Over the next two weeks, we're breaking down the Browns' 2017 NFL Draft class — from Myles Garrett to Matthew Dayes — and how they might contribute next fall.*
**David Njoku, the youngest member of the Browns; youth-laden roster, will turn 21-years-old. But make no doubt the Browns rookie tight end and 29th overall NFL Draft pick looks and plays like a grown man, a dynamic that was plenty clear throughout OTAs and minicamp.Njoku, the former Miami standout and national boys high jump champion, used a rare combination of size (6-foot-4, 246), speed, and instincts to emerge as one of the top players in this year's Draft class.
Now, he's poised to earn a key role on a new-look Cleveland offense that parted ways with veteran tight end Gary Barnidge in April.
How was his spring?
While he'll have to prove himself in training camp when the pads come on, Njoku seemingly caught everything thrown his way this past spring.
"He's a freak," rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer said in May. "To be as big as he is over there with his crazy muscles and being 6-foot-5 and jumping and catching it one-handed, it definitely makes for an easy target to throw."
Like the rest of Cleveland's rookies — including fellow first-round picks in Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers — Njoku took reps with the second- and third-team offense during mandatory veteran minicamp, knowing he'll need to earn his spot on the roster.
But there's no denying the potential the rookie could have on a Browns offense that struggled to establish a consistent pass game in 2016.
"I think that the things that we saw on the videotape showed up, from his college video tape. He's a very athletic guy. There are aren't a lot of people in the country that are 250 pounds and are also 7-foot high jumpers. That part of it is really evident," tight ends coach Greg Seamon said last month.
"He's young. He's really developing. He's got a great work ethic. I'm excited about his potential. He's in that rookie process right now where there's a lot being thrown at him. It's a demanding position because you're involved in all three aspects of the offense; you have blocking for the run, pass protection and then being a receiver. We're experimenting a little bit. I think that his athletic ability tells you that he can play in a lot of different areas of the field. He can be a detached guy, he can be a tight end in the traditional sense, he can be in the slot, he can be a wing.
"Right now, his head's probably swimming a bit because we've thrown a lot at him," Seamon continued, "but I think in the long run, we will have exposed him to everything that he can do during the season, so that should be good."
The Browns practice in Berea on the third day of minicamp.
They said it**
"I think I can be a crucial player for the Browns. I just have to keep working hard." - Njoku in his post-Draft news conference
What to expect in the fall?
Without Barnidge, Njoku and second-year tight end Seth DeValve have emerged as two potential candidates to fill that void this fall. And there is a hope that combination could be a potent one in the pass game. Devalve had two touchdowns on 10 receptions as a rookie last year and Njoku — first recruited to the Hurricanes as a wide receiver — 64 passes for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine starts and 22 games.
That kind of duo "can cause problems," head coach Hue Jackson said. "Those guys have got to be ready to play. They have got to be accountable, dependable, be out there every day and be able to make those plays when the opportunities come." For Njoku, that means mastering the finer points of playing in the NFL and embracing the many hats he'll have to wear as a tight end in Cleveland's offense.
"I don't think any rookie know what they are in for," Seamon said. "It's kind of a golden age for the tight end in the game of football, because teams are finding so many versatile athletes playing the position in college. You see more and more teams that play with multiple tight ends, so an answer to your question, the tight ends are playing a lot more snaps than they used to." "They take a bit more of a pounding over the course of a season. They're involved in blocking down the field. They're involved in pulling and trapping on linebackers and defensive ends. We have to block the defensive ends 1-on-1 who are normally anywhere from 20-30 pounds heavier than us, and similar athletes," he continued.
"I do think they take a beating. I think that's why more and more teams carry at least four on the 53-man roster. But the colleges are producing them." That, of course, includes Njoku, who flashed the potential to eventually blossom into a playmaker for the Browns.
"I know that I need to work really hard. I made it this far and I know God has a plan," he said. "I am just going to keep working, keep studying, keep praying and see how far that takes me."