Browns Pass-Catcher Issues Strong Message on Increased Role

David Njoku

Getty Images David Njoku of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns will rely more on tight end David Njoku after inking him to a new deal and “The Chief” is ready to roll.

Njoku is the unquestioned TE1 in Cleveland after some interesting years in Cleveland that included a trade request, lean production and getting buried on the depth chart. But Njoku has battled through the adversity and has a massive opportunity in front of him. He also has some extra cash in his pocket thanks to the four-year, $56.75 million contract extension he inked this offseason.

The Browns tweeted out a preview of the tight end room and Njoku sent a message pointing out that the whole group is ready to rev things up.

“Whole TE room can’t wait to get this thang started!” Njoku tweeted with a series of emojis.

Njoku came into the league as an athletic freak but has worked on his craft, becoming a better blocker and embracing his role. He finished last season with the third-most receiving yards among Browns players, with 475 yards on 36 receptions — a solid 13.2 average. He also led the team in receiving touchdowns with four and his 71-yard touchdown catch and run was the longest of the season for the Browns.

Hooper’s Departure Opens Things Up for Njoku

The Browns parted ways with Austin Hooper this offseason which cleared the runway for Njoku to have a larger role as the top tight end on the roster. Hooper gobbled up 61 targets last year to Njoku’s 53, so there’s a clear expectation that more balls will be coming his way.

“With Dave, (we) certainly want to feature him. I think his skill set, as we all know, great size, great length in terms of catching the football and being able to go up and pluck contested catcher,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said during OTAs. “I would speak to his development as a blocker. That is something that I’m proud of David for — his evolution of a blocker. I think there is an evolution that will continue for David the player.”

Njoku was drafted by Cleveland with the No. 29 overall pick in the 2017 draft and he doesn’t have plans on going anywhere else any time soon.

“I honestly want to be here for the rest of my career, so my agent and the Browns are still in talks, we’re still negotiating, figuring out what we can do, and we’ll go from there,” Njoku said during his exit interview on January 10 before inking his extension.

Offense Could Shift With Deshaun Watson in the Mix

Stefanski is very fond of his tight ends, relying on them heavily since taking over in Cleveland, leading the league in 13 personnel the last two seasons. Njoku and Harrison Bryant are locked into their roles but the Browns are still searching for their third contributor. Miller Forristall, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Zaire Mitchell-Paden and converted basketball player Marcus Santos-Silva will all be in the mix.

“With us last year, as you know, with (former Browns and Titans TE) Austin Hooper, David and (TE) Harrison (Bryant), we played a lot of 13,” Stefanski said. “Now with Hoop gone and we will see if there is a third tight end who emerges, but certainly, you would expect some of that share to be divvied up among all of the guys, including David. That all remains to be seen, but David certainly is deserving of that contract. He earned it. He did everything we asked him to do.”

The question still remains about how the offense could shift with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. He’s more mobile than Baker Mayfield and led the league in passing in 2020. The Browns acquired Amari Cooper this offseason to lead their receiving corps and are hoping that young guns Donovan Peoples-Jones, rookie David Bell and Anthony Schwartz can step up.

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