The Cleveland Browns made Austin Hooper the highest-paid tight end in the NFL, then used a fourth-round pick on Harrison Bryant. The moves at the position foreshadow a reduced role for former first-round pick David Njoku.
In three seasons, Njoku hasn't lived up to his raw talent and pedigree, catching 93 passes for 1,066 total yards and nine TDs in 36 games. The Browns TE played just four games in 2019 due to a wrist injury suffered in Week 2, rarely saw targets when he returned and was a healthy scratch for Weeks 15 and 16 while participating in just four snaps in Week 17.
With the disastrous season in the rear-view mirror, Njoku is aiming for a bounce-back season.
"My No. 1 goal is to stay healthy," he said in a recent interview, via the team's official website. "If I can stay healthy, the sky is the limit. It's going to be special. We have all the tools here, and we have a great coach, so we're really excited to put it all together."
Despite the additions at the position, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said last week that the Browns plan to use multiple tight end sets, which could keep Njoku in the rotation alongside Hooper.
"He is going to add to that tight end room," Van Pelt said. "There will be times we are out there with three tight end sets -- that is part of this system -- and to have him with the ability he has both athletically to play in line or get him out in space and get some matchup issues with safeties and linebackers covering him, I am excited to see what he has to offer."
Njoku's talent has never been questioned. The 23-year-old boasts the size and speed combination to be a menace at the position. However, inconsistencies have stymied his progress.
Coach Kevin Stefanski used a plethora of two-TE sets while with the Minnesota Vikings, so there should be snaps for Njoku. The Browns are certainly a candidate to see an increased 12 personnel usage under Stefanski.
Hooper should lead the group in snaps and targets, but if Njoku can stay healthy and finally take advantage of mismatches his athleticism provides, the young tight end should still play a role in the offense, even if that part is not as big as it was once projected before the start of last season.