As we recently discussed, the Cleveland Browns had a major quarterback battle on their hands between Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer. The latter ended up winning the starting job, although neither candidate really shined in the team’s third preseason game. But Hoyer may soon wish that he didn’t win the starting QB role now that his best target, Josh Gordon, is suspended for the entire season after another drug violation.
Cleveland likely knew that a lengthy suspension was coming for the talented 23-year-old receiver, who tallied 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns in just 14 games last year. Unfortunately, though, it still seems like a train wreck has just happened – especially when you look at what’s left in the Browns’ receiving corp.
Former Cowboys player Miles Austin may be the best wide-receiver threat left. Long removed from his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009/10, Austin caught just 24 passes for 244 yards last year. There’s also former Bengals wideout Andrew Hawkins, who stumbled to just 12 catches and 199 yards in an injury-plagued eight games.
The receiver with the best stats from 2013 is Nate Burleson, a 30-year-old who caught 39 balls for 461 yards. However, keep in mind that the aging veteran put these mediocre numbers up while playing opposite Calvin Johnson.
One Browns official summed up what the loss of Gordon means to this team. “He’s arguably the best wide receiver in the league,” the official said. “You don’t replace that guy. This is not ‘next man up.'” This is especially the case when you consider the wideouts who are trying to fill Gordon’s shoes.
If there’s one silver lining in the passing game, it’s tight end Jordan Cameron. In his third year, Cameron really stepped up by collecting 80 passes for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns. There was one four-game stretch were Cameron was absolutely dominant, catching 36 passes for 774 yards and 5 TD’s. However, that was with Gordon on the field and drawing so much attention from defenders. Now Cameron will have to put up numbers with opposing secondaries focusing on him.
Given the tough task that Cleveland’s facing without their best offensive player for the year, one has to question some of the Browns’ decisions up to this point. For starters, they found out about Gordon failing another drug test just before the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft began. With 12 wideouts selected in the first two rounds – the most in nearly 50 years – this was definitely a talented class of pass-catchers. However, Cleveland chose not to take advantage in the second round, nor in any other round. Despite knowing that a long suspension was coming for Gordon, they finished the 2014 Draft without taking any receivers.
Their backup plan was to bring in the aging Austin and Burleson. But while these two may have experience, they’re definitely not going to help take the pressure off Cameron, nor will they be dynamic targets for Manziel/Hoyer.
One could definitely argue that there’s little Cleveland could to to replace Gordon. However, it also doesn’t seem like they put forth a huge effort to at least minimize the loss of the best wideout from last year.