Demetric Felton certainly had it in him, but he'd simply never returned a punt in a game that counted until he donned a Browns uniform.
The Browns knew that when they selected him in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but they aren't surprised by what he's been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time in his new role.
Cleveland enters its Week 4 matchup in Minnesota with the most punt return yards of any team in the NFL. Felton is responsible for all 129 of them, with 103 coming in last week's win over the Bears. It was the most yards recorded by a Browns punt returner since 2015, and the total would have been even higher if not for a couple of Cleveland penalties on his seven returns.
The Browns have already exceeded their 2020 total of 115 punt return yards, which ranked in the bottom five in the league. Felton proving to be a quick study has been a key reason why they've made such a quick leap up the rankings.
"He's got that skill set," special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. "When we drafted him, we were excited about that and we knew that was going to be a plan for him going forward."
Felton came to Cleveland with returning experience, of course. It just wasn't on punts.
Felton handled kick returns during his final three seasons at UCLA, though his frequency of doing it had an inverse relationship with his playing time on offense. When Felton emerged as the team's bell cow running back in 2020, he was used much less on special teams.
It's a common occurrence throughout college football, Priefer said, and it plays into why Felton was never given a shot to return punts. He already had enough on his plate.
Now, with the Browns, Felton is carving out a niche as a change-of-pace option on the offense and a dynamic threat on kicks and punts.
"All of this is very new to him," Priefer said. "With every game, with every experience he has, with every return, he continues to get better. I'm really excited for what he's contributed thus far."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Minnesota Vikings
'The Juice Of The Team'
No one on the Browns roster is better suited to sympathize with Jarvis Landry than Odell Beckham Jr., Landry's close friend who just went through a lengthy stretch away from the field. From Beckham's perspective, Landry is in a good spot despite being unable to help his teammates on the field as a key part of the offense.
Landry, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury, missed just his second game in eight seasons Sunday when the Browns hosted the Bears. He'll miss at least two more as he works to get back on the field as soon as he can.
No matter, Landry has remained a fixture with the Browns. He's at the CrossCountry Mortgage Fieldhouse every day and was on the sidelines for the Bears game.
"He's been great," Beckham said. "It's not easy to go through that, never missing a game and just being the guy he presents and really is to the world, a tough player. Just for him to have to sit, it's not easy to deal with. He's helped me with the film, he's helped everybody on the team, he's still been there and he's still the leader of the team.
"He's Juice and is the juice of the team."
Kudos To Chase
Priefer said he had full confidence in K Chase McLaughlin when he sent him out to attempt a 57-yard field goal in the second quarter of Sunday's win over the Bears.
McLaughlin made the kick, of course, and had a few yards to spare. It was the first of four field goals on the day for McLaughlin, who is perfect on field goals and extra points through the first three games.
Priefer said McLaughlin made a 61-yard field goal during warmups and was excited to get a shot at the 57-yarder — the longest by a Browns player at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"He does not bat an eye," Priefer said. "He is a very mentally tough young man. He is a much stronger and a better kicker than he was when he came out of Illinois. So I think at the end of the day his confidence will continue to grow, but he knows every kick is extremely important. He has to have the same focus and intensity that he approached kicks with on Sunday."
Browns veteran C JC Tretter dropped some words of wisdom Thursday as he discussed his thoughts on the offense's progress through the first three games.
"If you're as good as you're going to be in Week 3," Tretter said, "you're not going to be very good."