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Free-agent signee Andrew Hawkins much more than slot receiver for Browns

BEREA, Ohio -- When the Browns signed former Bengals receiver Andrew Hawkins in March, the plan seemed clear-cut: Let Hawkins man the slot as a No. 3 option behind Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.

In many ways, Hawkins has been the Browns’ No. 1 option, which makes his reported four-year, $13.6-million contract ($4 million guaranteed) a serious bargain.

General manager Ray Farmer looks smart with the signing of Hawkins, who wasn’t even on NFL.com’s list of free-agent wideouts that included 30 names.

Yet with 470 yards on 36 catches, he’s outperformed every player on that list save Detroit’s Golden Tate, Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders and New England's Julian Edelman. He’s on pace for a 1,000-yard season. His numbers could dip with Gordon’s return but he’s a clear No. 2 option -- better than his third or fourth status with Cincinnati.

“I think he’s proven to all of us he can be a close to every-down type of guy,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said.

After a zero-catch performance against Pittsburgh, Hawkins responded with a combined 12 catches and 200 yards against Jacksonville and Oakland. These numbers came when the Browns needed them most. The Browns have recorded one run play longer than 11 yards during this two-week stretch, while no other Browns receiver has more than five catches. Hawkins' size can be an issue but he's a steady route-runner, doesn't drop many passes and is good after the catch.

Had an ankle injury not limited Hawkins to 12 catches last season, perhaps he’d have a bigger contract, but he’s still making a reported $10.8 million over the first two years of his deal.

“Ray Farmer saw his skill set," said Craig Schaeffer, Hawkins' agent.