Forget Hopkins, Elijah Moore could be difference-maker for Browns

The Browns traded for Moore last season after he requested a trade from the Jets. AP Photo/Sue Ogrock

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns fans have been on DeAndre Hopkins watch ever since the Arizona Cardinals released Deshaun Watson’s former All-Pro teammate last month.

Yet over the last few weeks, those in Berea have reveled in watching another receiver who is already on the Browns roster.

Newcomer Elijah Moore, whom the Browns acquired in a trade with the New York Jets before the draft, was easily one of Cleveland’s most impressive performers in OTAs and minicamp.

It didn’t take long for Moore to develop a chemistry with Watson in 7-on-7 drills. And throughout the offseason, Moore flashed the downfield speed out of the slot the Browns desperately needed to equip Watson this upcoming season.

Before the Moore trade, the Browns boasted plenty of offensive firepower. Nick Chubb remains one of the top running backs in the league. Tight end David Njoku is coming off a career season. The wideout duo Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones combined for 139 receptions last year.

Moore, however, could prove to be a difference-maker for the Browns, this season and beyond.

“Exceptional ball skills and very strong hands,” Cleveland wide receiver coach Chad O’Shea said of Moore. “And he can get behind the defense and track the deep ball very well.”

Moore, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2021, had an underwhelming season in New York last year, which culminated with him asking for a trade. At one point, he went through a four-game stretch with only one reception. In fact, Moore was targeted on just 13% of his routes, the lowest rate in the league among 62 players with at least 400 routes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. As the Jets shuffled through multiple quarterbacks, Moore struggled to maintain a consistent role in New York’s offense.

The Browns, however, believed Moore, 23, is much closer to the player that caught 43 passes for 538 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie two years ago. That’s why they sent a second-round pick to the Jets in exchange for Moore -- as well as a third rounder, which Cleveland ultimately used on Tennessee outside receiver Cedric Tillman.

“It feels good to be wanted,” Moore said of being in Cleveland, “and it’s going to make any player go harder.”

That could give the Browns passing attack exactly what it was lacking. Last season, Cleveland’s receivers ranked next-to-last in the league in average separation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. In large part as a result, Browns receivers also finished 30th in yards after the catch, a drag on Cleveland’s ability to convert chunk plays.

Conversely, Moore ranked 19th among receivers his rookie season with an average separation of 3.41 yards per target. Even through all his struggles last season, he still ranked 32nd in separation (3.09 yards); Peoples-Jones and Cooper, meanwhile, both ranked outside the top 70.

“(Moore) fits in really well with our quarterback,” O’Shea said.

That’s partly why the Browns have surprisingly lined Moore up in a variety of different spots this offseason, including in the backfield. Getting him on the field as much as possible could be paramount.

“You got to put things in the laboratory, see what they look like,” coach Kevin Stefanski said, when asked about Moore’s potential versatility. “We got to find out what he does best.”

Across the league, the Hopkins watch goes on. But the Browns already are feeling good about their revamped receiving corps. Moore’s arrival is the biggest reason why.

“I’m super excited,” he said. “Just grateful to be here.”