Browns WR [608x342]
Browns WR [608x342] (Credit: Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

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BEREA, Ohio -- While much of the focus was on who Cleveland Browns' quarterback Deshaun Watson wasn't throwing to during mandatory minicamp, coach Kevin Stefanski was happy to highlight a young pass-catcher who was in attendance and thriving: Cedric Tillman.

"I don't believe Ced missed a day of the offseason program," Stefanski said. "He was here every single day. I know he got better because of that. And I think he got better in the weight room, got better in the meeting room, definitely got better on the grass."

The Browns went through much of the offseason workout program without their top two projected wide receivers. Amari Cooper was away from the facility amid an apparent contract dispute and Jerry Jeudy didn't participate in minicamp because of a minor injury. But coaches have been impressed with the team's depth at the position, which could make it a position of strength in 2024.

"I just feel like it's going to be a lot more explosive," wide receiver Elijah Moore said.

Cleveland has made multiple moves over the past few years to add talent at wideout. Before the 2022 season, the team traded a fifth-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys and swapped sixth-rounders for Cooper. Last offseason, the team traded a second-round pick to the New York Jets for Moore and a third-rounder. And in March, the Browns sent fifth- and sixth-round picks to the Denver Broncos for Jerry Jeudy; Cleveland later signed Jeudy to a three-year extension.

Even with limited draft capital because of the Watson trade, the Browns have used early picks on wide receivers, selecting Tillman in the third round of the 2023 draft and David Bell in the third round of the 2022 draft.

With a revamped

offense installing drop-back concepts from new coordinator Ken Dorsey, the Browns are expected to introduce more spread looks, which would mean more opportunities for their wide receivers. The Cooper-Jeudy tandem wasn't on the practice field in the spring, but the team was pleased with the progress of its unheralded pass-catchers.

Stefanski and wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea praised the growth of Tillman, who caught 21 passes as a rookie. Sixth-round pick Jamari Thrash frequently got open in team drills and O'Shea said Thrash has picked up the playbook quickly after lining up at one spot at Louisville.

Moore, who caught a career-high 59 passes in 2023, said he's more comfortable in Year 2 with the Browns, and the team plans to keep on leaning into his versatility.

The Browns place a premium on separation, a skill that was appealing to them when they made the trade for Jeudy. While Jeudy, a 2020 first-round pick, hasn't eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season, he finished top-12 in ESPN's open score metric in 2021 and 2022. The open score metric assesses the likelihood a receiver would be able to complete a catch if he were targeted. Moore finished 37th among 153 qualifying wide receivers and tight ends in 2023.

Creating separation will be necessary in an offense that will feature more choice routes, a concept in which receivers can break in multiple directions depending on the leverage of defenders.

Timing is key for the choice routes to be successful, however. While Watson didn't get a ton of reps with Cooper and Jeudy, he believes they have enough time to get on the same page in training camp.

"It takes reps, it takes them talking about it, it takes watching film," Dorsey said. "There's so many different aspects of not only those routes, but a lot of different routes within the system. ... There's a lot of communication there. When we had Cole [Beasley] in Buffalo, there was an adjustment period there, and getting on the same page like that first year was like, 'Oh, is this going to work?' Because it just takes time for quarterback and receiver to get on the same page on some of those field routes."

Cooper's situation still lingers over the team, however, with a month until players report back to begin preparations for the 2024 season. He's entering the final year of his contract while many of his peers, including Jeudy, have received new deals. Cooper, who turned 30 on Monday, recorded a career-high 1,250 yards in 2023 and remains the team's undisputed WR1. Watson called him "the best in the game" during minicamp.

General manager Andrew Berry, speaking during an appearance on NFL Network's "The Insiders" on Monday, declined to comment specifically on Cooper's contract status but affirmed him as an integral part of the team's plans.

"Sometimes all teams will have periods where they go through these types of situations," Berry said. "But it doesn't change our affinity for Amari. We'll navigate, call it, the business considerations and the business aspects as it goes. But he is a big part of our team. And just as importantly, he's a big part of our culture."