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Reviewing the TEs: Njoku shows growth as featured tight end

The Browns placed more on Njoku’s plate in 2023, and the six-year veteran started the season well before injuries halted a hot streak


The Browns are about a month removed from the 2022 season and are making plans for improvements in 2023. Doing so, however, will require looking back at how each position fared, and we'll be doing that ourselves at with a comprehensive breakdown of each spot on the roster.

Next up: the TEs

The Raw Numbers

Passing offense: 218.2 (23rd in NFL)

Total tight end touchdowns: 6

Total tight end receiving yards: 912

David Njoku: 14 games, 80 targets, 58 receptions, 628 yards, 4 TDs

Harrison Bryant: 17 games, 42 targets, 31 receptions, 239 yards, 1 TD

Pharaoh Brown: 13 games, 10 targets, 5 receptions, 45 yards

Miller Forristall: 4 games, 1 target

Analysis in 150 Words or Less

The Browns put their top tight end spotlight on Njoku, who started the season at a career-best pace and totaled over 50 receiving yards in Weeks 3-7. He unfortunately suffered an ankle injury in Week 8, however, and was sidelined for two games and then suffered a knee injury two games after his return, which forced him to miss his third game of the season. Njoku topped 50 yards just once the rest of the year. Behind him, the Browns mostly used Bryant and Brown as run blockers with occasional use as receivers. The Browns shifted away from the high frequency of 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) packages they had run in the first two seasons of head coach Kevin Stefanski's tenure but still placed a lot of responsibility on Njoku, who will look to thrive next year in the second season of the Deshaun Watson era.

High Point

Njoku looked especially tough to cover at certain moments of the season, and perhaps the best of them happened in Week 14 against the Bengals, when Watson turned to Njoku on three straight pass plays to gain 33 yards, a sequence capped by a 13-yard touchdown. Njoku finished the game with seven receptions for 59 yards and one touchdown, which weren't season-high numbers but still showcased his potential with Watson. The Browns will certainly need more of that between the duo next season for the offense to reach its top form.

Low Point

The Browns had an especially difficult time digesting their 17-10 loss in Week 16 against the Saints, which featured a tough drop by Njoku on the final drive of the game when the Browns moved inside Saints territory. Watson threw a well-placed 15-yard pass to Njoku on third down as he was about to cross the end zone for what would've been a game-tying score, but Njoku was unable to catch the ball as it popped off his chest. He finished the game with two catches for 14 yards, his second-lowest output in a game last season. No other tight ends were targeted among Watson's 31 pass attempts in the game.

What They Said

"I think that definitely helps. Obviously, financial security, but just the team letting you know that, 'Hey, we believe in you.' I think any time you feel that belief from the people you are with, that is a good thing. I think that has helped his growth for sure." - Tight ends coach T.C. McCartney in December on if the contract extension the Browns gave Njoku helped him last season

"I just think he really wants to be really good. That was from the first conversations I had with him, he just wanted to be good, he wanted to be coached, he wants more opportunities and he wants to be on the field more. All of those things have happened, and it has been good for him." - McCartney on Njoku

"Ultimately, we do want to maximize Deshaun's talents, maximize (RB) Nick Chubb, (TE) David Njoku and (WR) Amari (Cooper). We want to make sure that we are putting all of those guys in a good spot. Yes, there are things that we want to get to this spring and summer that we haven't gotten into just yet." - Stefanski on if the Browns offense's design may be drastically different with Watson involved for a full offseason in 2023

Who's Back for 2023?

Njoku and Bryant are both under contract for next season.

Who's a Potential Free Agent?

Brown is the only tight end who could hit the market as an unrestricted free agent in March.

2023 Outlook

The Browns believe Njoku was able to show growth in his game as both a receiver and blocker in his sixth NFL season but will still need him to perform at an even better clip in 2023 for the offense to thrive the way it should with Watson at QB. Njoku showed at the beginning of the season how potent he can be as the featured tight end before injuries got in the way, and the Browns are encouraged about what he could provide as a weapon of the future for Watson.

Check out the best photos from the 2022 season by the Browns photo team