- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
The Cleveland Browns focused on improving their defense on the first day of free agency. By Day 3, the Browns received their first big addition to the NFL's 18th-ranked offense, although it will likely be their smallest as well.
Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, all 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds of explosive speed, will likely join the Browns because the Cincinnati Bengals are not expected to match the offer sheet on the restricted free agent.
Not only does Hawkins replace Davone Bess, he brings an entirely different skill set to the slot receiver position. Bess was a possession receiver. Hawkins is a sparkplug. Bess averaged 8.6 yards per catch last season. Hawkins averaged 9.5 yards after the catch.
In three seasons with the Bengals, Hawkins proved he was a big play waiting to happen. He could take a pass on a screen or a shallow crossing pattern and turn it into a 20-yard play. Hawkins' size makes him elusive. His speed makes him dangerous.
In 2012, 57.2 percent of his yards gained came after the catch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only four receivers in the league that year had more yards after the catch while playing in the slot.
Why would the Bengals let him go? The Bengals have so much depth at wide receiver that Hawkins' opportunities were going to be limited. This is why it's a good move for Hawkins as well as the Browns.
Joining the Browns means Hawkins has come full circle in his career. A three-year starter at the University of Toledo, Hawkins wasn't drafted but he received a tryout for the Browns rookie minicamp. He did well enough that he was told he would be signed. But the Browns later told him they were going in a different direction.
Hawkins' journey took him to the CFL's Montreal Alouettes for two seasons before he got another shot at the NFL in 2011. But he was cut by the St. Louis Rams at the start of training camp. The Bengals picked him up, and Hawkins went on to catch 86 passes for 995 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons.
He'll be a good fit to a Browns passing game that already has talent with two Pro Bowl targets in wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. But Hawkins represents just a small piece of the Browns' puzzle, which still has major question marks at quarterback and running back.