The 2019 season was certainly a forgettable season for the Cleveland Browns. The franchise missed the playoffs, and its star defensive end received a lengthy suspension for an on-field altercation with Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph. Toss in player discontent and you have a team in disarray. For Browns’ tight end David Njoku, putting 2019 in the rearview is a priority following what can be summarized as a sophomore slump. After suffering a hand injury during the season, Njoku worked his way back to game shape, only to be ruled a healthy scratch during the final portion of the season.
With a new season coming down the line, is David Njoku destined to roam the sideline?
According to multiple reports, the new Browns regime is at least willing to give Njoku a trial run. Previous Browns head coach, Freddie Kitchen, had a frosty relationship with the young tight end. The two often did not see eye to eye during Njoku’s third season in the league. Following the young tight end’s two-month absence due to injury, Njoku fell out of favor with the then-head coach. With a new general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland could finally witness the breakout year for their budding star they envisioned after selecting him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Njoku was a can’t-miss prospect entering the NFL out of the University of Miami. Standing at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, the Cedar Grove, New Jersey, native possessed the measurables and potential you admire in a starting tight end. His ability to turn short catches near the line of scrimmage into long gains brought his talent as a receiver into focus. Although he didn’t assume in-line TE duties — a role occupied by Chris Herndon, now of the Jets — Njoku showed enough effort as a run blocker to encourage evaluators. Njoku amassed 1,060 receiving yards on 64 receptions and nine touchdowns in his collegiate career.
That collegiate production has yet to translate to the NFL. In three seasons with the Browns, Njoku has turned in a modest statline of 93 receptions, 1,066 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. The young Browns’ tight end has struggled to get into a rhythm, though not from a lack of effort. Njoku is the intended recipient often enough, but has dropped the ball 13 times in three seasons (according to Pro Football Focus). Those numbers are trumped by his uber-talented teammates. Cleveland’s offense is loaded with star power like wide receiver Jarvis Landry who tallied 1,1174 receiving yards, 83 receptions and 6 touchdowns in 2019. Those totals dwarf even Njoku’s career numbers. But, thanks to the Browns’ tumultuous 2019 season, Njoku’s shortcomings are blanketed by turmoil and roster chaos.
The Browns seem to agree with this assessment. Reports indicate that the franchise will exercise the fifth-year option on Njoku, securing his services until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022. To earn that fully-guaranteed deal, Njoku is going to need to turn in the best season of his professional career. In all likelihood, the Browns will seek to bolster the position whether through the draft or in free agency. Cleveland lacks options at the position. Behind Njoku are Ricky Seals-Jones, Stephen Carlson and Pharaoh Brown. Not exactly the Harlem GlobeTrotters on the gridiron. With Stefanski taking the controls, there will be open competition across the roster as the team attempts to improve from its 6–10 regular season record last year. The young tight end will be pressed to earn every snap in the 2020 season.
David Njoku has defied perception throughout his entire football life. Proclaimed too raw to be a wide receiver and too narrow to be a traditional every down tight end, Njoku has worked his way to being a player with a high ceiling of untapped potential. With a patented big grin and sumo spike touchdown celebration, it’s hard not to root for the young Nigerian descendent. As he has come to learn, potential can only get you so far — even if you’re a first round pick. 2020 has to be the defining calendar year for David Njoku. Not just because he could find himself on the unemployment line should he turn in another subpar year, but it’ll be another first round selection from the Browns that has once again failed to pan out for the fledgling franchise.