Cleveland Browns Wide Receivers: Lessons Learned from Basketball

Benjamin Flack@@ClevelandFlackSenior Analyst IJuly 9, 2011

I'm really not exactly sure what I'm doing, writing a Browns article during the lockout. I made a mental pact with myself that I wasn't going to bother with writing and commenting on anything football related as long as the lockout continued.

Bless all of you who have been diligently writing articles every week even when there's nothing going on. I don't know how you've been doing it and I'm not sure who's reading, because I sure haven't. Which begs the question of why I'm writing a column that I probably wouldn't even read.

There has been some discussion over the past few days that has centered specifically around the Browns' wide receivers. There are rumblings that they will not be looking at adding a top WR in free agency but will stick with the current core of Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Joshua Cribbs, Greg Little, and Carlton Mitchell.

Last year this group was underwhelming at best. The addition of second-round pick Greg Little gives a little promise (no pun intended) for the future, but not exactly anything to count on.

I was intrigued, however, when I heard NFL Network's Mike Lombardi on The B.S. Report this past Monday (around the 40-minute mark) as he talked about the correlation between NFL wide receivers and NBA basketball players.

Lombardi points out, accurately, that a true No. 1 wide receiver isn't that easy to find. "People talk about this No. 1 receiver like there's one on every corner," he says. "They're hard to find."

Instead, he postulates that NFL wide receiving corps should be built like a basketball team with defined positions and roles.

He says there should be (at least) three specific positions for receivers: point guard, small forward, and power forward.

The power forward is the big physical guy who is on the outside and "can really get the ball."

The point guard, a guy like Wes Welker, is the player who runs the underneath routes and can shake defenders and make plays after the catch.

And the small forward is your more athletic player who can "move all over the place."

Lombardi says that "recievers have to blend together and fit together" and "can't be just three guys who get together and 'let's go there and run routes.'"

Being a big basketball fan, I absolutely loved this idea!

As with a basketball team, there has to be a cohesive blend to the players on the field or court. Their specific skills and talents have to mesh together and work well for a diverse attack that keeps opposing defenses on their toes.

You never see a successful NBA team that has only slashers without shooters or post scorers.

Nor do you see a team with three point guards who all like to distribute the ball without anybody who is actually a scorer.

I could go on and on about a team with only shooters or big guys, but you get the idea.

You have to have a blend and a diversity to your offensive attack to be successful.

Consider the Dallas Mavericks, NBA champions from this past season.

They had shooters in Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, and Peja Stojakovic; play-makers in J.J. Barea and Jason Terry; a post guy in Tyson Chandler; a jack-of-all-trades in Shawn Marion; and a diverse superstar scorer in Dirk Nowitzki.

Whereas the Miami Heat were very one-dimensional in their attack, the Mavericks had the ability to strike in a variety of ways.

So let's apply this formula to the Cleveland Browns and see if there's anyone who can be plugged into these roles.

I think that Greg Little can be a power forward type of a player. He is not a speedster but is physical and has good size at 6'3" and 230 lbs. It will be interesting to see how he is after a season of not playing due to his suspension and an offseason without any real accountability. But for the sake of the argument, we'll slide him into this spot.

How about point guard?

I would really love to believe that Josh Cribbs could fulfill this role. As a former quarterback and a player who has excelled in the Wildcat, it is obvious that he has good field vision.

It also goes without saying (as I go ahead and say it anyways) that he's one of the most dangerous players in the NFL when he has the ball in his hands. The problem has been finding ways to get the ball to Cribbs so that he can make his plays.

The Wildcat seems to have run its course in the league as defenses are getting wise as to how to stop it.

Cribbs has improved a lot as a route runner but is still not where the team would probably like. It seems like his role as a receiver should be out of the slot, running those short and intermediate routes while occasionally taking advantage of match-ups with line backers and going deep.

I can't understand why the Browns have been so inept at being able to find ways to get Cribbs more involved.

Oh wait...yes I can. Their names are Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll.

I'm counting on the new Browns coaching staff, led by Pat Shurmer, to get Cribbs the dang ball so that his abilities are not wasted.

It might not be ideal fit today, but we're going to call Cribbs our point guard.

That leaves the small forward position vacant. (Is it just a coincidence that this is also a gaping hole for the Cavaliers?)

Who can the Browns plug into this spot? Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi have shown brief flashes of potential, but at this point they look like nothing more than mediocre NFL receivers.

Their fundamental problem is neither of them has a specific skill or defining feature that you can say "this is who they are."

They're both fundamentally sound receivers, but they're not outstanding talents who are going be play-makers. There's also the issue that they're basically the same player, begging the question "Why were they drafted back-to-back in the same round in the same draft?" (The answer again is Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll.)

And I still don't know what to expect from Carlton Mitchell. I don't think he fits into this role. He's more of a deep threat specialist (think Kyle Korver) and would need to develop quite a bit to be a guy the Browns could count on in a more consistent role.

It should be noted that the West Coast offense is excellent for being able to be successful without especially dynamic players. If you don't believe me, check the receivers on the New England Patriots championship teams (Randy Moss wasn't on any of them). I'm not saying you don't want them, just that you don't necessarily need them.

In conclusion, the Browns still have to find a player who can fill that small forward position. That guy might be Robiskie or Massaquoi, or it might be someone not currently on the roster.

The key is for the coaching staff to fit the players we do have into roles that best utilize their talents, making the offense less predictable and more of a challenge to shut down. An improved passing game will do wonders for Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty, and the running game.

And that's not to mention giving Colt McCoy something to work with for a change.


You can follow me on Twitter @ClevelandFlack


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