While he came out young and a bit rough around the edges, Miami tight end David Njoku was a prized commodity from Miami, which is why the Cleveland Browns drafted him in the first round in 2017, just before the Pittsburgh Steelers were slated to pick—they got T.J. Watt, so perhaps you could say it worked out well anyway.
Heading into his fourth season, Njoku is still looking to make good on his promise after his third year in the league was torpedoed by injuries, specifically a broken wrist that limited him to just two games. The good news, aside from the fact that he is now healthy, is that new head coach Kevin Stefanski is a big believer in the tight end position, coming over from the Minnesota Vikings, where he used Kyle Rudolph.
In fact, the Browns brought in another tight end, Austin Hooper, in free agency, knowing that they will both get a lot of work. And it’s not as though the third wide receiver will demand much. Behind Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, the most targets any other wide receiver got last year was…24. The Steelers’ third-leading wide receiver in targets had 70.
But this is to be the year for Njoku, and for the Brown’s offense as a whole. They have the scheme they’ve wanted for years. They’ve patched up the offensive line. Baker Mayfield has gotten through a lot of growing pains over the last two years. Everybody is coming in healthy and unsuspended (I’m looking at you, Kareem Hunt). And the offense should be more versatile than before.
“There will be times we are out there with three tight end sets – that is part of this system”, said new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. “To have [Njoku] with the ability he has both athletically to play in line or get him out in space and get some matchup issues with safeties and linebackers covering him, I am excited to see what he has to offer”.
During his second season in 2018—Mayfield’s rookie year—Njoku caught 56 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns, which is roughly the same statline that got drew praise for Vance McDonald in Pittsburgh that same season. Limited to just four games (two games after his injury with marginal participation) last season, he caught just five passes for 41 yards and one score.
Even with the big-name wide receivers, he should still figure to be a big part of the Browns’ offense this year if Stefanski runs the same sort of offense that he has in Minnesota, and that sounds like what Cleveland is expecting to get from him as well, building off of what he was able to do in his last healthy campaign.