It appears the Cleveland Browns believe David Njoku is a premier NFL tight end.
Why else would Andrew Berry make him one of the league’s best-paid at his position?
Well, careful analysis of Njoku’s deal shows Berry hedged his bet a little bit.
With a fourth season that amounts to a team option, Cleveland’s #1 tight end can’t rest on his laurels.
#Browns David Njoku has officially signed his 4-year deal worth $56.75M, club announces.
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) June 1, 2022
Many fans questioned Njoku’s value relative to his potential $14 million average salary.
Common sense says that’s too much for a tight end averaging about 27 receptions under Kevin Stefanski.
But this is a rare case of someone getting paid ahead of time for what a team thinks he will do.
And if there is a feel-good story about hard work paying off, this might be it.
Looking Beyond The Boxscore
David Njoku knows he has to catch more than 27 passes and 3 touchdowns to justify his contract.
And he’ll need a chunk of Austin Hooper‘s 2022 targets to bulk up his main numbers.
But the statistical argument from 2021 only raises expectations and serves to justify the deal today.
The obvious notes are how Njoku cut his drop rate in half and turned himself into a top-ranked blocker since 2019.
#Browns David Njoku: “I love blocking man…I had two options I could either cry about it or just slam people so I chose to block and I enjoy it now.”
— Camryn Justice (@camijustice) June 1, 2022
Credit Stefanski’s coaching staff or Njoku’s drive to excel, but all arrows point up as the player enters his prime.
Njoku’s 7 yards-after-catch and 13.2-yard receiving average ranked among the top-4 in the league.
Making good use of his speed and deep threat ability can clear safeties out for the wide receivers.
And if a team chooses to match him up with linebackers, Njoku’s own stat line will fill in a hurry.
What Could Go Wrong?
Opportunity is the key to a big season for Njoku, and his new TE-1 status should provide it.
But many of Austin Hooper’s 2021 targets were short dump-offs, almost half the average depth of Njoku’s.
That could translate to fewer or shorter targets intended for Njoku.
Especially if Stefanski continues to utilize 2 tight ends with Harrison Bryant in the mix.
— Fred Greetham (@FredGreetham9) June 1, 2022
Bryant stands to be the short relief valve Hooper was turned into last season.
Deshaun Watson is expected to lift every receiver’s potential, throwing a softer ball and improvising better.
But if he misses a sizeable portion of the year, Stefanski’s offense could shift to a more conservative plan.
And that can work either way when it comes to Njoku’s receiving targets.
Buy Or Sell On a Career Year?
Narratives about Njoku’s poor blocking and drops are outdated and unjustified.
He presents a big, strong, and fast target to Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett.
Watson has never made big stars out of his tight ends, but he loves to use them in the red zone.
He threw 13 touchdowns to Ex-Browns Pharoah Brown and Darren Fells in 2019-20.
“David [Njoku] is deserving of that contract. He earned it….he’s a big part of what we plan to do” – #Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. Praised Njoku’s “evolution” and growth as a player
— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) June 1, 2022
But Jordan Akins was the starter with only 3 touchdowns total among 73 catches across those 2 seasons.
So this might all come down to how Stefanski’s offense, adapted slightly to Watson’s strengths, uses Njoku.
Another consideration is the inexperienced wide receiver room, which could push Njoku up in Watson’s pecking order.
And that’s partly why we buy the notion David Njoku has a career season in 2022.