Baker Mayfield has been light outs in recent weeks, posting 7 touchdowns to just 10 incompletions in his last two games. But the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft isn’t the only young Cleveland Brown enjoying a breakout season on offense.
Second-year tight end David Njoku is a former first-round pick, who entered the league with incredible athleticism but a raw skillset. As a redshirt sophomore at Miami, he used his size and body control to post 8 touchdowns. Njoku would tear up the Combine, testing in the 79th percentile or better among tight ends in the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and 3-cone drill (via Mockdraftable).
Njoku is enjoying the best stretch of his career to this point, accumulating 50 or more receiving yards in 6 of his last 7 games. Overall, he has 32 receptions, 362 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns over that 7 game stretch.
Look, prorating statistics can be a distorted exercise, but hear me out. That 16 game pace would be 73 receptions, 827 yards and 7 touchdowns. To put those into perspective, Zach Ertz’s 2017 season was 74-824-8.
But enough about statistics, this is The Draft Network. We trust the tape around here. Njoku is playing the best football of his young career because his game has become well-rounded, evening out his receiving and blocking production.
As a receiver, Njoku has become a threat up the seam and in the intermediate. His combination of size and athleticism allows him to stretch the field from the slot, opening up space for when he breaks routes off.
Against Cincinnati yesterday, he made a diving catch between the sinking linebackers and safeties breaking downhill. A prime example of the high-level plays that Njoku can make:
Njoku made a similar play a few weeks ago against Tampa Bay, except this time he stayed upright and picked up yards after contact.
His ability to really pluck the ball out of the air in the intermediate came about twice in that Tampa Bay game, picking up yards due to his soft hands and long frame.
Again against Tampa, Njoku’s redzone potential was on full display when Baker Mayfield lofted a fade route to him. Due to his long arms, broad frame and body control, Njoku is a matchup nightmare for defenders to stop above the rim.
Though a raw blocker coming out of college, Njoku was consistently active and working hard in that regard. Now with 20+ games of NFL experience, his effort is paying off as he gains valuable experience on a weekly basis.
His upper body strength and explosiveness allows him to turn defensive ends or linebackers, moving them off the spot and positioning his body to force rounded paths towards the ball carrier.
Yesterday against Cincinnati, Njoku began to show advanced levels of blocking and awareness. Unable to cut-off a filling linebacker on the backside of a run, Njoku swung around him and attacked him facing the line of scrimmage. The result was a pancake block as running back Nick Chubb slid past the block. An excellent display of awareness and upper body power out of Njoku:
The play of the day yesterday for Njoku was his touchdown reception, as he caught the ball underneath and got vertical towards the endzone. Attempting to dive from a bit too far away, Njoku somehow stayed balanced through multiple tacklers that allowed him to be pushed into the endone by pursuing offensive lineman.
Njoku's elite athleticism is beginning to show up on a consistent basis, essentially eliminating the "raw" label he entered the league with attached to him. The splash plays are showing up with more regularity, hinting at an even more productive year 3.
For now, Njoku will likely end his second season with the more games of 50+ receiving yards as he and Baker Mayfield continue to develop their chemistry.