BEREA, Ohio — During a team drill on Saturday at Browns practice, tight end David Njoku lined up on the right side of the line and, after the snap started to block. Then he released and quarterback Deshaun Watson tossed him a screen and Njoku took off down the field.
Njoku loves to block. He actually seemed more eager to talk about blocking in a press conference following the team’s walkthrough on Saturday.
“I like all of it, really, catching touchdowns, blocking,” Njoku said. “I found a new love of blocking in the last couple years to this day, so I like everything about being a tight end.”
Everything about being a tight end is great, but if we’re being honest, the tight ends who get paid are the ones who do what Njoku actually did on that screen pass during practice, not what he pretended to do.
Njoku, of course, got paid this offseason.
Drafted in the first round at 20 years old in 2017, Njoku has seen four head coaches, four offensive coordinators, three GMs — Browns fans know all this.
He requested a trade — twice — and the Browns refused — twice.
Instead, they exercised his fifth-year option and franchise-tagged him and, eventually, gave him a four-year extension worth up $56.75 million, making him the fifth-highest paid tight end in the league by yearly average.
Njoku used one word to describe his change-of-heart, deciding to sign and stay after a rocky stretch.
“Growth,” he said. “Growth and the love of my teammates, trying to grow like a pack, stay very close, you start playing for not just yourself but the people around you as well.”
Part of his growth was learning to love blocking, in part because he had no other choice.
“It was really the only thing I was doing, really in 2020 and going into 2021. I was blocking more than running routes,” Njoku said. “Like I said I had two options. I could either cry about it or block. I chose to block.”
“I am really proud of him and the work that he has put in and watching his blocking develop over the course of time that I have been here,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He has really bought in. He is obviously big enough and strong enough to do a lot of those jobs. That is what I am probably the most proud of him for but also recognizing that there is a ton of room to grow. I think that is the beauty of David and a lot of our players here is they have that growth mindset where they want to continually get better.”
Still, catching the ball — that’s the good stuff.
Njoku, like many Browns fans, is excited to see what new quarterback Deshaun Watson will bring. It was easy to notice the slight smile forming on his face as he was asked about Watson. Perhaps no player on the team will be impacted as heavily as Njoku by the addition of one of the league’s most talented quarterbacks.
“I can’t wait. I can’t wait for us to get to whichever week we see him,” Njoku said. “Hopefully sooner than later.”
Watson likes to throw to his tight ends. One of Saturday’s highlights was a throw to a tight end — Harrison Bryant, who was running a deep route mirroring a shallower route across the field by Njoku.
When passing out of 12 personnel in 2020, Watson completed 70.6% of his passes while with the Texans, which ranked third among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.
The Browns love to make runs look like passes and, more importantly, make passes look like runs, putting defensive coordinators in binds by throwing big personnel like tight ends and running backs on the field and using their versatility in the passing game. Watson could thrive.
If he does, it means more opportunities for Njoku to live up to the promise he has shown. He’s had flashes, but Watson’s presence could help bring out the consistency and allow him to reach the potential the Browns are paying for.
Njoku was asked about Watson throwing to his tight ends and how much he likes to do it.
“That sounds very exciting, doesn’t it?” he said.
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