The Cleveland Browns have elevated wide receiver Austin Watkins for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Watkins became a fan favorite in the preseason, leading the Browns in receiving yards during the four exhibition matchups. He was the only Cleveland player with double-digit receptions, notching 16 for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That included a tremendous seven-catch game against the Philadelphia Eagles where he totaled 139 yards. He was cut at the end of the preseason but added back to the practice squad.
The circumstances around Watkins getting the nod to join the active roster aren’t great for the Browns. Marquise Goodwin and David Bell have both been ruled out. Cleveland also traded away Donovan Peoples-Jones at the trade deadline, leaving the Browns with limited options.
Watkins will join Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore and Cedric Tillman in the Browns wide receiver corps. New active roster addition James Proche II will also join the group, although most of his contributions will be on special teams as a return man.
“We got guys that can help us in different areas, guys got to play and we’ll put them in different spots,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said on November 10. “But anytime you’re short any player, it just requires everybody else to do a little bit more.”
Browns Will Rely on Amari Cooper to Carry Receiving Load
With the Browns shorthanded, more focus will be on Cooper, who is coming off his best game of the season. Cooper caught five balls last week with Deshaun Watson returning to the lineup. He totaled 139 yards — a chunk of that coming on two long catches — and one touchdown.
“You know, as we know, Deshaun loves to throw that deep ball. So, it’s obviously very beneficial to us to have a connection there,” Cooper said on Thursday, November 9. “The deep ball obviously flips the field, gives us a great opportunity at not just getting three, but six. So, it’s really important.”
The Browns’ passing game has not been consistent this year, although Watson’s month-plus absence plays into that. Cooper has 35 catches for 617 yards and Moore has notched 32 for 319 yards. However, the other receivers on the roster have combined for just nine catches.
Browns Also Shorthanded on Offensive Line
The Browns will also be shorthanded at offensive tackle for the matchup against the Ravens. It’s especially troubling considering Baltimore leads the league in sacks.
Jack Conklin was ruled out for the season back on September 11 and former first-round pick Jedrick Wills landed on IR this week with a knee injury. Rookie Dawand Jones has been a nice addition but he also is out this week with knee and shoulder injuries.
“We do (have the plan set),” Stefanski said. “We feel good about where we’re going. Worked hard at it and feel like we’ll continue to work through it.”
With their depth ravaged, the team will turn to third-year pro James Hudson III to fill in at one tackle spot. Sixth-year pro Geron Christian could be the other option, as could Leroy Watson, who was signed off the 49ers’ practice squad last week.
The Ravens are a 6-point hoem favorite for the AFC North clash.