The Browns view JoJo Natson as more than just a returner, and that's been music to the speedy playmaker's ears ever since he signed with the team in March.
"I see him as a football player," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said of the 5-foot-7, 153-pounder. "I think he certainly has the return ability, but there is no shortage of things that we can do with JoJo. We look forward to using them."
First things first: Natson is very much in the thick of a four-man competition to return punts and kicks for the 2020 Browns. Among those vying for the job, Natson carries the most experience after serving as the full-time punt and kick returner for the Rams over the past two seasons.
In a career that's spanned three seasons and included a year with the Jets, Natson has returned 61 career punts for 467 yards for a 7.7 average and 35 kickoffs for 722 yards with a 20.6 average. He set a career high with an average of 22.2 yards per kickoff return, while adding 7.7 yards per punt return this past season with the Rams.
"I am very happy he is here," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "He has exceptional quickness. He catches punts and kickoffs very, very well. I studied him and I knew a little bit about him from the last few years in the league, but you do not get as many reps at seeing him catch the ball and how he tracks the ball. He is very, very good at that, which obviously bodes well for him and for us. His vision is good.
"We are working on some different things with him to help him be successful more downfield, but he is going to make that first guy miss more than not, and that is the exciting thing about him."
Check out exclusive photos from Tuesday's practice in Berea
Natson is competing with rookie WR Donovan Peoples-Jones and RBs D'Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard. Johnson and Hilliard filled the kick and punt returner roles throughout 2019 while Peoples-Jones shined as a punt returner at the University of Michigan.
Since it was announced he would return as special teams coordinator, Priefer has made it clear he wants to see improvements on kick return and punt return in 2020. The Browns ranked 16th in the NFL on punt returns and 20th on kickoffs. Cleveland used four different returners on both punts and kicks.
Priefer said the edge Natson holds over most returners is his "exceptional quickness right off the bat." He stressed, though, that all 11 on the field will have to contribute to improving these rankings.
"I do not blame only the returners," Priefer said. "We did not block particularly well most of the year on punt return. Kickoff return, we had some good plays. Punt return, we need to do a better job. We had a couple penalties where we were obviously lower in penalties than they were the year before, but we still have to be going in that direction. We have to keep trending in the direction of reducing penalties in both return phases."
Natson, though, hasn't been limited to just special teams duties. He's also locked into a wide-ranging competition at wide receiver, the position at which he thrived throughout a college career that began at Utah State and ended at Akron. During his senior season with the Zips, Natson caught 59 passes for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was also utilized as a runner throughout his college career, peaking with 50 carries for 498 yards as a junior at Utah State.
Nothing is final in any of these position battles, but Natson is certainly excited to be included in more than just one.
"I just try and stay on top of my game and help the team in any way I could," Natson said. "If someone was to go down and coach calls my number, my job is to be ready and fill in as best as I could. I just look at it as coach giving me an opportunity to show what I can do as a receiver. I am just taking that one day at a time and learning from the guys in the room."