It’s hard to say whether Tom Heckert Jr. is a huge gambler or just desperate.
The most cavernous hole in the Browns’ roster is at wide receiver. The club general manager knew that, although he never came out and admitted it.
In the April college football draft, Heckert waited until the fourth round to address the problem, selecting Travis Benjamin, a skinny little wideout from Miami of Florida, whose largest contribution this season most likely will be as a punt returner.
So when Josh Gordon made himself available in the National Football League’s supplemental draft Thursday, Heckert decided to strengthen his team’s biggest weakness.
By using a second-round pick to take the former Baylor wideout, the Browns forfeited their second-round choice in next year’s draft.
Some consider that a massive gamble since Gordon, suspended for the 2011 season after testing positive for marijuana, hasn’t lined up for a play from scrimmage since late December in 2010.
Others consider the move one of desperation considering the high price Heckert was willing to sacrifice in order to beef up his wide receiver corps. Had it been any other player at any other position, Heckert probably would have passed.
So was it a gamble? Or a desperate move?
No question that Heckert allowed himself to fall in love with the 6-3, 225-pound Gordon, most likely envisioning him lining up opposite 6-2, 220-pound Greg Little.
Give rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden a couple of huge targets like that and there’s no telling how effective he can be. The whole Cleveland offensive dynamic changes.
Throw in Trent Richardson gouging holes in opposing lines and you have, potentially, the kind of an offense Cleveland pro football fans haven’t seen for way too long. Stress the word potentially.
Heckert is clearly gambling the spindly-legged Gordon can come in right away and make a difference. “I don’t know if it’s risky,” the GM said. “That is kind of where we thought he was as a player. Obviously, he’s a guy who can come in here and be a starter for us and make plays.”
In his only full season at Baylor, Gordon caught 42 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns. Fellow Baylor receiver Kendall Wright, targeted by the Browns in the regular draft in April only to see Tennessee sneak in and take him first, caught 78 passes that season for 952 yards and seven TDs.
The Browns have to be thinking that Gordon, had he stayed clean, would have put up numbers in 2011 that would have projected him into the first round of that draft.
But what about Gordon’s off-the-field problems? He says they are behind him and that he’s learned his lesson.
“We kind of did our homework on him,” said Heckert. “We brought the kid in. I talked to a zillion guys and I couldn’t find one guy to say something bad about the kid.”
And yet there was more than a tinge of desperation in the move. The Browns own one of the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL. Maybe the worst. Grabbing Gordon so high pretty much quietly verifies that assessment.
Heckert knows it and wants to give Weeden as much help as he can in his first season. So when Gordon came along, the GM realized this might be his best chance to do something right away rather than waiting until next year’s college lottery.
He pretty much justified it when he said, “We’re getting a really good football player and we’re getting him a year early.”
Now the big question becomes: How much of a significant contribution can Gordon realistically make in the Cleveland offense this season? Stress the word realistically.
There’s so much we don’t know about Gordon. We can go only by the hype his appearance in this draft engendered.
For instance, we don’t know what kind of a route runner he is. Or what kind of blocker he is.
What we do know is he has huge hands and catches the ball with them. Not against his chest. With his hands. That’s a distinct improvement right there for the Browns.
Then there’s the rust factor. He hasn’t played a game in 18 months. So what, you say? Did you notice how much Little struggled last season after sitting out a season following a suspension at North Carolina?
Gordon is also starting his NFL career with two strikes against him. He was arrested after falling asleep at a Taco Bell drive-thru where the police found marijuana in the car. And then the positive test for marijuana. Whether he has reformed remains to be seen.
Who knows? Maybe the Browns will get lucky again with the supplemental phase of the draft. The last time they became interested, they maneuvered into position to select Bernie Kosar in 1985.
And we all know where that led.