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David Njoku

Browns claim big plans for talented tight end

The Browns signed David Njoku to a big, $57 million extension in the offseason; this after parting ways with Austin Hooper. You'd think the team is planning to use him more, and Kevin Stefanski said as much recently. Just one problem: Stefanski has been saying this for quite a while, and it's yet to happen on a consistent basis.

In a new story at The Athletic, Stefanski says the team is planning for Njoku to take a big step forward this year. Last month, he sang a similar tune: "He is a big part of what we plan to do," said Stefanski.

If that sounds familiar, it's because Stefanski had a similar quote in 2020, and it didn't come to pass. That year, Njoku caught just 19 passes in 13 games.

The former first-rounder has been in the league for five seasons, and they've never consistently made use of him. His second year, 2018, was his best; he caught 56 passes for 639 yards and 4 TDs that year. But instead of letting him build on that, the team signed Hooper, drafted other players at the position, and continue to underutilize Njoku in the offense. There was a trade demand in there; few thought Njoku would re-up with the team.

But here we are, and maybe, at last, Stefanski's words will have meaning. They're paying him big money, and they'll have a quarterback upgrade when Deshaun Watson gets in the lineup. So maybe.

Say this for Njoku: he's had plenty of good games when given the opportunity in the team's offense. (It just hasn't happened enough.) In his five years in the league, he's put up at least 50 receiving yards and a touchdown seven times. That might not seem impressive, but only 12 tight ends have done that more often over that time span, and nearly all of those guys were featured, leading targets in their team's offense -- not sharing time with multiple other veterans. Maybe now that he's finally the guy, those games will be even more frequent.

The table, created using search tools at pro-football-reference, shows the number of tight end games with at least 50 receiving yards and a touchdown over the past five years. Only another former first-rounder, O.J. Howard, stands out as a guy who's managed to do it while fighting with other tight ends for snaps and targets in the offense.

TE GAMES WITH 50 YARDS, TD (2017-2021)
Travis Kelce2017202132
Mark Andrews2018202120
George Kittle2017202117
Zach Ertz2017202117
Rob Gronkowski2017202115
Jared Cook2017202110
O.J. Howard201720209
Eric Ebron201720209
Darren Waller201920219
Evan Engram201720198
Jimmy Graham201720208
Dallas Goedert201820218
David Njoku201720217
Austin Hooper201720197
Noah Fant201920217
Mike Gesicki201920217
Hunter Henry201720216
Dalton Schultz202020216
Robert Tonyan201820216
Jack Doyle201720215
Kyle Rudolph201720195
Tyler Higbee201920215
T.J. Hockenson201920215
Greg Olsen201720194
Garrett Celek201720184
Trey Burton201720204
Will Dissly201820194
Jonnu Smith201820204

I'm not sure I'm ready to buy into Njoku this season. Talk is cheap, and Stefanski hasn't proven reliable with his words.

But they gave Njoku his contract for some reason, right? He should be one of the main targets this season, for whomever winds up quarterbacking the most games for Cleveland. Not a sure thing, but considerable upside if the team finally delivers on his coach's prediction.

--Andy Richardson

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