The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Cleveland Browns, that player is wide receiver Greg Little.
Coming out of North Carolina last season, Greg Little was seen as an incredibly talented and athletic, but incredibly raw receiver. He had all the physical tools, but he missed the entirety of his final season at North Carolina with a suspension and his career highs at North Carolina were 62 catches for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns and his career stats in college were 86 catches for 969 yards and 6 touchdowns. However, the Browns took a chance on Little in the 2nd round in 2011 anyway, because of his immense upside.
Even though Little was the type of receiver who needed a year or two to develop, he was forced to be the #1 receiver right away, out of sheer necessity, because of how bad the Browns’ receiving corps was. He was actually tied for 17th in the NFL with 113 targets, but had fewer catches, yards, and touchdowns than every single other player in the top-17 in targets, managing just 61 catches for 706 yards and 2 touchdowns. He ranked 77th in the league in QB rating when thrown to as quarterbacks completed just 54.0% of their passes to him for 6.2 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.
Some of that was the inept play of the Browns’ quarterbacks, as Browns’ quarterbacks combined to complete just 56.1% of their passes for 5.8 YPA and 14 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. However, some of that was just Little being incredibly raw. Little dropped 14 passes, tied for 2nd in the NFL. No other receiver in the league had less than 121 targets and more than 9 drops. His drop rate, predictably, was worst in the NFL. Meanwhile, his 4.1 YAC per catch ranked in the bottom half of the league, 69th out of 115. For these, and other reasons, he graded out as ProFootballFocus’ worst pass catching wide receiver.
However, as Little heads in his 2nd season, he will be much more experienced and much less raw. The offseason reviews of him have been very favorable. ESPN Cleveland said he “dedicated the offseason to reshaping his body in an effort to add quickness,” as evidenced by the 11 pounds he lost, while Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot came away saying that he was capable of “maybe even a Pro Bowl-type of year” this year, after seeing him throughout the offseason.
The other problem for him last season, the quarterback, has been, if not fixed, then definitely upgraded as the Browns’ used the 22nd overall selection on Brandon Weeden. He still has no competition for balls as all the Browns did to upgrade the wide receiver position this offseason was using a 4th round pick on Travis Benjamin and a 2nd round pick in the supplemental draft on Josh Gordon, two very raw receivers. If Weeden can be even a league average starter, Little could have his 1st 1000 yard season in 2012.
If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2