With Gordon Out, What Will Browns' Jordan Cameron Do?
By Steven King
With no Josh Gordon, does that mean more Jordan Cameron for the Cleveland Browns this season?
Well, duh. Of course it does, and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that out.
After leading the NFL and setting a team record with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013, Gordon – a physical freak in that he is big, strong, fast and athletic -- is far and away the best wide receiver the team has. No one else is even close. He is as far ahead of the rest of the pack as Cameron is ahead of every other pass catcher Cleveland has. In just his third season, the tight end caught 80 passes – 60 more than he had the previous year – in 2013 for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. He is a true budding star in this league.
But with all kinds of off-the-field misdeeds (some alleged and some well-documented), Gordon is surely facing an NFL-imposed suspension for at least this season. So the passing attack will consist of all Cameron, all the time. Other than quick, darting WR Andrew Hawkins – signed in free agency from the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason – who else are the Browns going to target? Paul Warfield is not expected to don a set of shoulder pads again anytime soon.
The absence of Gordon will keep Cleveland from stretching the field, which gets the safeties out of the box. So opponents will crowd the line of scrimmage in an attempt to shut down the running game and to try to neutralize Cameron by beating him up and wearing him down. On every play, he will be chipped coming off the ball and will be shadowed by at least two defenders. He will have no room in which to maneuver. Any run-after-the-catch yards he gets will come while dragging tacklers. That won’t be easy – not at all.
So it will be incumbent upon new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to devise a scheme to free up Cameron – at least as much as that is possible. However, the success of the offense depends on it. That’s true whether the quarterback delivering the ball is Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel.
Yes, the Browns will use RB Ben Tate – early and often – to try to run the ball, something they could not do last year when, with everything considered, they had their worst rushing performance ever.
Yes, they will throw the ball to Hawkins. Best suited to be a slot receiver, he will be asked to do much more because the rest of the wideout corps is so bad.
Yes, without Gordon and that big-strike ability, they will use what they expect to be a much stouter defense to play a game of field position with short distances to cover for scores.
Yes, yes, yes, they will do all that. But it will hardly be enough. They have to get a lot – a lot – out of Cameron, using his unique ability to work his way open and his good hands to make tough catches in traffic and move the chains. Cleveland will advance its way to the end zone not in fell swoops, but in little, bite-size chunks.
So what does this mean for Cameron’s numbers this season? He will probably get more catches than he did in 2013, but for about the same number of yards, thus reducing his yards-per-catch average below last year’s 11.5 mark, which was well short of eye-popping considering how much of a downfield threat he is. He will likely have more touchdown receptions too because even on their worst days, Hoyer and Manziel will be more proficient than former QB Brandon Weeden ever thought of being.
Cameron made it to the Pro Bowl last year. If he can play a major role in getting Cleveland, which is coming off a 5-11 record, to the .500 mark or (gasp) the playoffs, then he should be considered for canonization.