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Donovan Peoples-Jones May Hold The Future Keys To The Browns Wide Receiver Room
When the Browns made the eighth selection in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the team was taking a bit of a gamble on an uber-talented prospect that greatly underachieved during his collegiate career. That player, of course, is wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Throughout training camp, the second-year player has been almost universally regarded as the breakthrough player on the offensive side of the ball, shining a light on what could be yet to come.
Peoples-Jones was used as a rookie offensively, but not to the extent that can be expected of him in the immediate – and distant – future. In 2020 he played just 25 percent of the offensive snaps the Browns had. A number that certainly was inflated due to Odell Beckham Jr.’s knee injury that ended his season.
DPJ 2021 Expectations
That snap count number is one that should rise this year, even with the return, and potential reemergence of Beckham in the offense. With the Browns utilizing as many tight ends and multi-running back sets as they potentially can this season, seeing Peoples-Jones’ usage going through the roof may be an unrealistic expectation, but seeing him on the field for closer to 50 percent of the team’s snaps may be appropriate.
Look no further than Rashard Higgins, last year’s No. 3 receiver on the Browns. Last season, Higgins was on the field for 47 percent of snaps for the Browns offense. That number, again, is a touch inflated because of Beckham’s absence, but it also could be indicative of the role Peoples-Jones could find himself in this year.
Last season, Peoples-Jones was targeted 20 times, finishing with 14 grabs for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His average of 21.7 yards per catch showed the knack for the big play, despite his only drop on the season coming on a play that was a walk in touchdown against Tennessee.
Peoples-Jones is the biggest wide receiver that the Browns have on the roster currently. This season, he could be the key to getting the most production out of Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Peoples-Jones manning the outside more often would give the Browns the ability to line either Landry or Beckham up in the slot position more often, creating favorable matchups.
Looking Ahead to 2022
Next season, he could be the key to the wide receiver position as a whole. It’s no secret that Landry and Beckham may be enjoying their final season together as teammates on the Browns. Beckham has a cap hit of $15 million in 2022, and there’s no penalty against the cap for cutting him prior to training camp. As for Landry, his cap hit in 2022 is set to be $16.5 million, and the Browns would incur a penalty of $1.5 million in dead cap should they cut him. A world exists where both players are still on the roster next season, but that likely includes at least one, if not both, of them restructuring their contracts.
A breakout year from Peoples-Jones this year could throw an interesting wrench into that conversation. If he turns into a No. 1 quality wide receiver, are the Browns going to still want to pay that type of money to Beckham and Landry? The answer to that question is probably no. But the other question that needs to be asked is just how good can Peoples-Jones become? There’s a reason that every team passed on him in the draft, multiple times. If he were sure-fire, No. 1 wide receiver material, there wouldn’t have been over 185 players selected before him in the draft.
Coming out of high school, Peoples-Jones was viewed as a guy that couldn’t miss. He was a five-star prospect according to the 24/7 composite rankings, and came in as the 12th overall player in the class of 2017. His career at Michigan didn’t go as planned, but that can’t all be pinned on him.
Urban Meyer, former Ohio State and current Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, famously said Peoples-Jones was one of the best prospects he ever recruited, despite him choosing a rival school.
The fact that Peoples-Jones underachieved while at Michigan helped him to fall to the Browns in the draft, and there’s no way around that. But his testing numbers and athletic history scream that he has all the tools to be successful in the NFL. The Browns may have a stud receiver on the roster that’s hiding in plain sight. They just need to continue to develop him in a better way than Michigan did in college.
With the camp that he’s had thus far, it should come as no surprise if Peoples-Jones receives ample opportunities to contribute next season for the offense. Any success that comes of it should be no surprise, either.
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