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Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals were one of the worst teams in football, finishing 4-11-1. Granted, a lot of that had to do with Cincinnati losing rookie quarterback Joe Burrow midway into the season. But, it was also how they were able to get rookie phenom receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Burrow's top receiver at LSU, with the fifth-overall pick. With a healthy Burrow connecting with Chase for over 1,400 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, it's unlocked the Bengals on offense and led to Cincinnati winning the AFC North with a 10-6 record.
It also now has them on the precipice of reaching this year's Super Bowl, with Cincinnati heading to Kansas City this weekend to take on the Chiefs for the AFC Championship. The Bengals have given teams looking to jumpstart their rebuild with a younger quarterback a blueprint. Teams like the New York Jets or the Jacksonville Jaguars, who both drafted the top signal-callers in last year's draft, could be looking to add talent to kickstart their rebuild further.
It could also be an option for teams like the Cleveland Browns, who aren't looking to rebuild but rather retool. After a frustrating season, it became clear that Baker Mayfield might not be the team's quarterback of the future. A lot of it can be contributed to injury but, more often than not Mayfield struggled in the passing game and it limited Cleveland's offensive upside. But, it has been reported that the Browns are determined to run it back one more season with a healthy Mayfield and evaluate his merits as a quarterback.
There's a good chance the Browns end up cutting Jarvis Landry and giving the green light to Donovan Peoples-Jones to flourish as a deep threat. Due to finishing the season 8-9, Cleveland just missed the playoffs and will have the no. 13 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Thankfully, the Browns are in a sweet spot to pick a receiver to couple with Jones in order to make Mayfield's life easier vertically. Today, we'll break down some of the top candidates who could be available for Cleveland.
Garrett Wilson, Ohio State – 70 receptions, 1058 yards, 12 touchdowns
A name you're likely going to hear about a lot as things get closer to April's draft for the Browns is Ohio State wideout, Garrett Wilson. The Ohio State product is a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands and provides the kind of run after catch ability that is sure to command a role at the NFL level. Wilson has enjoyed a career year in 2021 and projects best to the NFL game as a slot receiver, where his short-area agility will afford him more room to work and create space and he can be more naturally crafted quick touches for an offense that commands spacing issues with a prominent vertical passing attack.
But, Wilson is more of an athlete than a true wide receiver at this point. He has improved as a route-runner but will need to continue to refine his polish and consistency at the next level. He will telegraph his route breaks at times by lunging forward and has the tendency to expose his chest. Wilson wins on releases with his agility and balance but struggled to consistently win versus physical cornerbacks who have pressed him at the line of scrimmage due to his average strength and current lack of technique.
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Thankfully, right now Wilson can consistently create yards out of nothing on underneath throws and on wide receiver screens – which is something that would be perfect for the Browns. Mayfield and Wilson should also have an automatic connection as both attended Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas. Wilson is a dynamic playmaker and is always dangerous with the ball in his hands. Wilson is a sensational playmaker and is always dangerous with the ball in his hands and would be a perfect option for Cleveland with the no. 13 pick.
Southern California wideout Drake London could be the big bodied receving option the Browns desparately need.
Drake London, USC – 88 receptions, 1084 yards, 7 touchdowns
If Wilson doesn't seem to interest the Browns, there is also Southern California star Drake London. The former Trojan is a multi-sport standout who has also competed on the USC basketball team, and that skill set has certainly translated to the gridiron. London is an excellent athlete with regards to jumping ability, body control, and agility for a big-bodied receiver. In the run game, he has the potential to be a dominant run blocker due to his toughness, and length, which could be an advantage for a run-first Cleveland team.
In the passing game, London is also extremely talented. He has outstanding body control and agility as a route-runner and uses his bigger frame to pick on smaller defensive backs. London also is excellent in contested-catch situations and uses his strong hands to secure the football in traffic. His separation ability at the top of the route is sufficient and he is a downfield threat in the passing game, especially in 50-50 scenarios.
London made a quick impact and put up 567 yards and 5 TDs as a freshman for the Trojans and this was followed by a 502-yard performance in just six games as a sophomore. Heading into the 2021 season, it was expected that London would get his first full season to showcase his skills. He dominated, putting up a record-setting 1084 yards in only eight games before having his season cut short on by an injury on Halloween. London could continue this dominance at the next level with the Browns.
If the Browns happen to trade back in the draft, then speedy Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson makes a lot of sense later in the first round.
Other options if Cleveland trades back
While Wilson and London should be the two primary targets at receiver, there is a chance the Browns trade back from their pick and recoup more draft assets to reload their receiving corps. If they do, here are a few more options to consider:
- George Pickens, Georgia
- Jameson Williams, Alabama
- Chris Olave, Ohio State
- Jahan Dotson, Penn State
Pickens, Williams, Olave and Dotson should all be in play for Cleveland as well come draft time. Clearly, there is plenty of talent available in the first round of the draft and there should be options available for the Browns when it's their turn to pick. If Cleveland is hellbent and determined to stick it out with Mayfield, then they need to give him the weapons in order to succeed.
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