The Cleveland Browns receiving corps was easily the worst in the NFL last season.
If you count receptions by players who are deemed wide receivers, the five players for the Browns totaled 129 receptions for 1,438 yards. Or for those of you who need easier numbers for comparison, 14 receptions more than Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White and 10 less yards receiving than Denver Broncos Pro Bowler Brandon Lloyd.
I mean, you know things are bad when two of the Browns top three leading receivers were tight end Ben Watson (763 yards) and running back Peyton Hillis (477 yards). In fact, those two had the same amount of receptions as the five Browns receivers on the season, as Watson had 68 and Hillis had 61 for a total of 129.
You can’t put all the blame on the Browns receivers though. When your team starts the season with Jake Delhomme under center, then has Seneca Wallace take over due to injury and then finally third-round rookie draft pick Colt McCoy takes over when Wallace goes down with an injury, it may be a little tough to develop any type of rhythm with your quarterback.
After the 2010 season ended with the Browns in their usual place, on the couch at home watching the playoffs, many fans thought the team would go out and either draft one of the top two available wide receivers (A.J. Green from Georgia or Julio Jones from Alabama) or throw big money at a veteran free agent like Santonio Holmes or Sidney Rice.
However, fans could not have been more wrong, as the team not only passed on drafting Jones by trading down, but they also left free agency without any major additions to the receiving corps. In fact, outside of second-round draft pick Greg Little from North Carolina, one could say the Browns did not do anything to their group of receivers.
But they could not be more wrong.
See, it was not so long ago that another “small” quarterback was taking over a franchise in a state of flux. In 2006, Drew Brees signed a deal to become the starting quarterback of a team coming off a 3-13 season. While I know Brees was already an accomplished quarterback with the San Diego Chargers and McCoy still has much to prove, my focus here is on the receivers, not who was under center.
Can you venture a guess at how many “big name” receivers Brees has had when he signed with the New Orleans Saints? Well I’m going to make it easy on you, none.
Yeah, Marques Colston is a household name now, but back in 2006 he was a seventh-round draft pick out of Hofstra. The Saints did not think he would make the roster when they drafted him, let alone post four 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his first five years in the NFL. The rest of the team’s leading receivers from the Brees era are listed below:
Lance Moore, 2005 Undrafted Free Agent from Toledo
Robert Meachem, 2007 First-Round Pick from Tennessee
Devery Henderson, 2004 Second-Round from LSU
Joe Horn, 1996 Fifth-Round Pick from Itawamba Community College
David Patten, 1996 Undrafted Free Agent from Western Carolina
The team also had the likes of tight ends Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush too. The point is the New Orleans Saints have been dominating the NFL in passing without top wide receivers in the draft or big name veteran free agents and they grew within the system itself.
What the Saints do is trust in the system and their quarterback. They gave Brees the keys to their version of the West Coast offense. Their fans don’t clamor for big name wide receivers, because they trust in their quarterback to put the ball on their compilation of guys who know how to run routes and catch the ball. And I think the Saints have been doing a pretty good job at it.
So when the Browns enter the 2011 season with the likes of Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi (currently injured), Josh Cribbs, Little, Carlton Mitchell and Jordan Norwood as McCoy’s wide receivers, don’t panic and start screaming for Terrell Owens. The big change to the receiving corps won’t be the addition of any “big name” players, it will be the installation of a new offense which will allow them to do what they are supposed to do best—catch the ball.
Under the direction of Pat Shurmur and Mike Holmgren’s West Coast offense, you will soon see it does not matter how big of a name the receiver has. What matters is that the guys can run the routes effectively and catch the passes thrown to them. It has worked with the combination of head coach Sean Peyton and Brees in New Orleans since 2006 when they came together, and it will work for Shurmur and McCoy in Cleveland.