As we continue to look back on the rookie performances from 2017’s crop, we come now to David Njoku of the Cleveland Browns. We’ll see how his numbers from the last season compared to other recent rookies, before looking at the good and bad of his first year in the NFL. Finally, I’ll offer my thoughts on his fantasy appeal moving forward.
I set the RotoViz Screener:
to find rookies from 2007 – 2017 and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.
DAVID NJOKU AND HIS COMPS
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not exactly the greatest peer group that Njoku finds himself in. Zach Ertz has become one of the better TEs in the NFL, and Tyler Eifert has enjoyed some success with the Bengals when he’s been healthy. But the other three players, namely Miller, Mychal Rivera, and Clive Walford, all struggled during their NFL careers. Curiously, all were drafted by the Raiders.
Despite the lowest yards per target mark of the group, Njoku did manage to post the second highest yards per reception. This talent to amass yards with the ball in his hands goes back to his time at the University of Miami, where he averaged a frankly ludicrous 11 yards after the catch.
So, how did the second year go for Njoku’s comps?
Ertz saw an increased workload in 2014, as did Rivera. Miller’s 2008 season was his first of his three consecutive with at least 56 receptions and 685 yards. While Walford was seen as a trendy sleeper pick leading up to the 2016 season, he pretty much flatlined.
As always, I must stress that we offer comps as a range of possible outcomes. It is not set in stone that Njoku will be the next Mychal Rivera or even the next Tyler Eifert. The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.1
David Njoku’s 386 receiving yards was the fourth most for a rookie TE for the Browns since the 1970 merger. His 32 receptions were the third most, behind only Oscar Roan and Ozzie Newsome. No other Browns TE managed more touchdowns than Njoju (4) in his rookie season.
Njoku saw at least four targets in eight of his 16 games. Between Weeks 11 and 13, Njoku caught nine of 11 targets for a combined 134 yards and a TD. Njoku averaged more than 13 yards per reception in six games, and in only one of those games did he have a single catch. He eclipsed 47 yards in four games. According to Player Profiler, Njoku had a contested catch rate of 52.9 percent. This was the fourth-best rate among TEs.
By no means was Njoku an accumulator of receptions or yards in 2017. He had two four-catch games back to back in Weeks 12 and 13. But apart from this span, he had two or fewer receptions in 12 games. He was also held below 50 yards on 14 different occasions. He managed the impressive achievement of having one game with two receptions and zero yards. As previously noted, Njoku was able to score four TDs. But three of them came in his first five games. The next 11 yielded just one more.
Njoku played fewer snaps than fellow TE Seth Devalve, who also posted one more reception and nine more yards. For some reason best known to Hue Jackson – who obviously had some master plan for the Browns offense that we mere mortals are not qualified to question – the Browns were reluctant to deploy Njoku and Devalve at the same time. The Browns lined up in 1-2 personnel on just 12 percent of their total offensive plays. This was the third lowest in the NFL.
When targeted by fellow rookie DeShone Kizer, Njoku was the third-most efficient pass catcher for the Browns. While this may seem like a positive, it was an accolade similar to being told you’re the third-best singer in One Direction.
The return of Josh Gordon did precious little to help, as the image below attests.
His targets, receptions, and touchdowns per game all came down in the five games in which Gordon played a part. His receiving yards went up, but only by a very small margin.
There is little doubt that Njoku is a freakish talent, as befitting his pedigree. The U has quite the lineage of NFL TEs among its alumni, and Njoku is but the latest in a line that includes Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, and Jimmy Graham. However, his fantasy appeal seems to be somewhat limited at present. 22 TEs are being selected before Njoku, while Mark Andrews, who is being taken one round after Njoku, hasn’t even been drafted by an NFL team yet.
The volatile state of the Browns offense is clearly a huge barrier for fantasy owners. Do you know who will be their quarterback in 2018? I certainly don’t. I’m sure Hue Jackson and his crony John Dorsey don’t know either. If they don’t know, there is little chance that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley knows. Whoever takes the job, the tendencies of Haley paint an ominous picture for both Njoku and Devalve. In the last two seasons under Haley, the Steelers targeted their TEs on 18 and 21 percent of their plays.
If the Browns enter the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, this could be a boost to Njoku’s appeal for fantasy owners. Cousins has shown that he can be effective when linking up with his TEs.
Is David Njoku the same as Vernon Davis or Jordan Reed? No, but we’re exploring a range of outcomes here.
Until some degree of clarity is established with the Browns, there are other TEs that I would target before Njoku. But this position could shift, depending on where they choose to go at QB.
- John Connor (back)