Cleveland is abuzz with its latest savior in Johnny Manziel. However, every good QB needs good receivers to thrive. With the pending suspension of Josh Gordon, the Browns are woeful at that position. They are +650 on NFL odds to win the AFC North.
Failing Grade For Gordon
Gordon was a breakout superstar last season. He led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving to go along with 87 catches, and nine touchdowns. On Nov. 24, 2013, Gordon caught 14 passes for 237 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh. The next week he had 10 catches for 261 yards, and two scores in a defeat to Jacksonville. Gordon is the first player in league history with consecutive 200-yard games, which is somewhat surprising. Jerry Rice never did it? Calvin Johnson? Gordon was also suspended the first two games of last year because he violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy. The guy clearly has some drug issues. He was dismissed from Baylor after getting suspended twice for using marijuana. He transferred to Utah but didn't play there after failing another drug test.
This is why there were rumors the Browns were trying to trade him last season, because they knew another failed drug test would lead to a lengthy suspension. This latest suspension, also reportedly for marijuana, has Gordon facing a ban of somewhere between eight games, and indefinitely. It depends on what "stage" he's at in the process, Stage 2 or 3. Gordon and his representatives are appealing this suspension, but we all know that Roger Goodell rules with an iron hand on these types of things. Gordon is also participating in Cleveland's OTAs this week.
Where does being without Gordon leave the Browns? Amazingly, there were 33 receivers taken in the 2014 draft, and Cleveland didn't grab a single one despite being aware of Gordon's latest issues. They did sign five as undrafted free agents right after the draft, and signed former Cowboy Miles Austin, and former Bear Earl Bennett. Austin was terrific in 2009-10, but hasn't been anywhere near that level since, and has been injury-prone. Bennett has never been much more than a No. 3 receiver with Chicago, and hasn't caught more than 32 passes the past three seasons.
Shockingly, Cleveland then released Greg Little, a second-round pick out of North Carolina in 2011 (part of the picks haul the Browns got from Atlanta in the Julio Jones deal). Little is far from a star, and had only 41 catches for 465 yards, and two scores in 2013, but are the Browns really in a position to be releasing young receivers with a still-decent upside? He had started 41 of 48 career games. Little did have a total of 25 drops the past three seasons.
Right now, you are likely looking at Austin and Nate Burleson as your starting Cleveland Browns receivers Week 1 at Pittsburgh. The Browns are 5.5-point underdogs on NFL odds. Burleson was limited to nine games last year due to a fractured arm suffered in an auto accident. He recently re-fractured the same arm in minicamp. The No. 3 guy is probably Andrew Hawkins, who was signed as a free agent after he had all of 12 catches last year with the Bengals.
Is that the worst group of receivers in the NFL? I'd argue yes -- even Oakland's look good in comparison. Could it affect when the Browns throw Manziel out there? They are already worried his freewheeling style might lead to injury in pro football. The Browns have an OK running back in Ben Tate, but he's hurt often. Thus Manziel might be running for his life -- and first downs -- frequently. Perhaps the Browns just punt on 2014 as a growing pains type of season and use two high draft picks next season (theirs and Buffalo's first-rounder) to address the skill position talent around Manziel.
NFL free picks: Browns finish last in the division again. Manziel has an 'over/under' of 8.5 starts at sportsbooks. Take 'over' at -125 for your NFL picks only because projected starter Brian Hoyer isn't very good. Cleveland fans need a reason to show up at games and Johnny Football is it.