Cleveland Browns Film Room: David Njoku

Jun 13, 2017; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) catches a pass during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2017; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) catches a pass during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Browns released Gary Barnidge shortly after drafting tight end David Njoku in the 2017 NFL Draft, and it’s easy to see why they came to this decision.

If any team is in need of playmakers who will step up on both sides of the ball in 2017, then it is the Cleveland Browns. That’s probably the most Captain Obvious statement that I can make, but the sentiment is worth bearing in mind when projecting David Njoku’s statistical impact as a rookie. See, most tight ends don’t make a profound and immediate impact in this league as rookies, because it’s a difficult position to play.

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Tight ends must be able to block, run routes, provide the quarterback with a safe pair of hands, get open, work to the quarterback when the play breaks down, and line up in a multitude of positions.

With a 37.5-inch vertical, 6.97-second three-cone drill, and a 4.64-second 40 time at 6-4, 246 pounds, Njoku is a physical specimen. If he weren’t, then he wouldn’t have been a first-round pick.

Njoku qualifies as a steal, as the Browns merely spent the 29th overall pick on a supremely athletic prospect at a premium position. Top-level, pass-catching tight ends are a rarity in this league, and they are among the most valuable mis-match makers. Njoku could really help the Browns overcome the loss of Terrelle Pryor, who was coming into his own as a true No. 1 wideout.


From start-to-finish, this is how most of Njoku’s plays at Miami went. They lined him up in the right slot, and he would basically move off the line of scrimmage a few steps with his back to the quarterback, waiting for Brad Kaaya to give him a soft pass. Njoku would haul it in, make a defender miss, usually by using power, and then he’d pick up some extra coin after the catch.

Every time Njoku touches the ball, he’s a threat to take it the distance. So, yeah, that’s kind of what the Browns (and every other NFL team) are looking for in a first-round pass-catcher. He’s excellent at picking up yards after the catch, and that’s no surprise


Need a play on third-and-3? Looking to score an easy six? Just loft the ball up to Njoku, and he’ll do the rest. This is an easy pitch-and-catch on the slant route. Not only is Njoku too quick for the linebacker, but he’s also far too strong for him.

Njoku’s physical strength is what makes him a solid blocker, and I only saw him get beat badly once in the running game (came at the goal-line against Pitt). He bullies an edge defender at around the 5:35 mark of the Virginia game and comes through in a tougher spot on the play below. He doesn’t open up a big hole, but he does enough to give Mark Walton a chance to pick up some yardage.


I’ve seen Njoku criticized for his blocking, and while most athletic tight ends with noted pass-catching prowess struggle in the running game, I actually think it has a chance to be one of Njoku’s strong suits in the pros.

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That should bode well for him as a rookie, because better blocking tight ends get more snaps. Unless you’re Jimmy Graham — then it doesn’t matter if you even try at blocking. Njoku, though? He tries and rarely fails, which has to count for something.

Let’s take a look at a fun play, because Njoku’s film is filled with them. I could show a GIF of him flipping over fools en route to a touchdown against Pitt, but I’ll show you a different touchdown that occurred later in that same game. It’s not a flip, but it’s an example of body control and athleticism that is more related to football.

That said, this play doesn’t technically translate to NFL success either, because he only needed to have one foot inbounds. But whatever. It’s a cool touchdown.


When we talk about Njoku being a raw prospect, those concerns should center around his inexperience as a pass-catcher and shouldn’t have anything to do with his work as a blocker. I bring this up, because I recall very few instances in which Njoku ran a route while lined up as a tight end.

Most of his work as a receiver came when he was lined up in the slot, so he also didn’t get much experience split further out wide. In the NFL, most of his snaps as a receiver should come in the slot because of his quickness and long speed, but he will have to show more versatility in the Browns offense than he did at Miami.

Furthermore, Njoku’s route tree wasn’t very extensive. Most of his reps came on “out” routes, simple dump-offs, and he had a few slant routes mixed in between. On plays further down the field, Njoku only had to use his size and speed advantage, since he was mostly running straight down the seam. But my goodness, these plays were downright effective when they did happen.


Njoku didn’t get to show off his lateral quickness much, but his Combine numbers can be seen on film during this play. Not just fast and powerful, Njoku is also quite fluid, and I look forward to seeing how the Browns take advantage of this. Even though Njoku didn’t run an extensive route tree, he’s just a tight end, so that isn’t a big concern.


And even if it were a big concern of yours, it’s an irrelevant one simply because he has all the physical tools to win on any type of route. On the rare occasion where he can’t generate sufficient separation, he can always use his size and ball skills to his advantage.

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I also want to take a moment to praise his hands, because his only drops came on “concentration drops” when he was obviously more focused on generating yards after the catch. As you can see on the play showcased two spots above, Njoku is tough enough to hang onto the ball after receiving a tough hit.

It is important for a tight end to show their quarterback that they can be a reliable way of moving the chains, and Njoku did this for Kaaya in college by securing dump-off passes and doing enough after the catch to net a first down. However, a tight end should also be able to work themselves open for the quarterback when the play breaks down. This is a trait that is key for possession receivers, players who want to be top options in their passing offense, and for tight ends who want to solidify themselves as upper-echelon talents. The play below is an example of Njoku doing just that.


Like many people, I’m excited to see what Njoku can do as a rookie, even if it is important to temper expectations for young tight ends. Critically, Njoku happens to be younger than most, seeing as how he will be just 21 years old when the season begins. It’s still puzzling that Njoku lasted as long as he did on the day of the draft, but the Browns will be worthy beneficiaries of Njoku’s tools and upside. I wouldn’t call him a polished prospect, but he’s further along than a few people would have you think.

The Browns have a shot at having one of the league’s most exciting, young tight end duo, as the partnership of Njoku and Seth DeValve could prove to be difficult to gameplan for. These two have a lot of upside together, especially in an offense that could be deeper than expected with Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and Rashard Higgins (a personal favorite).

There isn’t much to dislike about Njoku’s game. The concentration blocks are frustrating and his experience is questionable, but the negatives all pale in comparison to the positives. Njoku looks like the prospect that many thought Eric Ebron would be coming out of college when the Detroit Lions took him with the 10th overall pick. This is no slight to Ebron, who is actually a solid NFL player.

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However, Njoku is stronger, more consistent, and better at using his physical tools, even though he was taken 19 spots lower in his draft class. I’m willing to bet on Njoku’s success in the NFL, and we’ll see just what role he plays in an offense filled with uncertainties both good (budding talent) and bad (yes, that is a reference to the quarterbacks).