Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins
Media and fan discussion about the competition at wide receiver for the Browns will begin in earnest on July 26, when the team holds its first practice of training camp.
In the meantime, here are some thoughts about the impending battles to determine who will fill a potential void in the No. 1 spot as well as round out the position group:
The main question is who is going to step up? Since May, media reports have maintained that Josh Gordon, the Browns' No. 1 receiver and most talented player at any position, is going to miss significant time due to an NFL-mandated suspension. The best options to fill that role would appear to be Miles Austin or Nate Burleson. Austin has spent the offseason working his way back from chronic hamstring problems. He missed offseason practices, but is expected to be ready to fully participate in training-camp workouts. Austin might not be the dynamic play-maker he was at his best with the Dallas Cowboys, but he still can be productive. Burleson sat out part of the offseason while recovering from arm surgery, but was back to normal by the end of the offseason sessions. Like Austin, he is capable of producing difference-making plays, but his best seasons are likely behind him.
There is no "replacing" Gordon. He is among the very best receivers the game has seen, reaching historical levels with his All-Pro performance in 14 games last season. Gordon looked as dominant as ever through offseason workouts, and there is little doubt he would pick up where he left off at the end of last year. No one else on the Browns – or on most other teams in the NFL – is going to duplicate what he does.
Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins was one of the Browns' most exciting free-agent acquisitions. As he demonstrated on a regular basis through offseason workouts, he has incredible speed and elusiveness to go along with dependable hands. Hawkins should provide the Browns with a true inside, move-the-chains target that they have sorely lacked. He should do his part to help pick up whatever slack might exist in the receiving corps.
Don't sleep on Anthony Armstrong. Although he's 31, he still has plenty of speed. He has traveled a humbling route to the NFL, playing in the Arena Football League and something called the Intense Football League. Armstrong thoroughly understands the offense of Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, having played in it when Shanahan held the same role with the Washington Redskins. Armstrong is capable of generating big plays, and should be very much in the mix for a backup spot.
Other receivers to watch in the competition to fill backup roles are: Charles Johnson (he could end up making a major impact now that he has recovered from the torn ACL with which he arrived when the Browns claimed him from the Green Bay Packers' practice squad last year), Chandler Jones, Jonathan Krause, Willie Snead, and Taylor Gabriel. >>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford" on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com. We take your questions at 216-578-0850 and via Twitter @Browns_Daily.