Jaelen Strong wasn’t sure when his next opportunity would come after he suffered a torn ACL in Week 16 of the 2017 NFL season.
The wide receiver had to miss the entirety of 2018 for recovery and was hungry for another NFL opportunity. He just didn’t know where it would be, or if it would even come.
“When you hit rock bottom, those thoughts always come,” Strong said. “It’s just about not really so much listening to yourself, but talking to yourself and putting the work in to hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Browns think Strong has yet to tap into the potential the Houston Texans saw when they selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft. After one season with and a September 2017 release from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Strong signed with the Browns in February and is hoping to add to his career line of 330 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
First, Strong needs to crack the 53-man roster. Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Antonio Callaway will likely snag the top four receiver spots. Strong will face stiff competition regardless of how many spots the Browns leave for additional wideouts.
But he’s still made his presence known. He wowed a crowd of over 37,000 fans Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium with two diving catches and a leaping grab over a defensive back on a deep ball. In camp, Strong has been one of the most consistent of the 11 receivers on the roster.
Check out photos from the eleventh day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
“Since I have been here, that has been the goal,” Strong said. “Just to grind every day and put it on film. I just come in everyday with the mindset that is a new day, new rep and new play. Taking it one play at a time and throwing it all out there to show the coaches I want to be here.”
Strong has received reps with the first team in the last week of training camp. His connection with Mayfield, who was the quarterback for all three of Strong’s catches Saturday, has been palpable. Strong has made a case for not only cracking the 53-man roster, but for receiving reps in crucial situations in regular season games.
He’s been watching Mayfield since his Heisman Trophy days at Oklahoma. Now, Strong hopes to become an asset toward Mayfield’s ascension to a top tier NFL quarterback.
“I love Baker,” Strong said. “It’s his attitude every day. He talks to everybody. We all feel like we can come up to him and ask him anything. That’s what I love about him. He’s open, and he wants us to be open with him. It makes you want to compete for him and go out harder for him when you have a guy like that around you.”
If Strong can carry his early consistency from camp into the Browns’ preseason games, his comeback odds with the Browns will soar even higher. He’s trying to earn an opportunity to stay in one of the top wide receiver rooms in the NFL, and that might be what he needs to hit the potential the Browns hoped he’d reach when they offered him a contract despite him missing a year of action.
“You can’t really get through anything without going through anything,” Strong said. “I think the way things happen, they’re all for a reason. I’m here for a reason, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”