAC (at least not this year), but I do think he'll put up pretty good totals. I'd look at him comparatively with a guy like Wes Welker in terms of YAC. Welker had a total of 848 yards last season and 411 YAC; so about 50 percent. With Little predicted to log about 800 yards, that puts him at about 400 for YAC.
It's also worth noting that the fact that Little was a running back for two years in college should have an impact here. That kind of experience can only help a receiver's YAC numbers.
5. College Career Numbers
Just for the sake of comparison, I'm including some of Little's college stats here. Note that due to an NCAA violation, Little was not able to play in 2010, so the numbers used here are from his 2009 season.
Little also had 29 rushing attempts that netted 166 yards and one additional touchdown.