Browns have "big plans" in a "big year" for David Njoku

Regime change gives tight end a new lease on life in Cleveland

Daryl Ruiter
February 25, 2020 - 8:50 pm
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 22: David Njoku #85 of the Cleveland Browns is tackled by Kevin Byard #31 of the Tennessee Titans in the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 22, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (92.3 The Fan) – No one player may benefit more from the latest regime change by the Browns than tight end David Njoku.

With Freddie Kitchens gone and now coaching tight ends in New York for the Giants, Njoku is out of the doghouse with Kevin Stefanski giving him a clean slate. What Njoku does with this new lease on life in Cleveland is up to him, a point also driven home by the new head coach.

“I think there’s an obvious skillset there,” Stefanski said Tuesday at the NFL Combine. “There’s a reason he was drafted that high. I think you can see it just in his physical ability, and it’s a big year for David. I’ve explained that to him.

“He knows that and a lot of that is going to be up to him and the amount of work he puts into this, and we have big plans for him, but it’s about, for him, coming back in the building and working and then ultimately being able to see if we can utilize him in a role that can take advantage of some of his skillset.”

Njoku’s season last year was derailed when he suffered a broken wrist that caused him to miss 10 games. He was a healthy scratch for two of the final three games after returning from injured reserve.

“David didn't quite have the year that he anticipated this past fall, but we still view David as a talented pass catcher and a guy that we expect to take a step forward in this upcoming year,” executive vice president of football operations and general manager Andrew Berry said.

Since being drafted 29th overall in 2016, the 23-year old Njoku has been a bit of an enigma. His raw physical skills and talent have been offset by his inability to consistently catch the football.

But when he was drafted the Browns knew what they were getting – a young inexperienced player at the position with tremendous upside. Stefanski, along with Berry, who was in the room when Njoku was drafted, see the potential. They also see the deficiencies.

Berry declined to say if he’s ready to commit to picking up the fifth-year option on Njoku’s rookie contract but the overhaul at the position began when Demetrius Harris, who started six games, caught three touchdowns and played over 50% of the offensive snaps in 2019, was cut.

Of the skill positions offensively, tight end likely holds the highest priority for Berry to address in the draft or free agency because of Stefanski’s reliance on them.

Stefanski believes with a little polishing this offseason, Njoku has he potential to become the diamond in the rough the team drafted four years ago. From his perspective, that’s what coaches do – make players better.

“I think there’s so many attributes and traits that a guy has, and, listen, I’d love for them to be A-plus at all of them,” Stefanski said. “But we realize that’s not true, so we are very realistic about that and say, all right, can we help this guy with trait A. And if we can, we say, ‘all right, here’s how we’re going to do it.’ So certainly I think there’s consistency that can be built upon with all of our players.”

Stefanski likes versatility in his tight ends – bigger guys that can line up on the line of scrimmage which he refers to as “Y” tight ends and block as well as guys that can me motioned and moved around in various formations to create mismatches or “F” tight ends.

“I just think there’s so many different ways you can attack a defense when you have versatility,” Stefanski said. “Certainly, the tight end position gives you some versatility.”

Where does Njoku fit in the new offense?

“I think he really could be both,” Stefanski said. “And there are guys that can kind of bounce back and forth and you can utilize in different roles. But I really want to get around him and then see him up close in person before we make a determination on him.”

Stefanski will be Njoku’s third full-time head coach in four seasons and four in four if you count 2018 interim head coach Gregg Williams.

If Njoku doesn't live up to expectations, Stefanski will be his last, at least in Cleveland.