I have to admit, that the possible year long suspension of Josh Gordon strikes me as hilarious. How he could possibly be facing this sort of punishment for smoking marijuana, while Ray Rice will probably only miss a handful of games (if he is suspended at all) for knocking his fiancee out cold, is beyond insane. I realize that Gordon's prior behavior factors into this, but at this point in time do any of us really care about a football player smoking weed? Of course, being a jazz musician who grew up in the 1930's probably has an effect on my views of this subject.
Leaving aside my perhaps unpopular thoughts on pot persecution, this leads to an interesting and obvious question. Who would fill the Josh Gordon void, for the Cleveland Browns? Somebody is going to have to catch the ball, but who is it going to be? To answer that question, let's first make a list of every wide receiver who is currently on the Browns' roster, and examine their physical characteristics.
While there are numerous other physical factors we could consider, I want to keep this as simple and straightforward as possible. The Browns' receivers will be listed in descending order, according to their weight. Beside their name, I will list their 40-time, Kangaroo Score and Agility Score. The Kangaroo Score (our measure of lower body power) and the Agility Score, will be given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is above or below the average result for someone in their position group. So, simply put, we are just looking for speed, power and agility.
|Greg Little||6' 2.5"||231||4.51||2.300||0.313|
|Tori Gurley||6' 4"||216||4.53||0.027||-0.441|
|Charles Johnson||6' 2"||215||4.39||1.470||-0.629|
|Nate Burleson||6' 0.5"||197||4.51||0.749||0.109|
|Conner Vernon||6' 0.25"||196||4.54||-0.773||-0.034|
|Willie Snead||5' 11"||195||4.62||-1.067||-1.284|
|Josh Cooper||5' 11"||190||4.65||-1.499||-0.968|
|Jonathan Krause||5' 11"||187||4.37||-0.396||0.592|
|Chandler Jones||5' 8.5"||183||4.34||-1.466||-0.209|
|Andrew Hawkins||5' 7"||182||4.34||-1.001||0.946|
|Kenny Shaw||5' 11"||174||4.56||-1.840||0.543|
|Travis Benjamin||5' 10"||172||4.36||-1.327||0.073|
Okay, so what do we really have here? Well, the Browns do appear to have some rather fast, but tiny, receivers in Benjamin, Hawkins, Jones, and Krause. While these four are all lacking significant power, that is fairly typical amongst small receivers. Amongst the pipsqueaks, only Hawkins and Krause really catch my eye though, as their Agility Score at least suggests the possibility of some sort of elusiveness, which seems like a good thing for a small underpowered player to have. Of course, small speedy receivers tend to play more of a complementary role in today's NFL, and don't tend to be the primary target for most offenses.
When we shift our attention to the bigger receivers, Greg Little and Charles Johnson are probably the players who will create the most interest. Physically, they both exhibit the measurable traits we are generally seeking to find when looking at large receivers, namely power (Kangaroo Score) and at least passable speed. Though their Agility Scores are just average, at best, this is a rather typical outcome amongst larger receivers, and not necessarily a huge concern. As for Tori Gurley, well, he is quite large, but there's nothing to suggest that he possesses any exceptional physical traits within his large frame.
A couple players, like Nate Burleson and Conner Vernon, fall somewhere in the middle, in terms of size. While Burleson has fairly nice physical characteristics, with results that fall into the average to above average range in most areas, he has also recently broken his arm, which doesn't bode well for the immediate future. He is also a soon to be 33 year old wide receiver, who has generally had statistical production of the "average to good" variety, which seems unlikely to change at this point in his career. Conner Vernon, on the other hand, was a moderately interesting college prospect, but probably lacks the athletic ability to be anything more than a possession receiver.
Still, these sorts of physical traits can't tell the whole story. At some point you need to know if a player can actually produce, and hold onto the ball. Instead of listing the player's Stat Scores, the way I normally do, I wanted to do something a bit simpler. This time, we're just going to look at what percentage of their team's offense that each player was responsible for generating in their final two years in college. The average result for a player in their final college season is 17.75%. In their next to last season, the average result is 15.34%. These averages are based only on drafted receivers (or, players who were expected to be drafted), so the real averages would obviously be a bit lower if we included all college receivers. With these results, we are just hoping to get a glimpse into how heavily a team 'leaned on' a player. While some players may be underutilized in college, and blossom later in their NFL careers, this doesn't tend to happen very frequently. Instead, it tends to be a safer bet to keep your attention focused on players with a proven track record of success.
So, here are these same 12 receivers, roughly sorted according to how heavily their college offenses relied upon them.
|NAME||% Offense Year 1||% Offense Year 2|
Typically, I wouldn't pay much attention to players with results lower than what we see with Chandler Jones or Greg Little. It's not that a player with lesser results can't succeed, it's just that it becomes much less likely. As for Andrew Hawkins, who has had some limited success in the NFL, it is difficult to come to any real conclusion, as he was actually a cornerback in college, so no statistical data exists for him as a receiver.
Perhaps it's not surprising, that Nate Burleson has what is easily the best single year result of any player in this list, producing 31.22% of his team's offensive yards in his final college season. Still, as I've said already, there is probably little remaining upside to Burleson at this point in his career. Greg Little, while possessing rather strong athletic traits, appears to have had college production that was merely just average to below average, which could perhaps be linked to his current issues with actually catching the ball. Willie Snead, while appearing to be quite productive in college, still suffers from the question of how much you want to place your faith in a small receiver who ran a 4.62 forty yard dash. The history of players like Snead finding success just isn't so hot.
So, who does that really leave us with, except Charles Johnson? Athletically, he is superb, possessing the size, speed, and power to potentially become a rather dangerous receiving threat. His production in college, was above average, though it obviously came at a lower level of competition (Grand Valley State University). While some of you may not have heard of him before, I can assure you that every draft geek, who is into examining the numbers, is keenly aware of Johnson and his intriguing potential. I even made him a 6th round pick in our 2013 Ozzie Newsome Challenge (since he was one of the computer's favorite receiver prospects in the 2013 draft class), so you can bet that I am hoping that things work out for him.
Of course, Johnson is still a longshot. Opportunities don't come easily to late round draft picks, especially when they come from rather goofy college programs. It is entirely possible that the Browns will trade for a receiver, or pick one up when teams start cutting players later in the summer. In fact, I would almost bet on this happening (I jinxed myself). But if they don't? Well, then suddenly Charles Johnson would have a very valuable opportunity to perhaps surprise some people. If you have ever wondered how some teams stumble into a late-round/undrafted prospect like Victor Cruz, Miles Austin, or Marques Colston, this is pretty much how it happens. All three of these players were somewhat similarly gifted athletes, with proven production, who just happened to play at lesser programs like UMass, Monmouth, and Hofstra. Maybe history will repeat itself with Charles Johnson, or maybe it won't (damn you, Miles Austin!).
One of the drawbacks to getting excited about a player like Charles Johnson, is that you pretty much have to blindly trust the numbers, as there are very few video clips of him for us to watch. Forming a subjective opinion of his skills is somewhat impossible for me. This is one of the few examples I have been able to come across, which really only gives us a brief glimpse of what he may really be like as a player.
Perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with Johnson, which the numbers don't show. Maybe he leans a bit in the direction of Greg Little, when it comes to catching the ball. It is hard to say, without more data. To claim that Johnson can single-handedly replace the 1,646 receiving yards that Josh Gordon produced last year would be irresponsible and idiotic. All I can say is that people who fit Johnson's profile have a surprisingly strong history of turning into at least adequate players, even if they were initially overlooked by most teams. Sometimes, perhaps more often than you might suspect, they even turn out to be great. At this point, I'm just hoping that the Browns organization sees his potential, and doesn't prematurely dismiss him as "just another disposable late round draft pick", and that they give him a real chance to compete for a role on their offense. The potential rewards for giving him such an opportunity could be enormous.
Update: So, the Browns have now signed Miles Austin. This obviously forces me to pull my voodoo doll out of the closet and stick needles in its knees, in hopes of getting Johnson an opportunity. Oh, nevermind, Austin is bound to injure himself without my help.