David Njoku Is a Playmaker the Browns' Offense Needs
This is a stacked tight end class and David Njoku might have the highest upside. It’s not easy to stand out in this group, but athletically, Njoku has done that.
He tested in the 97th percentile for tight ends in arm length, 98th percentile in the broad jump, the 90th percentile in the vertical jump, 80th percentile in the three-cone, and 79th percentile in the 40-yard dash. Combine all of those and Njoku comes out second in this class in SPARQ, in the 97th percentile among NFL tight ends. That’s pretty freaking impressive.
Njoku might be considered a little small -- his 246-pound frame would be in the 18th percentile among tight ends -- but unlike the other smaller tight ends in this class, he’s spent time in-line. While his blocking from that position could be debated -- he’s a better blocker than widely give credit for -- his experience just lining up there is an asset. It opens up options just lining up in the slot doesn’t give.
Take this play against Pitt -- Njoku lined up in-line, did his best to block the defensive end on play action to the opposite side, then had a delayed release into a route. He was uncovered thanks to the play action and once he got the ball in his hands, he showed off that athletic ability.
Slotting Him In
Of course, Njoku is no danger to the slot. Per PFF, he had the third-most receptions and the fifth-most yards among this class from the slot. Overall, he had the third-most yards per route run. No matter where he lines up, he's likely to make his presence felt.
One of his more impressive plays came against West Virginia in Miami’s bowl game. On the 23-yard line, Njoku lined up in the slot in just a 2x1 set. He ran a bubble screen at the snap, and when he caught the ball, there’s was still six yards between him and the closing defender. The safety tried to make a low arm tackle, but Njoku powered through, stayed on his feet, and made his way to the end zone.
Where Njoku could be the biggest difference maker is in the red zone. Many have compared him to Washington’s Jordan Reed, and while we shouldn’t use comps to predict a career arc, the style is a fair comparison.
Reed was Washington’s most efficient red zone target last season, good for 0.98 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target. He also tied for the team lead with 14 targets -- a 16.1 target share -- despite only playing in 12 games. He was even more responsible for scoring in the red zone, on the receiving end of 35.7 percent of Kirk Cousins’ passing touchdowns inside the 20.
Five of Njoku’s eight touchdowns in 2016 came inside the 20. In that area of the field, he can use his size -- though he’s considered small for a tight end, he’s 10 pounds heavier than Reed -- to take advantage of whoever is tasked with covering him.
Take the below play against Virginia. Njoku lined up in the middle of a 3x1 set. As he ran to the post, defenders switched off and he was matched up with a linebacker. Once he got to the end zone, he ran past the linebacker and boxed him out to catch the pass for the touchdown.
The Cleveland Browns traded back into the first round to get Njoku. With that, they get the playmaker and a fifth-year option on his contract. The value with that is partly what Njoku can bring to the field, but also, he's just 20 years old. He'll only be 25 going into his next deal.
With how the Browns maneuvered through the first round, they weren't sold on any of the quarterbacks. What they have done throughout this offseason is make the situation surrounding whomever does play the position much better.
They upgraded the offensive line and got wide receiver Kenny Britt, and now they have Njoku up the seam. Whether it's Cody Kessler -- who was respectfully 17th in Passing NEP per drop back in 2016 -- or a Day 2 pick, since it's probably not Brock Osweiler, there's going to be some talent lined up to help.
Throughout this offseason, Cleveland has been making smart, fun, and interesting moves to rebuild this roster. These are no longer the Browns of old.