On Sunday, the Browns face the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants. Though QB Eli Manning gets most of the publicity, he, like any quarterback, wouldn’t be where he is today without his wide receivers.
The Giants arguably have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL. Even with Hakeem Nicks injured, the team has hardly missed a beat, as the second stud of the group, Victor Cruz, has simply taken his place. Toss in Ramses Barden (now dealing with a concussion) or Domenik Hixon and nothing changes; everyone produces.
For the Browns, they still haven’t been able to find a No. 1 receiver, let alone build the Giants’ championship-level depth at the position (remember, New York was gluttonous enough at the position to let Mario Manningham leave through free agency).
And now, with the injury bug biting the Browns’ wide receivers — this includes Josh Cribbs (concussion), Travis Benjamin (hamstring) and Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) — the time for a true No. 1 receiver to emerge has been expedited to right now.
Who can it possibly be? Greg Little would appear to be the obvious choice, but it’s hard to back someone who has had the most drops in the NFL over the past two seasons. As for Massaquoi, he appeared to be developing a solid rapport with QB Brandon Weeden until his injury.
Rookie Josh Gordon wants to improve in the potential absence of these receivers, but he still looks raw on the field and will continue to do so. Jordan Norwood? Josh Cooper, potentially promoted from the practice squad? Please.
In other words, the current prospects for the Browns are grim. Even when the Browns’ receivers are healthy, the drops have been piling up, which has surely done nothing to help Weeden’s cause.
Players like Little and Massaquoi might develop better under a more stable offense, but it’s hard to see either one as a true No. 1 guy. The biggest improvements they can make on the field would come after the inclusion of a star receiver, a player who can realistically set his sights on 1,000 yards and more in a season.
The importance of finally improving the receiving corps has never been greater. Most people would agree with this, and it’s an especially painful proposition for some when one considers that the Browns could have drafted WR Julio Jones in 2011. Instead, the team traded down and turned those extra picks into players like Weeden, Little, DT Phil Taylor, FB Owen Marecic and the assurance of drafting RB Trent Richardson.
Having Jones on the roster certainly would have solved a lot of problems, but the Browns also have shockingly thin depth at a lot of positions and the front office chose to address issues across the board.
There is nothing wrong with that; it just means the time has come to enhance the talent at the position that requires the most skill of all. It’s going to be difficult, as the future is still quite cloudy for the current front office. However, that possibly could make this situation easier, as current GM Tom Heckert has been reluctant to do much for the WR position through both the draft and free agency.
In their first four games of 2012, the Browns have played against some high-quality receivers, but on Sunday, they face the most talented group yet (and that’s even with Nicks out).
If there was ever a time this season to finally understand the need for high-caliber wide receivers, as if that was something that still needed to be understood, this week’s matchup would be it.
Steve DiMatteo is a freelance writer based in Cleveland who currently serves as the editor/lead writer of Dawg Pound Daily. You can follow him on Twitter at steve_dimatteo.