13. David Njoku
It's felt like David Njoku has been a top breakout candidate for like five years now, but The Chief is finally starting to put it together in my eyes.
He fell just shy of his career-high in receiving yards last year, but by a lot of metrics it was actually his best season.
He recorded first downs/touchdowns on 36 of his 58 receptions (62%), compared to 27 of 56 (48%) in that 2018 best-yardage season. His 72.5% catch rate in 2022 also blew away his previous career best (67.9%), as did his 61.3% success rate (an advanced metric that considers down-and-distance factors on all targets).
Njoku is becoming a more well-rounded player, too. He's had trouble staying on the field, occasionally being a liability as a blocker and even falling off the map as a receiver sometimes in the past. He'd had a snap rate below 65% for four of his six NFL seasons (including three straight heading into 2022), but he turned that around by making his way onto the field for 84% of the Browns' offensive snaps when active last year.
PFF ranked him No. 6 in receiving grade among all tight ends who were on the field for at least 100 receiving snaps, and he got the best overall grade of his career too.
It's not like he was getting the benefit of the best QB play of his career, either, since he did get the benefit of Baker Mayfield's good years to start his career, and the combination of Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson last year was fine, but nothing to write home about.
Now having had time to build some chemistry with Watson, it would be no surprise to see another career year from Njoku as he rounds into his prime. He'll have plenty of competition for targets in the receiving game, but he's going to be a key piece of the aerial attack.
12. Rodney McLeod
For my money, the Rodney McLeod signing is probably the most underrated move in the entire NFL this offseason. All the focus in Cleveland has seemingly been on Juan Thornhill joining Grant Delpit as the two starting safeties.
And I guess I see why — Thornhill is a good player and he's coming over from the best team in the NFL. Everyone just saw him win a Super Bowl, and he's young and fun.
But Rodney McLeod is a total baller.
PFF gave the dude an overall grade of 80.1 in 2022, including a coverage grade of 85.3. That had him ranked 7th among 88 graded safeties overall, and 2nd among 88 in coverage.He didn’t get any Pro Bowl love, but that has a lot to do with the fact that he was playing for the Indianapolis Colts, who it was kind of easy to forget even existed at all if we’re being honest.
That wasn’t a one-off big year either. Pro-Football-Reference has been tracking coverage stats since 2018, and McLeod has allowed a passer rating below 70.0 in three of those five seasons. For context, even the worst among all 33 qualifying quarterbacks in 2022 (Zach Wilson) had a passer rating over 70.0.
So basically, most years a typical target thrown at Rodney McLeod is going to be less successful than an average Zach Wilson pass attempt. Yeesh.
McLeod also bring a major veteran presence to the room, which gels perfectly with the young talent that Thornhill and Grant Delpit bring to the table.