This week I went on the “This is Believeland” podcast to talk about recent Browns news. The link to the podcast is below.
One of the topics we discussed is the future of David Njoku. Following his trade demand, it seems likely that the Browns will lose him? What is the analytical impact?
Let’s start with the reality. More than likely, Njoku would have been a glorified backup tight end. Having two tight ends is important in Stefanski’s offense and its heavy use of 12 personnel (one of the heaviest rates in the NFL along with Shanahan’s 49ers).
But was Njoku necessary? I think that is the wrong question.
The right question is how much better will Njoku be than the alternative options? Right now, rookie Harrison Bryant and veteran Stephen Carlson are the two alternative options. Bryant has more experience in this system from his college offense, is already a good pass-catcher, and is a developed blocker. Carlson is a guy that is probably slightly below-average at blocking and passing, but he is a veteran that knows how to play in the NFL.
Rookies tend to struggle as tight ends. The only five to ever post a thirty-reception and 300-yard season are: Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Gonzalez, and one David Njoku. This is fitting. Tight end is a position where many enter the NFL not in the best athletic condition, not accomplished as a blocker and pass catcher, and not used to running NFL routes.
I also believe Njoku’s rookie season may lead Browns’ fans to incorrectly assume tight ends are good rookies. Njoku’s constant problem – as we discussed on the podcast – he entered the NFL as a league-average tight end because of his athleticism. Nonetheless, he has not really developed in other areas of his game.
Due to Harrison Bryant’s shape, I think it is unlikely that he is in the athletic condition to be an elite rookie NFL tight end. Carlson is, well, probably just mediocre.
During the 2018 season, Njoku had the worst pass-drop ratio for catchable passes in the NFL. He also has never improved on his below-average blocking. Frankly, Njoku has only shown that he is a supremely athletic, league-average tight end.
My ultimate guess is that Stefanski will use Bryant like he did Irv Smith last season. He will be the second tight end in 12 formation, will be a blocker or safety-valve for Baker, and will frequently be replaced with Andy Janovich on most running downs.
Consequently, the combination of Bryant, Carlson, and Janovich will replace enough of David Njoku’s production, at least insofar as there is not a substantial drop-off. Between the Njoku trade and new Vernon contract, the Browns now have more money and tradable assets to begin contract extensions for their stars or filling holes at linebacker, safety, and right guard.
Either way, this is not a big deal, and more than likely will not impact the Browns’ performances.