David Njoku thought last year would be one of his most productive seasons as a third-year tight end. The offense was led by a talented quarterback, and the Browns had plenty of weapons to stretch the field and give Njoku opportunities for explosive plays.
Instead, Njoku ended the season with only four games played, five receptions and a touchdown. A wrist injury forced Njoku to spend time on injured reserve, and his number was seldom called in the passing game when he returned.
Alex Van Pelt, hired by the Browns as the offensive coordinator in January, believes Njoku's production this season will meet the expectations he had for himself last year. Cleveland will have a new offense that caters to tight-end usage, and Njoku has very much been a part of the plans Van Pelt has made with coach Kevin Stefanski.
"He is going to add to that tight end room," Van Pelt said Wednesday in a Zoom call with local reporters. "There will be times we are out there with three tight end sets – that is part of this system – and to have him with the ability he has both athletically to play in line or get him out in space and get some matchup issues with safeties and linebackers covering him, I am excited to see what he has to offer."
Check out our favorite photos of David Njoku and Myles Garrett
Njoku is no easy task for opposing defenders. At 6-foot-4, 246 pounds, Njoku, who carries one of the biggest wingspans on the Browns, is a massive passing target Van Pelt hopes to utilize. His best season came in 2018, when he corralled 56 receptions for 639 yards and four touchdowns.
As a 2017 first-round draft pick, however, Njoku carries even more potential that could be unveiled in a wide-zone offensive scheme. Two and three tight end formations will be a common look for the Browns, so Njoku will likely have an uptick in snaps and could benefit from playing alongside Austin Hooper, whom the Browns signed to a lucrative, long-term deal in March.
Njoku faced an uncertain future, too. The Browns needed to decide whether to utilize Njoku's fifth-year option for 2021 in April, and a disappointing 2019 season cast some doubt on whether the new regime in Cleveland would want to keep Njoku or move on to their own selection of tight ends.
The decision: extend him, and Njoku has made early good impressions on that transaction.
"He has been excellent," Van Pelt said. "We really enjoy him in the meetings. He's a guy who speaks out. He's a smart guy. He understands what we're trying to get accomplished. He can answer the questions when you ask him. I am excited to get to know him. I know he is a talented guy."
Njoku is staying in Cleveland, but he's still immersing himself in what feels like a fresh start. He's healthy, and he's playing under a new set of coaches who carved out a specific role for his talents.
For Njoku, the regular season can't start soon enough.
"My No. 1 goal is to stay healthy," he said in a recent interview. "If I can stay healthy, the sky is the limit. It's going to be special. We have all the tools here, and we have a great coach, so we're really excited to put it all together."