During the 2019 season, Browns fans were baffled that one of their favorite players, Rashard Higgins, was benched. Higgins wasn’t talking, and neither was coach Freddie Kitchens. However, I think I have figured it out: Odell Beckham Jr. joined the team, and sucked the life out of all the other receivers (except Jarvis Landry).
Beckham demanded the ball, and a star-struck Baker Mayfield eagerly accommodated him. Baker also had to keep happy his other superstar receiver, Jarvis Landry. Baker was like a busy mother bird frantically feeding worms to her demanding hatchlings. Baker didn’t even see his other receivers. And it was all too predictable; one to Landry, one to OBJ; lather, rinse, repeat, and opponents didn’t even bother to double-cover OBJ most of the time. That third receiver in the slot? Don’t even bother covering him; Baker can’t see him. Baker went from being a superstar to one of the worst-rated quarterbacks in the NFL. Yes, there was an o-line issue, but whose fault was that? The OBJ trade.
From another perspective, you could say that Baker did his job perfectly: he ladled-out 1,174 yards to Landry and 1,035 to OBJ. While they will not admit it, that’s the metric the Browns were targeting. And they will probably do so again during the 2020 season.
The reason why Higgins became a fan favorite is that he is a clutch receiver. He has the rare skill of getting open and getting into Baker’s field of view. That’s the magic. Fans had one last taste of this magic in 2019 with Hig’s dramatic touchdown vs. the Bills:
In a season where the Browns went limp in the red-zone, Hig made it looks easy. Was he rewarded with more targets? Hell no. Hig finished the season with a grand total of 11 targets.
In 2018, Hig had 53 targets, which he turned into 4 touchdowns and 27 first-downs. So, 58% of the time, Hig turned his target into a big play. Fans ate that up with a spoon. It was pure heroin, and fans were drooling for more in 2019.
What the Browns did in 2018 was dramatically different to 2019. Baker threw mostly to Landry as they drove down the field. Then, when they got to the red zone, and the defense was keying on Landry, Baker threw to one of his other receivers for the score. Landry only had 4 touchdowns in 2018 as Baker spread the ball around.
It was genius, but cannot be reproduced with OBJ on the team.
The Browns should resign Higgins, and auction off OBJ to the team who will offer the highest draft pick.
But that isn’t going to happen. So, fans need to gird their loins for a repeat of 2019.
Update: the Browns resigned Higgins in May of 2020!
Higgins 2018 highlights: