Anthony Schwartz was finally starting to feel acclimated to the NFL before one hit gave him his first true setback of his rookie season.
Schwartz, a third-round pick by the Browns in 2021, took a kickoff return in Week 10 against the Patriots, sprinted upfield and took a hard hit to the helmet as he was tackled to the turf. An injury was the last thing Schwartz needed — he felt as though he was making noticeable growth after catching five passes for 48 yards in the last four weeks, a small but steady bump in his production at that point in the season — but he suffered a concussion and had to be sidelined for the next month.
"Those few games before (I got the concussion) were when everything officially was clicking for me," he said in an interview Friday on 92.3 The Fan. "I felt like I was in a good groove. (The game) started coming to me faster, and that was when I was like, 'OK, this is what I do.'"
Schwartz held onto that feeling of belonging in the league as he went through the slow recovery for his injury, and he's hanging onto it even tighter as he enters his first full NFL offseason with an eye toward producing much more in 2022. He finished the season with only 10 catches for 135 yards and one touchdown, but the 21-year-old feels as though he's capable of showing significant growth in Year 2.
"I think that next step is becoming one of those top two, top three receivers on the team," he said. "I want to be able to make plays for the team and make plays to win and hopefully be a part of us going to the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl."
Check out the best photos from the 2021 season by the Browns photo team
Schwartz, who's still only 21 years old and was one of the fastest players from last season's draft class, took the first week of the offseason to step back from football and recharge, but he's already back to training and preparing himself for the grinds of another season that starts in seven months.
One of his biggest priorities will be strengthening his body to improve durability after hamstring injuries limited his time on the field last offseason and throughout training camp. That work should also translate well toward becoming a better, faster receiver.
Yes, Schwartz believes he can become even faster.
He ran a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash in his pro day performance at Auburn last year, but he's always believed that he hasn't yet reached his speed ceiling. Any additional quickness would make him even more of a weapon as a gadget player capable of catching deep balls, taking screen passes and turning handoffs into big plays. Speed will certainly help Schwartz become more dangerous as a returner, too.
"Definitely," he said when asked if he's capable of being quicker. "That comes with just staying healthy. If I'm able to stay healthy, I'll be able to run even faster."
Schwartz said coach Kevin Stefanski and Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry in their exit interviews each directed him to focus on health — and improving all areas of his game as a receiver — in order to take a considerable jump in Year 2.
That advice, though, wasn't anything Schwartz needed to hear from them. He knew all along that he had plenty of things to work on in his first full NFL offseason if he wanted to meet his goal of becoming one of the top go-to receivers on the Browns, and after a rookie season of battling injuries and finding his way in the league, he's going to use as much of the offseason time as possible to continue his growth.
"(Taking a jump) is something I really want to be able to do and focus on anything I have to do as a receiver," he said, "whether it's catching, running routes, anything I can do to get better — that's what I'm doing this offseason."