Donovan Peoples-Jones

Latest On Browns’ Wide Receiver Situation

Fans of the Browns may have been hoping to add a few more veteran bodies to the wide receiver room this offseason, but, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, the Browns “don’t feel compelled to add a bona fide No. 2 just for the sake of it.” 

Cleveland’s receiving stats last year were nothing short of disappointing. Their wide receiver room was headed by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry coming into the season with youngsters Anthony Schwartz and Donovan Peoples-Jones eager to contribute. Paired with a three-headed tight end attack comprised of David Njoku, Austin Hooper, and Harrison Bryant, the Browns’ offensive weapons looked poised for success.

Several factors contributed to the team’s lack of production in the passing game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield played throughout the season with a torn labrum, missing some time due to the injury and leading to starts by backups Case Keenum and Nick Mullens. A disgruntled Beckham parted ways with the franchise following a frustrating first half of the season and Landry saw injuries limit his action to 12 games. Peoples-Jones made an impact, leading the team in receiving yards, but without the two leaders of the room, his efforts look less like an impressive No. 3 receiver and more like a disappointing No. 1 target. After Landry and Peoples-Jones, Mayfield mostly targeted his tight ends, with Njoku, Hooper, and Bryant making up half of the team’s top-6 players in receiving yards. Again, much like with Peoples-Jones, the tight end room’s contribution was welcomed, but without a productive 1-2 punch from the receiving corps, it only helped so much.

With veterans Beckham, Landry, and Rashard Higgins all finding their way to the NFC this offseason, the Browns lost their entire veteran presence. To offset the losses, Cleveland brought in Amari Cooper, who immediately slots in as WR1, and the diminutive Jakeem Grant, an expert in the return game. They retain youngsters Schwartz, Peoples-Jones, and Ja’Marcus Bradley, while bringing in an unproven pass catcher in Javon Wims. Through the Draft, Cleveland brought in Purdue’s David Bell and Oklahoma’s Michael Woods II. They also signed a number of undrafted college players in Isaiah Weston, Travell Harris, and Mike Harley. At tight end, the departure of Hooper leaves Cleveland with Njoku, Bryant, and unproven projects like Miller Forristall, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Zaire Mitchell-Paden, and college basketball player Marcus Santos-Silva.

It seems Cleveland is comfortable moving forward with Cooper and Peoples-Jones as their top two receivers while counting on Grant, Schwartz, and the rookie, Bell, to contribute behind them. They’ll continue to rely on tight ends Njoku and Bryant, leaning on them slightly more now that Hooper is out of the picture.

If the Browns were able to luck into a mutually beneficial deal, they may find themselves reconsidering their mindset on a veteran No.2 receiver. The free agent market still houses distinguished names like Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders, and DeSean Jackson. Past contributors like Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Albert Wilson remain on the market, as well. Beckham is currently a free agent who has expressed interest in returning to his most recent home in Los Angeles, but he recently claimed he wouldn’t rule out a return to Cleveland. Former Texan Will Fuller is also available to sign and has expressed interest in rejoining his former quarterback.

Regardless of whether or not they choose to add another weapon to their receiving corps, the Browns are hoping for a different outcome simply by changing the composition of personnel. Perhaps more important than any of the additions and subtractions noted above is the acquisition of quarterback Deshaun Watson. It’s unclear how soon he’ll be able to contribute, but the prospect, alone, of having the three-time Pro Bowler under center is enough to instill confidence in the receiving room as it is for the Cleveland staff.

Door Shut On Jarvis Landry Browns Return?

Jarvis Landry may need to find a third NFL employer soon. After a report indicated the former Pro Bowler’s path back to Cleveland is narrowing, it now may be shut off.

The door appears to be closed on a Landry return to the Browns, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes, adding that the team does not have any other veteran wideouts on its radar presently. This will leave Amari Cooper as the sole veteran presence among Cleveland’s receivers, but Cabot adds the Browns are confident Deshaun Watson‘s arrival will elevate the likes of young holdovers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz.

Cleveland cut Landry in March, after failing to find a trade partner, but has been linked to both re-signing him or pursuing another veteran. Landry visited the Falcons and was believed to be discussing an Atlanta partnership with Watson — before the Browns’ monster offer led the quarterback to Ohio. The Louisiana native later visited the Saints, though that was before their Chris Olave trade-up. It would seem Landry would still make sense on a Browns team that made a veteran quarterback upgrade, but the plan for now appears to be rolling with a young Cooper supporting cast.

Peoples-Jones did nearly hit 600 receiving yards last season, despite the Browns’ passing attack cratering as Baker Mayfield attempted to play through a significant injury. That total topped Landry’s (570 yards, two touchdowns), though the four-year Browns contributor missed five games. Landry eclipsed 1,100 yards in 2019 and was the team’s No. 1 wideout during its 2020 playoff run. A September MCL injury plagued Landry throughout last season.

The Browns drafted Purdue’s David Bell in Round 3, putting perhaps the final piece of their receiver puzzle in place. They would have taken Alabama’s John Metchie in the second round, per Cabot, had they not reached an agreement to trade back with the Texans. Houston added Metchie after moving up to No. 44 overall.

Latest On Browns’ COVID-19 Situation

The Browns’ COVID-19 situation will keep at least four players out of their crucial Week 17 game. Linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant are the players who tested positive for the coronavirus, sources tell NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). They’ll be held out of Sunday’s tilt against the Steelers, along with linebacker B.J. Goodson and safety Andrew Sendejo

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Although the team reopened its facility after a contact tracing effort Wednesday, the Browns closed it again Thursday. They will, however, have their top four receivers back this week. Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge are off the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list. So is linebacker Jacob Phillips. The Steelers-Browns rematch remains on schedule for 1pm ET Sunday.

Denzel Ward, however, is the latest Browns player to run into COVID trouble. The Browns’ No. 1 cornerback tested positive for the coronavirus and is out Sunday, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports (on Twitter). He is out for Sunday’s game and would be a long shot to play in the Browns’ playoff opener, should they qualify.

The Browns are playing to snap the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. If they win, they’re in. If they lose, they’ll need the Colts to do the same, but that would hinge on a quality performance from the lowly Jaguars. If the Browns lose and the Colts win, they’ll need a Titans loss, plus wins from the Ravens and Dolphins to sneak into the postseason.

On the plus side, the Steelers indicated they will rest Ben Roethlisberger this weekend. Plus, they’ll be without top defenders Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, who limited the Browns to just six points in their October meeting. As it stands, Football Outsiders gives the Browns a 44% chance to hold at the No. 6 seed and a 20% chance to make it as the No. 7 seed.

Browns To Be Down Several WRs In Week 16

Dec. 27: There were no new positive tests overnight, so this afternoon’s contest with the Jets will go forward, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports (via Twitter). The Browns will be without their top four wideouts and two linebackers, and while they did activate left tackle Jedrick Wills from the reserve/COVID-19 list as expected, Wills has been ruled out of the game with an illness. Cleveland has elevated Willies and Bradley from the practice squad, along with LB Montrel Meander.

The close contact with Goodson occurred in the team’s recovery pool area, according to Pelissero (hold your jokes, please). Sharing the pool isn’t a protocol violation in and of itself, but at least one player wasn’t wearing a mask as required, and the league may choose investigate further.

Dec. 26: Some fallout is emerging from B.J. Goodson‘s positive COVID-19 test. Contact tracing deemed several Browns wide receivers high-risk close contacts, according to Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones — the Browns’ top three wide receivers — have are high-risk close contacts, Schefter and Mortensen report (on Twitter). These three will be placed on Cleveland’s reserve/COVID-19 list and miss Sunday’s game against the Jets, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (on Twitter).

A fourth wideout, KhaDarel Hodge, will also be placed on the virus list, Cabot reports (on Twitter). Linebacker Jacob Phillips is also out. Hodge is Cleveland’s fourth-leading wide receiver this season.

The Browns have not yet left Cleveland and have yet to learn how many players will be unable to travel with the team to New Jersey. The Browns are also likely to be without at least one tight end against the Jets, according to ESPN. The game remains on as scheduled for noon CT Sunday.

While this is not as dire of a situation, functionality-wise, as what the Broncos encountered earlier this season at quarterback, the Browns are in a higher-profile spot. The Browns still have a chance to win the AFC North, with two wins and two Steelers losses, and have yet to clinch a wild-card spot yet. The Jets are 1-13 but coming off a 23-20 win over the Rams.

Already down Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns do not have much in the way of receiving talent beyond their top three healthy targets. Few teams do. Landry’s 789 receiving yards lead the team, while Higgins has contributed 544 and four receiving TDs. This will be Landry’s first absence with the Browns.

Cleveland’s remaining wideouts: Marvin Hall and practice squad cogs Derrick Willies and Ja’Marcus Bradley. None of them have a catch with Cleveland this season. Hall caught 17 passes for 290 yards and two scores with the Lions this year. The Browns claimed Hall off waivers from the Lions earlier this month.

NFL Draft Signings: 5/20/20

We’ll keep track of today’s late-round signings here:

  • The Browns signed fourth-round tight end Harrison Bryant and sixth-round wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). They were the Browns’ final two selections in the draft, but they’re the first picks to sign in Cleveland. Peoples-Jones was one of the country’s hottest WR recruits coming out of high school and he selected Michigan over roughly 30 other schools. However, he failed to top 650 yards in any of his three seasons with the Wolverines. On the plus side, he tallied 14 touchdowns between 2018 and 2019 and the potential is still there.

Donovan Peoples-Jones To Enter Draft

Michigan will lose a key piece of their offense, while the 2020 NFL draft’s receiver pool keeps increasing with high-end prospects. Donovan Peoples-Jones announced (via Twitter) he will enter the draft.

Once the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the 2017 class, Peoples-Jones became a solid, if unspectacular, weapon for the Wolverines. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound wideout did not surpass 650 yards during any of his three Michigan seasons but did total 14 touchdowns between the 2018 and ’19 campaigns. He also combined for 14 receptions between Michigan’s 2017 and ’18 bowl games. Still, this would profile as a potential-over-production pick.

Peoples-Jones comes in at No. 45 on Scouts Inc.’s player ratings, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller slots the three-year Michigan man 38th on his big board. Both rankings account for Alabama’s Devonta Smith declaring, but with the junior opting to stay in school, Peoples-Jones’ chances of climbing into the first round stand to increase.

While several Wolverines wideouts have been drafted in recent years, no Michigan receiver has gone in the first round since Braylon Edwards in 2005.