A Sign of Life in Brian Hartline

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Braylon Edwards, Greg Little, and seemingly every wide receiver the Cleveland Browns have featured in the past 15 years seemed to have a case of the drops. That narrative no longer holds true as the Browns now boast a wide receiving corps that features the sure-handed Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and now the former Ohio State Buckeye Brian Hartline.

Hartline brings to the table what every great wide receiver corps needs and that’s reliability. Hartline is a terrific route runner that will always be where the playbook says he should be. Hartline rarely runs off routes and he has good hand technique that allows him to get open.

Hartline being in the right place is vastly important for the Browns, as they try incorporate Johnny Manziel into the offense. Manziel is a young quarterback from an “Air Raid” offense, so he hasn’t spent too much time having to read a defense. As Manziel goes through his progressions, he needs to know where his targets will be, and Hartline is a master of getting open. Manziel, or whoever is quarterback is, will be able to count on Hartline to be there. Hartline is the ultimate safety blanket and can be bet on to get a first down on third down.

If I were to make a comparison for Hartline, it would be that he’s the brunette girl who was the class secretary in high school, played soccer, and enjoys listening to the Beatles. Some people want the girl with a tattoo sleeve, neon red hair, and big hooped nose ring. We love the flash that the exotic girl brings to the table, but we know we can’t trust her and she probably won’t pan out. Even for the guys who say they want the exotic girl, deep down we all want Brian Hartline. The exotic girl is Titus Young.

The question on everyone’s mind right now is: Who’s better? Miles Austin or Brian Hartline? Looking just at last year’s stats, the answer would be Miles Austin as he out performed Hartline in every category. However, Hartline is just one year removed from back-to-back 70+ catch and 1,000 yard seasons and Austin was healthy for the first time in what seemed like forever last year. Hartline is younger and has more upside.

Hartline is 6’2 and while he isn’t a deep threat who can go and highpoint a fade, he does have a wider catch radius than any other wide receiver on the entire Browns roster. Hartline can fix some of the mistakes that come with being a young quarterback like Manziel. Hartline is strong when making a catch, and has really good body control. All these traits keep reinforcing the belief that Hartline is the perfect safety valve for whomever the Browns decide to start at quarterback.

The Hartline signing also alters the Browns draft policy. Ray Farmer is a firm believer of taking the best player available, and fixing the wide receiver position in free agency is something that Farmer seems happy to do. Remember, Farmer signed Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson, and Miles Austin last year to shore up the receiver position. Hawkins had his best season as a pro, Nate Burleson suffered a broken arm and never made an impact, and Austin had his best year since his prime days in Dallas.

Farmer also knew going into the draft that he would be without Pro-Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon. Farmer didn’t blink an eye and took the best player available at every pick. It’s likely that this is how the 2015 draft will play out as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Farmer has said multiple times that he thinks wide receivers aren’t vital to team success. This holds merit if you look at the four teams that made the conference championship games. Jordy Nelson was the best receiver out of the four teams, and it’s plausible to say he is barely a top 10 wide receiver.

With all this in mind, only one thing is certain: the Browns are full of pass catchers who run good routes and fight for the ball. The Browns seem to be trying to do whatever they can to make the offense easy for a young quarterback.

The true question Browns fans should be asking themselves is: Will Brian Hartline be Andrew Hawkins or DeVone Bess?

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