How badly do the Cleveland Browns need a receiver? Look at the teams in 2021 NFL conference championship games

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Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones can't hang onto a pass in the end zone over Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Tre Flowers during the second half, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland.
Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones can't hang onto a pass in the end zone over Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Tre Flowers during the second half, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland.

There are pressing needs. There are crying needs. There are desperate needs.

Add any level of need you might imagine to the Browns' pass-catching corps. Wide receiver is a pressing, crying, desperate, howling need that must, must, must be met this offseason.

Sure, keeping the Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt tag team in the arena is key, but when one or both of them is unavailable — often the case in 2021 — shortcomings at receiver magnify.

Hunt played but not Chubb in a 37-14 home loss to Arizona. Chubb played but not Hunt in a 15-10 home loss to Pittsburgh. Neither suited up in a 45-7 loss at New England. In those losses and others, there wasn't enough receiving punch to compensate.

More: Cleveland Browns 75th anniversary depth chart for the ages: Joe Thomas blocks for Jim Brown, Otto Graham audibles

The better teams boast wideout rooms that make Cleveland's look like a closet. Seven teams in this postseason's final eight reveal a cross-section of where difference-making No. 1 wideouts have been found.

Cooper Kupp (1,947 yards, 16 TDs, Rams) was a Round 3 draft steal in 2017. Davante Adams (1,553 yards, 11 TDs, Packers) was a No. 53 overall draft choice in 2014. Tyreek Hill (1,239 yards, nine TDs, Chiefs) was a Round 5 draft heist in 2016.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) is stopped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) after a catch during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) is stopped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) after a catch during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill takes this pass and goes 64 yards for a touchdown.
Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill takes this pass and goes 64 yards for a touchdown.

Ja'Marr Chase (1,455 yards, 13 TDs, Bengals) is a rookie No. 5 overall pick. Deebo Samuel (1,405 receiving yards, 365 rushing yards, 49ers) was a No. 36 overall pick in 2019. Mike Evans (9,301 receiving yards in eight seasons with Tampa Bay) was a No. 7 overall pick in 2014.

Buffalo's Stefon Diggs (1,225 yards, 10 TDs, Bills) is an interesting study. When he arrived in a 2020 trade, the Bills took on the $72 million contract he signed with the Vikings in 2019 and gave up a first-round pick. The Vikings spent the pick, No. 22 overall, on wideout Justin Jefferson at No. 22 overall. With 3,016 receiving yards through two seasons, Jefferson probably is better than Diggs and definitely is cheaper.

Cupp, Samuel, Chase and Hill all helped their teams reach the conference finals this weekend.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase runs after a catch during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase runs after a catch during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium.

General Manager Andrew Berry needs a reversal from the last time the Browns spent a Round 1 pick on a wideout, 2016. Then, with Berry as Sashi Brown's right-hand man, Cleveland took Corey Coleman at No. 15 overall. He was a big bust in a draft that included Ohio State wideout Michael Thomas, who went at No. 47 overall to the Saints, was an instant star, and in 2019 was NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah says the 2022 draft receiver group is "really deep," but adds, "I don't know that there is a Ja'Marr Chase or a Justin Jefferson."

Alabama's Jameson Williams, Arkansas' Treylon Burks and Ohio State's Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave are among first-round prospects. Six-foot-3 speedster D.J. Chark (Jacksonville) might be an affordable free agent.

2022 NFL Mock Draft: ESPN's Mel Kiper gives Browns Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson

Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson
Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson

The Browns have needs enough to keep Berry awake all winter.

Second-round draft hit Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is likely to be joined by a new starter in the linebacker group. Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean of Georgia figures to help somebody right away.

The defensive end spot opposite Myles Garrett ideally will be filled by Jadeveon Clowney, who will turn 29 on Feb. 14. Pro Football Focus pegs Clowney as the 13th-best available free agent, setting his value at $15 million on a one-year contract.

If Clowney leaves, spending, say, a Round 2 pick on a defensive end is no guarantee of finding a starter. For example, the Bills in 2020 invested a No. 53 pick in Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa. He has started one game in two years and has 2.5 sacks.

Other concerns include:

- Defensive tackle. Malik Jackson was an OK starter but is aging (32) and can be a free agent. Malik McDowell's recent arrest threw a wrench in the works, as he's unlikely to return to the roster. Jordan Elliott, a No. 88 overall draft pick in 2020 who played a lot in '21, is a likely 2022 starter.

- Offensive right tackle. Jack Conklin's future is murky after an injury-marred 2021. James Hudson, a No. 110 overall draft pick in 2021, played every down in four games and was, according to Berry, "really strong" in the finale against Cincinnati.

More Cleveland Browns News: Calling all tackles is Browns' offseason cry with Jack Conklin's injury, Jedrick Wills Jr.'s struggles

- Tight end. Austin Hooper hasn't lived up to his contract. Opinions vary as to whether 25-year-old David Njoku has reached a ceiling. Pro Football Focus is semi-sold, ranking him as the No. 43 free agent, setting his value at $37.5 million across three years.

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) takes the field before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) takes the field before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Meanwhile, there is everything else, and there is the one absolute must, good quarterback play.

Wide receiver is the most pressing need in terms of adding players. Getting Baker Mayfield right is the biggest need, period.

We covered the star wideouts who are in the postseason's final eight. Let's note the quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill.

A banged-up Baker was painful to watch with disturbing regularity. Yet, 2021 included snippets that fit into the case for riding with a healthy Mayfield.

He looked good in an opening-day shootout against Mahomes. He played well in a 41-16 win against Burrow. He was driving at the end in a 24-22 loss to Rogers. He didn't face the other five.

Looking at other QBs he did oppose, he lost twice to Ben Roethlisberger and once to Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, Mac Jones and Lamar Jackson. He beat Davis Mills, Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins, Tim Boyle, and Jackson/Tyler Huntley.

The organization kept throwing him out there, and after the season, Berry explained why:

"Baker was our starting quarterback. He was going to play if he was ready to go. I do not think it is any more complicated than that.”

Isn't it?

Case Keenum should have been playing during some of the stretch when, behind Mayfield, the Browns averaged 11.0 points in losses to the Cardinals, Steelers (twice), Patriots and Ravens.

When asked recently if he was surprised he didn't play more so Mayfield might rest, Keenum said, “Sorry, I am not going to answer that one.”

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) congratulates wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) after Landry scored a 16-yard touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) congratulates wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) after Landry scored a 16-yard touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The aim appears to be bringing Mayfield back strong from left shoulder surgery — physical, mental and emotional healing seems necessary — while assessing who will be the backup.

"I love Baker," guard Wyatt Teller said. "It sucks that he got hurt, but I pray this offseason is good to him."

Hope and pray Mayfield can play. Get him ready. Given the dubious prospects in finding a better option, that looms as the plan.

After the tiresome Odell Beckham Jr. saga, finding a new wideout to help Mayfield ties into the plan.

What about the other needs? Plenty of wishes were addressed last winter and spring, and that didn't work out.

Now Andrew Berry needs to have a career first part of the year. That's complicated.

Reach Steve at steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry celebrates with young fans after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland.
Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry celebrates with young fans after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Wide receiver a big offseason need for Cleveland Browns