Ozzie Newsome – Tight End
The arrival of Ozzie Newsome changed the Browns, and in a broader perspective, it changed the way the NFL game would forever be played. When Sam Rutigliano was hired as Browns head coach shortly after the 1977 season ended, he was already familiar with Newsome. Immediately before coming to Cleveland, Rutigliano had been offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, and being in Southeastern Conference country, he had had a chance to see a lot of games involving Alabama, where Newsome was playing as a wide receiver in a wishbone offense. Rutigliano sent a scout to check out Newsome in the months leading up to the 1978 NFL Draft to see if his frame was big enough for him to add 20 pounds to increase his weight to 240. When the scout returned and told him the 6-foot-2 Newsome could add the weight without any problem, Rutigliano was convinced he would be big enough to block and thus could be converted to tight end, where the Browns had a need. So after using his first pick of the first round, at No. 12 overall, to take USC linebacker Clay Matthews, he used his second choice of the round, at No. 23, to tab Newsome. Rutigliano immediately converted Newsome to tight end, and then took Dave Logan, who had tried to play tight end the previous two years with the Browns despite being undersized, and moved him to wide receiver to go along with Reggie Rucker.
Not only was Newsome big enough to block, but he was also athletic enough to run downfield and catch passes. As such, he became the first tight end in NFL history to help in the vertical passing game. His presence as an extra wide receiver created tremendous match-up problems for opposing defenses because he was too fast and athletic to be covered by linebackers, and too big and physical to be covered by cornerbacks and safeties. In his second season of 1979, Newsome had 55 receptions for 781 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which were, far and away, the best ever amassed by a Browns tight end. He followed that up with 51 catches in 1980 as the Kardiac Kids Browns won the AFC Central title, then 69 the next year to set a team record for receptions at any position. He broke that mark in 1983, and tied it in 1984, by catching 89 passes both seasons, and added 62 in 1985. Those gaudy numbers propelled him to a final total of 662, a team record and exactly twice as many as the next man. He added 7,890 receiving yards, also easily a Browns mark, and 47 touchdowns, fourth-best in club history. He was All-NFL twice and made three trips to the Pro Bowl.
– Steve King