Is Browns Tight End Jordan Cameron Set to Break Out This Year?

| 4 years ago

Is Browns Tight End Jordan Cameron Set to Break Out This Year?

The Cleveland Browns made significant improvements to their coaching staff since the 2012 season wrapped, with the emphasis on being more aggressive on both offense and defense.

Offensively, that meant the addition of coordinator Norv Turner and head coach Rob Chudzinski. Chudzinski spent time with the Browns as their tight ends coach before joining Turner’s San Diego Chargers, again as a tight ends coach as well as Turner’s assistant. He was then the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator before his return to Cleveland.

Though Turner is known for his prowess in finding excellent running back talent, the true hallmark of his time in San Diego with Chudzinski is the success of tight end Antonio Gates. In Gates’ time with the Chargers, he’s had over 900 receiving yards five times and scored double-digit touchdowns in three seasons. He is the original model of the receiver-style tight end that is so en vogue in the NFL presently—an athletic, deep threat who adds a level of unpredictability to passing games.

The Browns also have an athletic, deep threat receiving tight end—third-year player Jordan Cameron, whom they selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. A former basketball player, Cameron needed time to learn the speed and intricacies of the NFL and as such, he spent his first two years behind Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore on the depth chart. Now that Watson and Moore are gone, it appears that Cameron is being primed to be another receiving weapon for quarterback Brandon Weeden on a full-time basis.

So can Cameron replicate Gates’ success in San Diego now that he’s being coached by the two men who helped develop Gates? If so, that would make Cameron a major fantasy football asset in 2013. However, there are a number of factors that need to be considered before we can feel comfortable using a draft pick on Cameron, let alone penciling him in as a starter.

First is his quarterback. Weeden struggled in his rookie year, albeit in a Browns system developed by then-head coach Pat Shurmur that relied on West Coast concepts that ran counter to Weeden’s shotgun-heavy college career. While the hope is that Turner’s and Chudzinski’s downfield-heavy system will help maximize Weeden’s strengths, like his arm and his accuracy, if he fails to make basic fundamental improvements in 2013—his footwork and timing chief among them—then there won’t be much fantasy value for any of Cleveland’s receivers, including Cameron.

Assuming that Weeden does make a second-year leap—again, there is much to be said for a quarterback getting the right coaching staff—then Cameron is on a solid path to not just be a major contributor to his real-life offense but also to your fantasy football bottom line. Already, Cameron has been catching deep passes in May’s OTAs and according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Mary Kay Cabot, it appears the Browns are poised to throw Cameron’s way “a lot” this year.

Cameron doesn’t have a lot of experience to his name just yet, however, which further calls into question whether or not he’s worth being your starting fantasy tight end. Though he did have six starts in 2012, he played only 338 snaps. That’s a significant increase from the mere 60 snaps he played in his rookie season. He also had fairly reliable hands in 2012, catching 20 of this 31 passes thrown his way and dropping only two passes, both coming in Week 4, and his 11.3 yards per reception and 5.1 yards after the catch per reception were also impressive considering how relatively little he played. This, combined with how he’s looked in practices thus far makes it seem a little less risky to consider Cameron in your fantasy draft despite a low sample size on which to judge him.

With Cameron having under 400 career offensive snaps, one of the better ways to try to project his production in the Turner-Chudzinski offense is to look at Gates. Gates had 76 total targets in 2012, including 10 of 20 yards or more. That’s up from a mere six in 2011 but down from the 13 he had in 2009. Though Philip Rivers and Weeden are two different quarterbacks—Rivers’ floating style of deep ball is in stark contrast to Weeden’s bombs—and have two different qualities of offensive lines (hint: Weeden’s is much better), looking at how often Gates saw passes of 20 or more yards in recent years should temper your expectations that Cameron will be getting a dozen or more deep targets in 2013.

Though Cameron might not be getting a ton of 20-plus yard passes thrown to him this year, it shouldn’t scare him off of your fantasy roster—after all, Gates has long been a sought-after fantasy tight end though he too didn’t get an overwhelming number of deep targets in the Turner-Chudzinski years. There are other positive comparisons between the two that seem to indicate that Cameron could be the Browns’ Gates analog. Gates’ 11 yards per reception average in 2012 was close to Cameron’s 11.3; it was 12.2 in 2011, when the Chargers’ offensive line issues weren’t so pronounced and an impressive 15.6 in 2010. Also helping the Cameron-Gates comparison is the fact that both tight ends caught 64.5 percent of the passes thrown to them last year.

Cameron’s sweet spot in Cleveland this year will likely be the same as Gates’ in San Diego—passes thrown between 10 and 19 yards on the inside, outside and middle of the field and mid-field targets coming between zero and nine yards deep. That’s where Gates does most of his damage and, conveniently, where Cameron also saw the majority of his targets last year. As long as Cameron remains as productive as he did in 2012 with increased targets, there’s no reason to doubt that he can have Gates-level production.

The only concerns are Weeden’s development—and touchdowns. Cameron had only one touchdown in 2012, while Gates had seven. Granted, the Browns’ overall passing touchdown production was pitiful—they averaged just one per game in 2012. If Turner’s and Chudzinski’s offense truly is more effective and aggressive than Shurmur’s that preceded it, the Browns should be scoring more passing touchdowns this year, which also implies more touchdowns for Cameron.

Assuming that Weeden flourishes with his new offense, then Cameron should have an excellent 2013. However, making that assumption is risky. On the one hand, the fit between Weeden and the new coaching staff is about as perfect as the Browns could hope for; on the other, Weeden struggled so much in his rookie year that even Browns fans aren’t sold on him repeating as their starter in his second season. It’s clear to see the gamble here, considering a receiver (or receiving tight end) is only as good as the quarterback throwing to him—ask Larry Fitzgerald.

As such, it’s hard to recommend Cameron as a No. 1 tight end on your fantasy roster, but that also doesn’t mean he deserves to be entirely off your radar. As a No. 2 tight end with a great deal of upside—all signs point to Cameron being molded into Gates’ image, and it suits him—he’s worth a draft pick. Depending on how well Weeden manages his second season, Cameron could be a sneaky starter as the season gets underway, and could even be an every-week flex starter by Week 2. As long as the rest of your roster is comprised of other, lower-risk players, there’s no reason to write Cameron off this year.

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