Could 2021 Be A Breakout Season For Donovan Peoples-Jones?

Photo: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The old adage in football that a player’s “best ability is their availability” is often overused, but it has still proven to be factual each and every fall. In Cleveland, where Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will be tasked with captaining a Cleveland Browns receiving corps, their ability to stay healthy, compared to the overall success of the Browns in 2021, remains the paramount focus just a few short weeks from kick-off.

Appearing in just seven games last fall, the second-lowest total of his career, Beckham’s current rapport with quarterback Baker Mayfield remains up in the air. While no one will doubt the fundamental talent of the three-time Pro Bowler, for the duo to hit their stride the way that was anticipated when the trade was made with the New York Giants to acquire the outspoken wideout ahead of the 2019 season, Beckham must stay on the field. In addition, Cleveland’s usage of pass-catchers outside of their electric duo will be key to the Browns making their way back to the postseason.

With Beckham, Landry, pending free agent Rashard Higgins, and third-round selection Anthony Schwartz on the roster, Donovan Peoples-Jones’ dominant camp has presented head coach Kevin Stefanski with an awfully tough decision to make on who will earn a significant role outside of Beckham and Landry come Week 1 in Kansas City.

Through initial offseason team activities and now into the meat of the summer months and tail end of training camp, you’d be hard-pressed to not hear Peoples-Jones’ name early and often throughout each team session. It's virtually unanimous Peoples-Jones has been the most improved player on the offensive side of the ball, which has presented Mayfield and the Browns’ offensive game plan with an intriguing, yet exciting potential target distribution. 

Stressing over how best to utilize talent because there's so much of it has been a welcome change over the alternative lack of pop on the outside. In seasons prior, a talent like Peoples-Jones would represent the clear target hog within the offense. On the current squad, his potential role is as a WR3 or WR2 if Beckham or Landry are unable to suit up due to any unforeseen circumstance.

While both Beckham and Landry have yet to record a single preseason snap, a trend that will stay consistent heading into Week 3 of the preseason, the inherent opportunities presented for Peoples-Jones to bolster his argument as a featured player within Cleveland’s offense is for the taking—and he’s wasted no time doing exactly that. With four catches thus far through the preseason, looking at the boxscore won’t impress anyone, but like Beckham and Landry, Peoples-Jones’ spot is locked and anything else he does further is just additional tape to earn future targets. 

Assuming Cleveland’s arsenal of weapons stays healthy, Peoples-Jones would be taking snaps at someone's expense. While the easy answer could be in Higgins or KhaDarel Hodge, I would envision Stefanski trimming down his 12-personnel at tight end, instead opting to show increased four-wideout looks with Peoples-Jones lining up both in the slot and out wide. And although Landry’s chemistry with Mayfield has been undeniable the last couple of years, he’s lost weight and could opt to slide inside even more often, again presenting Peoples-Jones with the option to line up in two-receiver sets, bunch concepts, or as the single-high wideout with Landry and Beckham on the short side of the field in base. Peoples-Jones and Beckham both tout the ideal traits to work near the boundary, with long, wiry frames, breakaway speed, and powerful hands, presenting Landry the opportunity to dominate out of the slot against smaller corners on quick-hitters from Mayfield.

Either way, it’s a defensive nightmare.

At 6-foot-2, Peoples-Jones offers the vertically-stout target Cleveland has not had in its stable of weapons since Josh Gordon many moons ago. A part of roughly 25% of the offensive snaps in 2020, Peoples-Jones’ role will surely increase, as his production alone could light the fuse the Browns desire as expectations continue to rise.

Written By:

Ryan Fowler

Staff Writer

Feature Writer for The Draft Network. Former Staff Writer for the Washington Football Team. Multiple years of coverage within the NFL and NBA.