Friday, April 12, 2019

Worst to first

 It wasn’t long ago – just a couple of years, in fact – that the Browns had arguably the worst set of wide receivers in the National Football League.

They owned that title prior to that for a few long, arduous, mind-numbing seasons as quarterback after quarterback tried to accomplish the impossible: Win football games.

Season after agonizing season for five years, the Browns’ front office failed miserably at fixing the problem. And then along came John Dorsey in the latter stages of the 2017 season.

That, you’ll recall, was the season the Browns reached the nadir of their once-proud history by underwhelming all 16 opponents, a feat accomplished only once before in the annals of the NFL.

In that span, the Browns fielded the likes of Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, Brian Hartline, Darius Jennings, Marlon Moore, Kasen Williams and Sammie Coates.

In 2016 alone, the Browns (Sashi Brown) selected four receivers in the college draft – Coleman, Louis, Payton and Rashard Higgins – in an effort to strengthen the position, probably figuring quantity should produce some quality.

He figured incorrectly. Only Higgins has survived the last three seasons and his contributions have been relatively minimal.

Those forlorn days of below average to just plain bad wide receivers wearing Seal Brown and Orange are long gone, now. The worm has definitely turned and outsiders have noticed.

Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated has certainly noticed. We’re in just the infant stages of the 2019 season, but that didn’t stop him from ranking the NFL’s best wide receivers corps entering the college draft in a couple of weeks.

After Dorsey somewhat successfully addressed the wide receivers room, the label of “awful” disappeared quickly, helping Baker Mayfield set a league record for touchdown passes by a rookie with 27. The wideouts had 14 of them.

Orr, who delights in listing his pre-draft position rankings, tackled the wide receivers this week on line and, in stunning fashion, ranks your Cleveland Browns as his No. 1 team. This is not a typo.

From abject misery, as recently as two seasons ago, to the pinnacle (at least in the preseason) of the mountain is quite a leap.

With the likes of Jarvis Landry, the recently acquired Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Callaway and Higgins, Orr justifies his ranking by labeling Landry and Beckham “two of the best talents in the league right now.”

And, he wrote, they will be “playing with a budding star at quarterback (Mayfield), a sought-after offensive coordinator (Todd Monken) and their college position coach (Adam Henry).”

Undoubtedly realizing what he has done – ranking the Browns No. 1 in anything these days is brave in and of itself despite the vast improvement – Orr understands that “I’m going to get killed for this.”

But he at the same time realizes that when he lines up all the wide receivers of the other 31 teams, none can, at least on paper, match what the Browns are capable of doing, especially after what they accomplished in the last of half of the 2018 season.

The astonishing climb from worst to first for this position subtly suggests Dorsey is more than likely to concentrate on other positions on the roster come draft time. This one for the time being is set.

All of which, of course, ramps up the pressure to justify the ranking. That’s a story line that will be closely watched throughout the coming season.


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