We're 30 days from the start of training camp in Berea, which means we have a little time to look toward the clouds (they've parted for the sun today) and ponder deep thoughts about how things might go for the 2019 Cleveland Browns.
From that process, we've emerged from the inner portion of our football-focused consciences with nine very important questions related to this football team, which reconvenes for the start of camp in a month. We'll address one per weekday for the next two weeks. Next up: Those fellas catching passes from Baker Mayfield.
Most Important Question No. 8: Who fills out the bottom half of the receiving corps?
We know of the two guys who are at the top of the receiver depth chart and who also happen to be best friends. For the first time in a long time, the offseason discussion is no longer about the Browns needing a No. 1 receiver.
In fact, it seems as many as four receiver spots on this team are already decided, meaning the room for the rest of the wideouts currently on the roster to make the final 53-man list is less than usual. Instead of 10 guys battling for three or four jobs, it's nine essentially fighting for a grand total of two (plus practice squad consideration).
Here's the whole list:
-Odell Beckham Jr.
There is a bit of a divider between who is expected to make the team and who is on the bubble, and it belongs between Higgins and Hyman. This bubble is a bit more precarious due to the aforementioned lack of final roster spots presumably available.
Why? Well, we don't need to rehash the value of Beckham and Landry. Callaway was a fourth-round pick in 2018 who has first-round talent and showed flashes of his immense potential as a rookie last season. He's on the team, barring anything incredibly unusual, and he's coming off a strong offseason of work.
"I think Antonio has had a great spring," Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said in early June. "I think everybody would agree, right? He has been really, really good. I am really excited about Antonio coming back. From a knowledge standpoint, from knowing what to do, when to do it and then actually doing it, he has done very well."
Higgins has established quite a rapport with Mayfield, as evidenced by his career-best 39 receptions for 572 yards and four touchdowns last season. He and Mayfield started to really flourish late in 2018, as did the rest of the offense following Kitchens' promotion to offensive coordinator. That relationship is one that will be valued when assembling the final 53.
The the remaining nine receivers have spent the spring working together but know they'll likely have to say goodbye to a majority of each other come September.
So who sticks? At this point, it's a safe bet to place Beckham, Landry, Callaway and Higgins on the team. From there, we'll look at who has stood out during offseason activities.
We begin with Ishmael Hyman, a wideout from the defunct Alliance of American Football who hasn't logged much in the way of significant stats in both college and at the professional level. What he did do, though, was play with fellow AAF-to-NFL prospect Garrett Gilbert, a quarterback who led the short-lived league in passing and is now on the Browns alongside fellow former Lake Travis HS (Texas) star signal-caller Baker Mayfield.
Was that sentence a lot to digest? Good, it should have been, because it illustrates how much player personnel has to do with personal relationships. Hyman has since stood out during OTAs and minicamp, and appears to be in the upper half of this group of nine.
"Ishmael has done a good job. He came in and worked his tail off," Kitchens said during minicamp. "He looks different now than he did at the beginning of Phase II. He knows more now than he did before Phase I. He has done a great of keeping his head down and keep working. He is getting better. I think a bunch of those guys have gotten better and, that is what we want to see. We just want to see little increases every day."
It's important to note Kitchens pointed how that "a bunch of those guys have gotten better" because it's true. D.J. Montgomery, an undrafted free agent from Austin Peay, has also stood out, as has fellow UDFA and local product Dorian Baker (Kentucky, Cleveland Heights HS).
The Browns also return Derrick Willies and Damion Ratley, two players who contributed last season and return with a campaign under their belt. Jaelen Strong signed with the team during the offseason and has steadily worked on returning with strength after missing last season due to a knee injury. Blake Jackson spent the majority of last season on the Browns' practice squad before he was elevated to the active roster in late December. Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi's story is incredible, as he managed to hustle his way into an offer from the Browns after running a 4.38 40-yard dash during a workout in Miami. He carries his most potential as a returner, a position the Browns are looking to fill via training camp competition, and has spent plenty of time working on becoming a viable receiver as well, showing signs of improvement during minicamp.
It will be a tall task for many of these players to make the roster, but that's what training camp is for: to figure out who will and won't make the team. These players are worthy candidates who will battle for just a couple of open roster spots in July and August. It's clear that the Browns will have to say goodbye to some quality football players by the time September arrives. Who those players are, and who will keep their lockers in Berea remains to be seen.