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Former Baylor and Utah receiver Josh Gordon has been through a lot of drama in the last few years, all of his own doing. He was removed from the opportunity to catch a lot more passes from Robert Griffin III before the 2011 season, when he was suspended indefinitely from the Baylor program following a marijuana arrest. Gordon transferred to Utah, sat out the 2011 season, and declared for the supplemental draft. On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns selected him in the second round of that draft, taking away their second-round pick in 2013 and giving them a player with a lot of talent and just as many question marks.
The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Gordon, who caught 42 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns for Baylor in 2010, was on the Browns' radar for a while. In fact, if team president Mike Holmgren had his way, the Browns might have wound up as Baylor's north campus. Holmgren selected defensive tackle Phil Taylor in the first round of the 2011 draft, tried desperately to trade up in the 2012 draft to select Robert Griffin III, and made the team's interest in receiver Kendall Wright (Griffin's main target) well-known. Wright was taken in the first round this year -- but by the Tenneessee Titans.
Gordon's off-field issues wouldn't likely scare Holmgren off in any case -- when he ran personnel for the Seattle Seahawks from 1999 through 2003, he selected receiver Koren Robinson and tight end Jerramy Stevens, both players with great physical talents and penchants for knuckleheadedness. The Browns need a speed receiver with size, and in the abstract, Gordon fits the bill.
Based on the limited game tape available, it's clear to see why NFL teams would covet Gordon enough to risk a second-round pick on him. He's a big receiver with ability and toughness in traffic, dynamism after the catch, and a rare second gear for someone his size. He reminds me a bit of Denver's Demaryius Thomas, who transcended a limited passing offense at Georgia Tech to become one of the best young receivers in the NFL.
The question is, has Gordon learned from his mistakes?
"Despite everything I've been through, despite being a kid with a spotty background, the Cleveland Browns stuck their neck out and risked taking me and put their faith and belief in me, and I won't let them down," Gordon said in a phone interview with the Cleveland media after Thursday's selection. "I'm grateful, and I know I can't go back to being the person I used to be."
Despite the disciplinary actions he had to take against Gordon (who got in trouble with marijuana more than once at Baylor), head coach Art Briles believes that Gordon can turn it around. "It killed me, it really did, because as a coach, I think we're in the kid-saving business," Briles said. "I know Josh's character, I know his heart, I know his mind, I know his soul and it's all good."
I was with my buddy Mike Silver in Hollywood this week for the Gatorade Sports Star of the Year banquet, when he asked RGIII about his former teammate.
"He's been a kid that's been in a bunch of unfortunate situations," Griffin told Silver, "and he knows that he was the reason that those [situations] happened. So I think any team that gets him, of course they're gonna feel like they're rolling the dice on the kid. I think that in the end, he'll be successful if he wants to be successful. That's all on him. And he knows that. He knows he's used up all his chances and everybody's watching him."
Gordon has undergone counseling for his past problems, and according to Browns general manager Tom Heckert, the difference between then and now is obvious.
"I couldn't find anybody to say one bad thing about the kid," Heckert said. "I drilled him pretty hard when I was with him. He didn't back down, and he told me everything that I thought I needed to hear from him."
Holmgren had better hope so. Robinson and Stevens both flamed out pretty quickly in Seattle, proved that they didn't have the will and discipline to make it in the NFL, and became embarrassments to the franchise. As Griffin said, it's up to Josh Gordon and Josh Gordon alone to separate himself from the NFL's long list of cautionary tales.
"I've definitely learned from this," Gordon concluded. "It's been a long road, but I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel after today. Looking back, it was something that had to happen in order for this to even take place. I promise the Browns won't regret this."