The Cleveland Browns boast a stacked roster, and any one of several players could prove key based on the game in front of them. However, it’s time for one perennial underachiever to step up.
That was the message that Scott Petrak of Browns Zone sent to tight end David Njoku ahead of the team’s regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Njoku is a former first-round pick (No. 29 overall in the 2017 draft) who signed a four-year $55 million contract extension with Cleveland in May 2022.
“Tight end David Njoku has played six seasons and has yet to live up to his draft status as the No. 29 pick. If it’s ever going to happen, this must be the year,” Petrak wrote on Thursday, September 7. “Njoku is in his prime at 27 years old, had an impressive preseason and has a quarterback who likes throwing to tight ends.”
Beyond the player who should prove the best QB of Njoku’s career in a healthy and prepared Deshaun Watson, Cleveland has playmakers all over the field. The presence of threats at every skill position should allow the tight end to make a breakthrough.
“The Browns have enough weapons on the outside and in the backfield that Njoku should get favorable matchups down the seam and in the red zone,” Petrak continued. “He’s always had the size, speed and athleticism to make big plays but lacked the consistency, especially catching the ball.”
David Njoku Must Produce Huge Season to Outplay Moniker of Underachiever
Despite his natural gifts, Njoku has posted career highs of just 58 catches (2022), 639 yards (2018) and four touchdowns (four separate seasons) across his six-year NFL career, per Pro Football Reference. Last year was the tight end’s best overall season by a considerable margin, as he posted the aforementioned career-highs of 58 catches and four touchdowns along with his second-best campaign in terms of receiving yards (628).
Njoku accomplished those numbers in 14 games played/started with Jacoby Brissett and a lesser version of Watson under center, which bodes well for a leap this season. However, Petrak set the bar high for a year-long performance from Njoku that will make all the time and money the team has poured into the tight end “worth it.”
“If Njoku approaches 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, all the time waiting for him to reach his potential could finally be worth it,” Petrak wrote.
Deshaun Watson Will Set Tone, Ceiling for Browns in 2023
While Njoku needs to deliver when the ball is delivered to him, the delivery service (a.k.a. Watson) will still be the most crucial element to the Browns’ success, or lack thereof, this season.
Watson was a three-time Pro Bowler before joining Cleveland in the spring of 2022. However, the Houston Texans sat him for the entirety of the 2021 campaign due to the QB’s well-documented off-field/legal issues. The NFL then suspended Watson for the first 11 games of last season for the same reasons.
The QB was simply bad upon his return to the field after nearly two years on the sideline, completing just 58.2% of his passes for seven touchdowns and five interceptions. For his part, Watson has been honest about his poor play last year and said he has to earn his way back into the conversation of the NFL’s elite signal callers as he approaches his age-28 season.
“I don’t want to return as that guy in Houston, I want to be better than that guy,” Watson told reporters during a September 6 press conference. “I’m not the same guy. I feel like I’ve evolved to a new level, and I’m ready to be able to show that. Last year was a tricky time, where I was learning everything. … I want to have that success and start something new in Cleveland.”