2013’s leading Browns WR: Greg Little.

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Rorschach test: You see a drop and Usain Blot pose. I see a RB learning his position in his second year at WR and old school black shoes.

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Kolonich at Reboot has a nice piece up on Greg Bedard’s tweets from Berea Wednesday.  It’s always useful to get smart national perspective on the Browns’ progress.

Bedard’s nuggets included:

  • A ton of teaching going on;
  • Bedard likes Hoyer’s arm and release over Weeden and Campbell;
  • DQ and all front seven excited playing Horton’s system;
  • Kruger/Bess goodness.

But the tweet that got my attention was this:

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The down-side: Bedard is not a fan of Josh Gordon.*

That there is the best news I’ve heard out of Berea since… in a really long time.

That’s because Little is a potential stud WR.  The open question was would he work at it?  He’s quietly building a body of work that indicates he is.

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First round athlete.

Tom Heckert drafted Little 59th overall in the 2011 with one of the Julio Jones picks.  We don’t know but I will offer that Heckert looked at the premium to be paid for high-profile Jones out of Alabama and the discount available on the one-year-at-WR, suspended-for-2010 Little and saw value.  We don’t know but I will offer that Greg Little in the second round made the Jones trade much easier for Berea.

The combine numbers back it up:

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Of course it’s gamble; of course Little had not Jones’ polish.  That’s one reason why he was there late in the second round.  We’ll get to the other reasons, but first let’s linger on those combine numbers.

Prototype NFL WR height and reach?  Check.

Straight line speed?  Good; not crazy great but good for his size.

But then it gets interesting.  The 40.5″ vertical is quite insane.  Looking at the combine over the last three years (2011, 2012, 2013) Jonathan Baldwin is the only player in with a better height/vertical.  Torrey Smith jumped a half inch higher but is an inch shorter.  In other words, Little has first round measurables.

The other metric that no one talks about are his 27 bench reps.  That’s the most for a WR since 2006 (which is as far back as the online combine records go on nfl.com).  Don’t care about bench reps or upper body strength?  I say, as long as everything else is in place, hell yeah.  Blocking, YAC, all better when you’re stronger.

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The bad seed.

So why the slide?

First there’s his suspension.

‘Greg Little received $4,952 in extra benefits, including diamond earrings, as well as travel accommodations for the Bahamas, Washington D.C. and two trips to Miami, among other benefits.’

Given that Marvin Austin (52nd overall, 2nd round, Giants) and Robert Quinn (14th overall, Rams) were also suspended and that an assistant coach was fired, it looks like a case of bad advice rampant at Chapel Hill in the full flower of its Butch Davis era.  Couldn’t see that coming.  But as far as suspensions go, this seems a lot more benign than weed, purple drank, or beating the crap out of other students or townies.

Second, there’s the limited experience at WR.

Little was listed as a RB in 2008.  Probably not the worst plan given UNC had Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate at WR that year. Little moved to WR in 2009.  His numbers are fairly bland until you get to his final three games:

  • at BC:  seven catches, 69 yards;
  • at NCST:  6/159;
  • Pitt:  7/87/2 TDs.

So that’s somewhere in the range of 7/100/1 at the end of his first year at WR.  Something to build on if he’d played in 2010.

Last, the punting thing.

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We’re giving a pass on this. In fact, secretly, we might be prepared to embrace more of this as long as he picks his spots right.

Gifs like this will turn off a lot of GMs.  Gifs like this in your file when you’ve been suspended for a year are poison.

Does it show immaturity?  Lack of sense regarding the impact to the team?  Me first-ness?

Yes, yes, yes.  It’s a flag.

But there’s no avoiding the diva aspect of the NFL WR.  You can’t stop it, you can only hope to control it.  If the data showed on-going drop issues, attitude problems in the locker rooms and practice, I’d be all over him for this as well as the Blot pose.

The data doesn’t show this.  My eyes don’t show it.  In the anemic Shurmur offense I saw good routes, no drops, strong running, and -correct me if I’m wrong- but I saw some strong downfield blocking.  Or at least a willingness to perform downfield blocking.

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Shurmur’s and MKC’s dog house.

Probably doesn’t have Wooden’s Pyramid of Success on his office wall.

In an early indicator of a desperately over-matched and insecure head coach willing to throw his players under the bus, Pat Shurmur decided to get tough with Little.  Here’s Shurmur on his leading WR from 2011 while the Browns are 4-15 on his watch:

Shurmur warned Little that if he doesn’t hang on, he’ll be posing on the bench. “We can’t play a guy that’s going to drop footballs,” said Shurmur.  “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’ve had my conversations with him about that,” said Shurmur. “Now whether people see me ranting and raving on the sideline at a player — trust me, I have my conversations with him.”

We can ascribe some Captain Queeg tendencies to account for Shurmur’s words on Little.  We remain bemused at MKC’s analysis of Little pre-draft.

The outlook: No one in this young corps cracked the top 50 in receptions or had more than five TD catches. Little led with 53 catches for 647 yards and four TDs, and rookie Gordon was second with 50 catches for a team-high 805 yards and five TDs. Benjamin has excellent speed but is small and raw. The Browns will likely add a veteran to mentor the youngsters. Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs will most likely walk in free agency.

What they need: The Browns need two more starting-caliber wideouts and should be able to add at least one in free agency. Some who might hit the market include Green Bay’s Greg Jennings, Miami’s Brian Hartline, Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, New England’s Wes Welker and St. Louis’ Danny Amendola. The Browns should emerge from the free agent frenzy with an experienced go-to guy.

“Starting-caliber wideout” is a wildly subjective term.  Chansy Stuckey was starting caliber in 2009, amirite?  But fortunately Berea ignored MKC’s analysis.  We shouldn’t have to point this out to the team’s primary beat reporter but:

Calvin Johnson wouldn’t be top 50 in receptions in last year’s Browns offense.

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I love, love, loved that Little/Gordon tandem late last year.

the gordon-little has the potential to be great. i mean great, great. i tweeted this i’ll stand by it — the potential to be stallworth-swann great.

I’m sticking with this comment and couldn’t be more pleased to hear reports like Bedard’s.

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* But Bedard’s comments on Gordon aren’t great.

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  • I love Greg Little. Love.

    Any WR that looks to hit people downfield can play on my team at any time. I loved when the Browns ran Trent outside once a game (you know the one play where Weeden had to call his own play since Shurmur was trying to figure out how to move his headset to get a drink) and Little was looking for people. He would go in any direction and had bad intentions.

    Does he drop balls? Sure. Learning the position and I can live with it.

    The bottom line is that he keeps getting better and with actual offensive minds in Berea this year…well I want to see some punts at the stadium this fall.

  • bupalos

    I do love Little. I’m not sure his speed is such that he’s ever going to be a real game-breaker type, but he’s just an out and out football player with serious RAC skills that I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of. Ultimately with some route precision I’m thinking of a stronger Greg Jennings. Gordon’s is clearly the higher ceiling as a pure WR, but I agree that this tandem could just be an absolutely great combination.

    I also don’t mind the punt at all. I don’t understand why its any worse than an emphatic spike or a goalpost dunk.

    • i know you mean YAC. try as i might, i could not find a funny crennel-holding-sammich “RAC SKILLS” jpeg to insert here.

      little ain’t calvin or andre johnson in his 40. but he is larry fitz and anquan boldin and that could be enough.

      football player is a operative phrase here. little shows signs.

      i wish i could think of a football equivalent of a guy who needed to work through sub-par college habits to become a great pro… all i come up with is tristan thompson. the guy who struggles at first and works through it to max his potential has always impressed. it’s maybe less rare than i perceive… i perceive it to be rare.

      • I’m old-school. It’s RUN after the catch. R. Something you do. Not yards. Y is something you look at, R is something you do.

  • Good stuff Jim. In many way, Little is the linchpin of the Heckert era because he is a symbol of his biggest risk.

    I think the downfield blocking is in many ways the X-factor for Little/Gordon’s success. They are big, strapping men who can run (geez, get out of my head Ray Horton) and who have shown zeal for downfield blocking. The Bedard comments about Gordon’s insouciance are probably a case of making an inappropriate inference based on limited observational data, but point is fair – he is young, the game looks to come easy for him, he needs to access that next gear, etc. But we all know what we saw last year, and it wasn’t just a guy making plays downfield, it was also a guy getting after CBs on running plays, not to mention a guy who stayed clean and made not a peep in the locker room.

    21 letters that bring home just how much better off we are with the 2013 roster: MoMass/Robiskie/Stuckey

    [cold shiver]

    • all the likes for “Gordon’s insouciance.” that’s a keeper.

      henceforth he shall be the Insouciant Josh Gordon,, kind of like the fundamentally-sound Chuck Knoblauch.

      • NeedsFoodBadly

        aaaaaand Gordon is suspended for two games.

        • explains the insouciance.

          • Anonymous

            Insouciance. From the French, meaning “likes to eat cocaine”
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  • Right. Although the Julio Jones comparison is a bit much – at least given how that guy dominated games last year.

    But Right. Little was wasted in last year’s offense. Yes, the 2011 drops didn’t help, but really – and I’ve said this repeatedly to the chagrin of OBR readers – Little could be an all over the field offensive monster given a more creative head coach. I think in a meta way he could be Josh Cribbs on offense, at least how we always wanted Josh Cribbs to play on offense. Or in other words, he doesn’t have to be a polished wide receiver – just give the guy the ball.

    But anyway – if he’s improving as a wide receiver, then this is great news.

    As for the Gordon stuff, I’m bored with the whole subjective “I think you should act like THIS and if you don’t, then you don’t get it/are a diva wide receiver.” It’s blind group think when people make these dumb comments (like they did with Little last year). This just makes me want to see each player achieve more and more just to shut simple-minded people up.

    And of course, go Browns and all that too. It’s kind of cool to finally see a talented Browns receiver begin his third year (the proverbial “all comes together” season). Adding a competent play caller and possession receiver helps too.

    • i don’t say little would be a jujones-level producer if he had matt ryan throwing and roddy white opposite him. but i don’t say he wouldn’t.

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