The offseason is officially underway, and free agency is just around the corner. Until then, we'll be putting the Browns' current roster through a thorough, position by position review.
Next up: The tight ends
The Raw Numbers
Passing offense - 221.1 yards per game (24th in NFL)
Touchdown catches - 27 (Tied for 14th in NFL)
Total tight end receiving yards - 897 (56 yards per game)
Total tight end touchdowns - 9
Austin Hooper - 46 rec., 435 yards, 4 TDs
Harrison Bryant - 24 rec., 238 yards, 3 TDs
David Njoku - 19 rec., 213 yards, 2 TDs
Analysis in 150 Words or Less
The receiving numbers don't come close to fully explaining how much the tight end room contributed to the Browns offense in 2020. Hooper rarely left the field and was practically used as a sixth offensive lineman when he wasn't catching passes. Bryant, the 2020 fourth-round draft pick, and Njoku shined as blockers, too, and stepped up when needed as receivers. Stephen Carlson was a reliable special teams cog. Coach Kevin Stefanski knew he'd need the top three tight ends to fill a variety of roles in his offense, and his personnel groupings frequently called for formations that required two or more tight ends on the field. Whether the job was in the trenches or in the open field, the tight ends got the job done and were a crucial part of the Browns' offensive success.
Number of Significance
4 - That's how many touchdowns Hooper caught in his final seven games, including the playoffs. He and quarterback Baker Mayfield built a strong rapport, as Hooper became one of Mayfield's go-to receivers between the numbers, and their bond certainly grew toward the end of the season after Hooper caught just one touchdown in his first eight games. Also of note: Hooper finished second on the Browns in total targets behind Jarvis Landry.
Hooper missed two weeks in the regular season with an emergency appendectomy, and the Browns certainly missed him in his second absence: Week 8 versus the Las Vegas Raiders, when the Browns offense couldn't find anything close to their usual production in a 16-6 loss. The run game, which was also without Nick Chubb, was limited to 101 total yards while the passing game, which was difficult to sustain due to extremely high winds and inclement weather, only produced 122 yards. Bryant and Njoku accounted for 44 receiving yards on three receptions, but Hooper's ability to contribute heavily in both the run and pass games — and particularly in the red zone — could've given Cleveland a small spark it needed in such a low-scoring game.
The tight ends certainly didn't need Hooper to produce overall, though. In Hooper's first absence due to appendicitis, Bryant and Njoku combined for three touchdowns in the Browns' 37-34 win Week 7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Donovan Peoples-Jones caught a touchdown in the final minute to put the Browns ahead and create an all-time highlight, but Cleveland wouldn't have been in position to win without Bryant and Njoku, who totaled 76 receiving yards and did their part in stepping up without Hooper.
What They Said
"It has been a huge point of emphasis for us. You think back to April, May and June, we knew that was going to be a big part of our role as a group, and I know those guys really embraced that from the get go. We take a lot of pride. When we hear those conversations about our offensive line and our run game, we personally take a lot of pride because we do feel like we are a big part of that. We have had some tough matchups, and those guys have handled it really well so it has been fun to watch." - TEs coach Drew Petzing on how the tight ends have embraced blocking responsibilities
"We are really pleased with our tight ends room. I think that group did a nice job for us this past year, and it is obviously a focal point in (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski)'s offense." - EVP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry
Nathan Zegura's Take
"This is a room that's important to the run game and is important to the pass game. There's a lot of talent, and I think there's a lot of room for more production in 2021 from Hooper, from 'The Chief' (Njoku), who really started to shine as the season went on, and of course from the young guy, Harrison Bryant, now entering his second season. The Browns are in a very good spot in this position group, especially for this offense with head coach Kevin Stefanski."
Who's Back for 2021?
Hooper, Bryant, Njoku and Carlson are all under contract next season. The Browns recently tendered a qualifying offer to Carlson, who was set to be an exclusive rights free agent. Kyle Markway, an undrafted rookie from South Carolina who spent most of last season on the Browns' practice squad, and Jordan Franks are also set to return.
Who's a Potential Free Agent?