The offensive outlook for the Cleveland Browns wasn't pretty anyway. With Josh Gordon now officially suspended/banned from the NFL for an entire year, the Browns offense could be a complete mess in 2014.
This isn't just a "no Josh Gordon" thing, either, although the troubled wideout produced at an other-worldly level in 2013, catching 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns ... in just 14 games. He's one of just three players in NFL history to top 1,600 yards in 14 games or less and certainly the only one limited to 14 games because of his own personal off-field issues.
Gordon's role as a No. 1 receiver might've continued to blossom in Kyle Shanahan's offensive system -- the same type of scheme made famous by Gary Kubiak and Shanahan's dad -- and look no further than the heavy usage numbers for Andre Johnson throughout his career and Pierre Garcon last year. Garcon was the most-targeted wideout in the NFL, just ahead of Johnson.
But Gordon's gone and it leaves a major void on the depth chart. The top three wideouts for the Browns are now Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson. If this was 2009 that would be awesome, but Austin and Burleson are a combined 63 years old now. The 5-7 Hawkins is an excellent receiver capable of disrupting coverage underneath but is going to need someone to draw coverage away.
The 2013 stats from the three of those guys combined don't come close to equaling what Gordon produced.
|Receiving yards last season|
In fact, combine the stats for Austin, Burleson and Hawkins from last year and you get the equivalent of the 31st-best pass-catching target in the NFL. It's the worst-possible Frankenstein sequel.
Quite conviently, though, the 30th-best "receiver" is already on the roster: Jordan Cameron, the 6-5 red-zone monster who caught seven touchdowns in 15 games in last year's breakout campaign. His 80 catches and 917 yards best the trio's aggregate pretty handily as well.
So, fortunately, Cameron will help. Unfortunately, Cameron is largely the only bright spot for this team from an offensive standpoint.
At running back Ben Tate is a perfect fit for Shanahan's one-cut zone running system (he played under Kubiak with the Texans) but he's never started a full season (or even played one) and he's definitely never seen boxes stacked the way they'll be against Cleveland. Terrance West, the rookie out of Towson, is an interesting name to watch for sure, and looked good in the preseason.
But again: boxes will be stacked.
Especially with Brian Hoyer and/or Johnny Manziel starting games this year. FYI: Hoyer won the Browns' starter quarterback gig, in case the sports section wasn't delivered to 123 Under a Rock Place that day.
Hoyer looked good in limited action before tearing his ACL last season and led the Browns to three straight victories, a brief stint atop the AFC North standings and a weird corner of the false hope world. But he's looked awful this preseason and coming back from an ACL to play quarterback is no easy task, especially without weapons.
He'll at least get some decent protection in the form of left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack, two of the better offensive linemen at their positions. Mitchell Schwartz looks like a major liability on the right side at the moment however.
And if Hoyer doesn't win -- which might be hard against the Steelers, Saints and Ravens the first three weeks, yikes -- suddenly it could be Johnny Football time in Week 5. Play the kid is a fair enough mantra for any NFL team, but is it fair for Manziel? He likes to improvise when things break down, and boy could things break down in this offense.
Cleveland is bereft of weapons in the passing game, sports question marks in the run game and has dueling less-traveled paths at quarterback. Kyle Shanahan can scheme, scam, tweak and twerk all he wants. It's impossible to imagine this offense doing any damage in 2014.