The Cleveland Browns have left plenty to be desired thus far through their 2022 campaign. This, however, does not take away from the good things that still show up on tape and the field; those bright spots deserve to be highlighted. One of those bright spots this season for the Browns continues to be third-year wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Coming into the season I was relatively coy about the type of player Peoples-Jones could develop into. And while he still has his obvious limitations as a stiff route runner and ability to separate, Peoples-Jones has made it work on the field regardless.
Taking another added leap, Peoples-Jones has continued to answer the bell when the Browns have called his number. And often in crucial situations on fourth downs or when they are pushed back behind the sticks.
Here we take a look at the tape he has put out thus far in 2022, as well as a statistical and analytical look at the season he is having for the Browns.
Upon Further Review: Browns all-22 observations in loss to Ravens
An analytical look at Donovan Peoples-Jones
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
First looking at the box score of Peoples-Jones, the former sixth round pick has racked up 336 yards on 26 catches this season. This puts him on pace for 816 yards on 63 catches for the season. After 304 yards as a rookie, then 597 as a second-year player in 2021, Peoples-Jones’ numbers continue to show linear growth for a player who has yet to turn 24 years old.
Analytics and data tend to be a bit lower on Peoples-Jones, but he is grading out in the green regardless. On the season, Peoples-Jones is sitting with a PFF grade of 64.6, specifically a grade of 66 in the passing game. This has been pretty par for the course over his career, however, as he has graded out at 65.7 and 67.7 over his first two seasons as well.
Data also captures almost perfectly what has shown up on tape for Peoples-Jones as well: he cannot seem to get open and separate, but it has not mattered anyway as he has caught almost everything within his reach. He has been credited with just one drop according to PFF, and ESPN’s data paints an even clearer picture.
Receiver Tracking Metrics plot!
Open Score (x) by Catch Score (y), with YAC Score as color.
Lots in here:
-Tyler Lockett is elite (until he catches the ball.)
-Rough numbers for D.J. Moore
-Zay Jones and Garrett Wilson: Open! pic.twitter.com/4OiI7TcUJj
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 19, 2022
Despite giving next to nothing after the catch (darkness of color in the graph) and creating no separation, Peoples-Jones has become a ball magnet with a high catch score. This is where we look on tape first.
Donovan Peoples-Jones is a tight window ball magnet
The catch score that shows up on ESPN’s Receiving Tracking Metrics adds up on tape.
It does not seem to matter if a defender is in his hip or not, Donovan Peoples-Jones possesses good length to catch the ball at extension, and elite hand strength to hold on through contact. Peoples-Jones has been an excellent and dependable target for backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett and tends to come down with the football whenever the Browns need one in a big situation.
There are arguments about how dependable contested catches are and how much they should be counted on. And while contested and tight window catches are a volatile metric to rely upon offensively, Peoples-Jones continues to make it work.
Browns are finding backside digs and the middle of the field thanks to DPJ
A year ago, the Browns struggled big time to locate receivers over the middle of the field. This specifically applies to the quarterback’s ability to move his eyes off of his primary target and find the backside dig. While Brissett has not been perfect or blameless in his ability to get through progressions, the Browns are finding much more success over the middle of the field regardless.
A common target on those backside digs and middle-of-the-field looks? Donovan Peoples-Jones. Of his 26 catches this season, half of them have come over the middle of the field. On looks over the middle of the field, Peoples-Jones has reeled in 13-of-16 targets from Brissett.
When Brissett has been forced to get his eyes backside (and gotten his eyes backside), Peoples-Jones has been his man. This has opened up a whole new dimension for the passing offense that was missing a year ago. This added with the hi-lo concepts that head coach Kevin Stefanski has been dialing up, Peoples-Jones has also seen a great deal of schemed-open looks between the hashes.
Look for this to continue as Brissett has found comfort in locating number 11 when in need.
DPJ bringing adding to Cleveland's vertical attack
The yards per reception numbers have dropped for Peoples-Jones this season, but that largely has to do with the success Amari Cooper has had down the field. So while being predominantly a vertical threat was a calling card for Peoples-Jones in the past, he has diversified the levels of the field he has been able to exploit this season.
That vertical element is still evident, however, even if it is on a smaller sample size in 2022. Peoples-Jones has only seen two targets of over 30 yards in depth through seven games and only has three catches that would qualify as a deep shot.
However, in each of the deep shots Peoples-Jones has come down with, he has displayed an exemplary track to keep cornerbacks in trail technique. He shows the savvy to adjust his track to run underneath the football rather than attempting to contort his frame and high-point the football. This has given him the ability to hide his hands from defensive backs and flash them late.
So while the sample size might be smaller, Peoples-Jones is still adding an element of verticality to the passing attack of Cleveland when asked to.
Final thoughts on Donovan Peoples-Jones and his future
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Cleveland won 49-38. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
All-in-all, Donovan Peoples-Jones continues to ascend on a linear progression through the first three years of his career. He is diversifying the level of fields he can win at and has developed a dependable chemistry with Brissett through seven games.
On pace to fall just short of 1,000 yards receiving this season, Peoples-Jones has proven to be a fit in this offensive system opposite Amari Cooper.
Entering the season I did not think he could be a second wide receiver in an offense and thought of him as more of a third target. This is still the case as teams can never have too many offensive weapons. However, should Peoples-Jones continue to win the way he is, and if rookie David Bell’s snap count stabilizes this high, the Browns could opt for a shifty, speedy receiver who can attack vertically as well as act as an extension of the run game laterally, then they may have their bases covered beyond 2022.
Peoples-Jones’ development and performance on the field this season have now put him firmly in the crosshairs to be the next Browns player to be extended after Charley Hughlett just got a new deal. With just one year left on his deal after this season, the Browns like to get out in front of those types of deals.
At just under 24 years old, Peoples-Jones continues to establish himself as a contributing player in this offense and on this field. And I was wrong about him.