David Njoku: Where does he go?
By: Austin Ebersole
In the NFL, one of the most important positions that seem to not get enough love and attention is Tight End. These unique players are asked to run routes against defenders that are most times quicker than they are and to stay on the line and block some of the world’s greatest athletes, edge rushers.
To sum it up, a lot if asked from TEs, therefore it’s hard for teams to find the right guy with the perfect combination of size, route running, ball skills, and the ability to stay on the line and block in all varying situations. This desired skill set is what makes Browns current Tight End (TE), David Njoku, an attractive asset this off-season.
Coming out of college, David Njoku showed promise as an ideal NFL Tight End. He’s 6’4, 250 lbs, and ran a 4.64, 40 yard dash at the Combine. In his last year at Miami (FL), he had 43 receptions for 698 yards and 8 touchdowns. This god-given size and production is what led to the Browns selecting him at the end of the 1st round in the 2017 draft.
Unfortunately for Njoku and the Browns though, the relationship between player and team hasn’t quite blossomed as much as they had hoped for to this point. Even after seeing 60 targets in his rookie year and 89 targets in 2018, an injury plagued 2019 season forced the Browns to feel like they needed to find help at the position.
They went out and signed Austin Hooper who was the most sought-after Tight End last offseason and also drafted Harrison Bryant who won the John Mackey Award for being the nation’s top senior tight end.
With these two additions to the TE room in Cleveland and Njoku being back to full health, helping his value rise, here are a few landing spots where David Njoku could play in 2021 and beyond:
● Arizona Cardinals
If the Browns were to make Njoku available for trade, the Cardinals would be a great spot for the TE. Last year, Dan Arnold led the position with 42 targets and only turned that into 31 receptions for 438 yards. This production is almost identical to Njoku’s rookie season in Cleveland, but not anywhere close to his breakout sophomore season where he hauled in 56 grabs for 639 yards.
Njoku on this roster might be exactly what Kyler Murray and this offense needs. They ranked 15th last year in pass attempts, and finished in the top 5 for using 12 personnel. With this passing volume, the opportunity is there for a TE to thrive in this offense and
getting Murray a playmaker in the middle of the field should be one of their top priorities this off-season especially if 17 year veteran Larry Fitzgerald decides to hang it up. Giving Njoku the 42 targets that Arnold saw and a portion of the 72 targets that Fitz saw in 2020, Njoku would be in for a monster year and career resurgence out in the desert.
● New England Patriots
One of the strangest things about the entire 2020 season was seeing the Patriots struggle to win games and not have Tom Brady under center. After two decades of running the AFC East, it’s safe to say that Belichick and company have much to think about.
One solution to help rebuild their roster could be to add Njoku. Entering this past season, PFF gave the Pats the 30th ranked tight end unit which was fitting as its most targeted TE Ryan Izzo only saw 20 targets.
After years of having Rob Gronkowski dominate the NFL at the position, Njoku would be able to step in right away and make a difference. The Patriots finished with the fewest amount of receptions by the entire TE group with only 18 on the season.
Even with Hooper and Bryant as teammates and missing three games, Njoku himself caught 19 passes for 213 yards in 2020. When a team’s backup TE has more production than your entire unit combined, it then becomes hard to imagine Belichick not trying or wanting to improve the position this off-season.
● Cleveland Browns
Believe it or not, but there’s also a strong possibility that Njoku stays put. On March 17th, he will be guaranteed just slightly over $6 million which is relatively cheap for a player of his caliber.
It also helps that the Browns HC Kevin Stefanski runs one of the league’s highest tight end heavy schemes. With the Browns running 12 personnel around 29% of the time, it’s easy to see why they might not be so eager to ship Njoku out of town just yet.
There’s no doubt that he wants to and is good enough to be a team’s number one option at the position, but it does make sense for him to finish out his contract in Cleveland. There’s a strong chance that the Browns move him before his contract becomes guaranteed in a few weeks, but it does make sense for them to hold onto him knowing how often they use two tight end sets. Either way, expect Njoku to have a great season as he will be playing in a contract year in 2021.