Toward the end of the Browns’ offseason workouts, Josh Gordon stepped out on a limb, declaring Cleveland’s wide receivers as the best in the nation.
It was a bold proclamation, one buoyed by the return of Gordon, who once led the league in receiving before a lengthy suspension, and newcomer Jarvis Landry, a three-time Pro Bowler whom the club acquired in a trade with Miami.
The pair alone stand to give a previously anemic Browns offense a boost. Still, potential means little without production and Cleveland’s coaching staff cautioned actions will speak louder than words when it comes to backing up that declaration.
“I know that there was a statement being made, but I don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff. Receivers are like that. They like to be confident with what they are doing,” wide receivers coach Adam Henry said last month. “I’ll welcome that, but at the same time, you have to go out on the field and do it. You have to prove it.”
For a team coming off winless season, the Browns’ wide receivers stand to be one of the league’s better position groups, a mix of new and returning faces. At the very least, it is (on paper) a strength as opposed to one of the team’s biggest weaknesses a year ago.
Gordon, who played five games after coming back from a three-year suspension, is expected to return to form going forward. Landry, one of the league’s rising stars, led the NFL with 112 catches last season and his 400 receptions are the most by any player through their first four seasons.
The Browns also return third-year receiver Corey Coleman (a first-round pick in 2016 who has demonstrated promise but struggled to stay healthy), Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins. In the draft this past spring, the front office took additional steps to fortify the room, selecting former Florida speedster Antonio Callaway in the fourth round and Texas A&M’s Damion Ratley in the sixth.
“I think the capability of what we all can do is endless,” said Landry, who shined in workouts after four seasons with the Dolphins. “We can only, obviously, beat ourselves at this point.”
For all the optimism about the group, Cleveland isn’t far removed from a 2017 campaign in which its receivers struggled to do much of anything on a consistent basis. The Browns’ three top pass catchers were a running back (Duke Johnson) and two tight ends (David Njoku and Seth DeValve) while Louis led the receivers with 357 yards on 27 catches.
Because of that, first-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley — who previously helped the Steelers become one of the league’s preeminent offenses — has pumped the brakes when it comes to Gordon’s spring statement. “I’m a big ‘go by what I see’ guy," he said. "He can have an opinion, and I’m happy he does, but I think that remains to be seen."
Training camp, which opens later this month, will offer Gordon, Landry and the Browns’ receivers to chance to work toward that goal.
“We have some potential, I know that," Haley said, "but we have a lot of work to do in all areas, that group included.”