Likely due to a combination of an unresolved Deshaun Watson situation and just how little return on the investment the Cleveland Browns have gotten from the wide receiver position the past few seasons, the team has gone with a cheaper room made up of draft picks the team has made over the past three years. A key for that decision to work out is the emergence of Donovan Peoples-Jones.
The passing game is set to work through Amari Cooper and David Njoku fresh off of his lucrative contract extension. That next spot is where the Browns hope Jones will flourish allowing the rest of the room to function as roles to put pressure on opposing defenses.
In his training camp tour stop with the Browns, Albert Breer of theMMQB weighed in on what he’s hearing about the third-year receiver.
“On offense, Donovan Peoples-Jones may not be a star, but has continued his steady improvement, showed up in great shape and looks like a really solid complement to Amari Cooper. Just as important, he’s quickly earned the trust of Watson, and there’s some thought that Watson, whenever he’s available, could wind up elevating Peoples-Jones’s game because of it.”
The Browns have transitioned into a passing game that is looking to physically dominate the opponent just as much as their running game does. Gone are Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, replaced by a much bigger and stronger Amari Cooper at 6’2″ 215 pounds. Jones is 6’2″ and offers similar physical attributes as Cooper. Add in Njoku and the Browns have the potential to overwhelm opponents.
There are two main paths where Jones can become the receiver the Browns need him to be this season. The first is by virtue of being the third option in this offense.
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After a rookie season where he made some contributions largely as a role player, Jones was supposed to be the third receiver behind Beckham and Landry, potentially being as low as the fifth option when including Njoku and former Browns tight end Austin Hooper.
That didn’t happen. In fact, due to injuries and ineffective play from a number of positions, in games against teams like the New England Patriots and New England Patriots, he was the de facto top option. J.C. Jackson and Marlon Humphrey erased him from games. He wasn’t ready for that caliber of corner.
If Cooper continues to produce as he has throughout his career and Njoku becomes the player the Browns need him to be, Jones will get more favorable matchups and opportunities to produce.
The other path forward is through individual development. Coming out of Michigan, Jones was raw. He had terrific hands and promising physical attributes, but he had little if any refinement or nuance to his game due to underwhelming coaching. He’s been an excellent contested catch option in the NFL, but that will only carry him so far.
In his second season, Jones made some strides, but it was clear he still had to work to do in creating separation, which was exposed by the fact that he had 423 yards or 70 percent of his receiving yards came in five games. The rest of the season, Jones had 174 receiving yards combined. Some of that is going to land on Baker Mayfield playing through injury, but plenty is due to Jones being asked to do too much too soon.
The Browns are counting on the the acquisition of Watson to bolster the production of Jones. Nevertheless, this year’s training camp is important for both Jones and the Browns. If he can grow into a quality option second receiver, it takes pressure off of the rest of the room, the passing game as a whole.
If there are signs that Jones is not able to take another step forward this season, the Browns could experience some of the same problems they experienced the last two seasons in the passing game, limiting what the offense is able to achieve.