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NFL Draft

3 Best Trade Destinations For David Njoku

  • The Draft Network
  • July 4, 2020
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It’s long been rumored, and now it’s official: David Njoku wants out of Cleveland.

Drafted in 2017, the athletic tight end was always a promise of youth and athleticism. His first two years detailed some promise, including a 2018 season in which he was eighth in the NFL in both receptions and yards among tight ends. But Njoku quickly fell out with the Freddie Kitchens coaching staff, ending up a healthy scratch behind Ricky Seals-Jones and Pharaoh Brown, famously implying that if Freddie Kitchens returned to the Browns in 2020, he likely wouldn’t.

But Kitchens didn’t return to the Browns. He was replaced by Kevin Stefanski, and the front office turned over two executives that were with the team when Njoku was drafted: Andrew Berry and Paul DePodesta. With the front office restored and the heaviest 12 personnel coach in the league onboard, things seemed to have swung Njoku’s way.

But he still wants out, despite the fact that the team has big plans for him in 2020—the Browns responded to his request by saying they don’t intend on sending him away. If Njoku is to end up elsewhere, there are only a few teams likely to shell out the capital necessary to pry him from Cleveland, given the opportunity they have available for him. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Perhaps no team in the league has a bigger need at tight end than Jacksonville. They endured a shocking amount of injuries last season, giving significant snaps to six total tight ends, including rookie third-round selection Josh Oliver, who missed the majority of the season with an injury.

As they flipped over to a new offensive coordinator this year in Jay Gruden, they brought in one of his old friends from his time in Cincinnati: Tyler Eifert. Eifert spent his rookie season with Gruden, enjoying the high volume of intermediate routes afforded to tight ends in the Gruden offense. When Gruden left for Washington, Jordan Reed enjoyed those spoils.

Gruden’s been good to tight ends wherever he’s gone, but the current Jacksonville roster only affords him Eifert—never a sure bet to play 16 games—and Oliver, coming off of his injury. They’ll be lucky to get a good starter out of that duo.

Njoku is the sort of quality mover and route-runner that makes sense for Gruden’s offense. He’s good with the ball in his hands, can make spectacular above-the-rim catches in the red zone, and won’t be tasked with much serious blocking, as would be the case in Cleveland. ESPN’s Field Yates has alluded to this fit with a hypothetical trade of Njoku and a second-round pick to Jacksonville for Yannick Ngakoue, the Jaguars’ EDGE who desperately wants out of Jacksonville.

I don’t know if Jacksonville would bite at that deal, or if Cleveland wants to go chasing the big fish that is Ngakoue, but Njoku makes too much sense in Jacksonville to ignore.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals’ starting TE combo last year was Maxx Williams and Charles Clay, which is about as unsexy as it gets at tight end. But the Cardinals’ offense is about as unsexy for tight ends in general: Clay only grabbed 24 targets over 15 games; Williams had 19 over 16. Clay’s 24 targets were the 47th highest in the league.

Of course, the Cardinals offense just doesn’t offer enough snaps and routes, let alone targets. The Cardinals led the NFL in snaps out of 10 personnel, which puts no tight ends on the field; and they were second-lowest in 11 personnel, which puts one on the field. While they were above league average in snaps out of 12 personnel at 23% of their offense, they ran on 63% of those snaps. Even when the tight ends got out on the field, they weren’t pass-catching options that frequently.

Which begs the question: will the Cardinals even want Njoku? If the Browns demand a high asking price for a player who has generally disappointed, it doesn’t make sense for the Cardinals from a maximizing perspective. He would likely be the fifth-highest target-getter on the team (DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Kenyan Drake) if he delivers on his talent and doesn’t suffer for drops—if he struggles to transition at all, there’s a chance he just never gets used.

If the Cardinals are looking for an improvement at the tight end position, then perhaps no team in the league needs it more. Njoku represents a high-upside addition to a dynamic passing offense and a good mismatch option against linebackers. But the scheme may have to adjust to allow him that opportunity.

Indianapolis Colts

This is the fun one.

The Colts’ tight end room isn’t particularly bad: they love Jack Doyle around there, and he’s a pretty solid all-around option who disguises their personnel tendency well. He isn’t a dynamic receiver really, and if they want to have a game plan featuring a high volume tight end receiver, or base out of 12 personnel, then the Mo Alie-Cox and Trey Burton options likely won’t be enough.

It is reasonable to expect that both of the above conditions could be true. Before Indianapolis, Frank Reich’s Chargers offenses saw Antonio Gates as a top-three targeted receiver, and his Philadelphia offenses made Zach Ertz the highest volume tight end in the NFL. The Colts had such a player in Eric Ebron in 2018, with 110 total targets; and Doyle led the team in targets in 2019, with 72, as injuries made him and Zach Pascal the main receivers across the course of the year. Indianapolis has also been an above-average 12 personnel team in each of the last two seasons—through the 12 weeks that Ebron was healthy last year, they were tied for the sixth-highest usage in the league.

All of this to say: there’s room for another tight end here, he doesn’t have to be a well-rounded tight end, and he has the opportunity for a high volume of receiving targets. This is what Njoku could use to help get him over the hump: a ton of opportunity from a quarterback, and coordinator, who are comfortable featuring the tight end. He won’t even have to line up in-line!

And the Colts should have more confidence than any other team that they can reclaim Njoku—just two years ago, they grabbed Ebron on the cheap and pulled the best season out of him in Year 1. Njoku has been a bigger bust thus far than Ebron, but is also a full-on receiving threat who should be used in the slot and out wide as a high-volume mismatch option and never be asked to block. 

As a fan of Njoku’s I hope he ends up here. It’s reasonable to expect him to see volume like he did in 2018: 88 targets across a full season. It’s also reasonable to expect him to produce more touchdowns and explosive plays to boot.

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