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Browns' draft signals end to era of the unimportant receiver

The Cleveland Browns more or less ignored the wide-receiver position in the draft during the Ray Farmer era.

That course has been reversed under Sashi Brown and Andrew Berry.

The Browns took four receivers in the 2016 draft, as many as they selected from 2011-2015 (counting Josh Gordon as a supplementary pick).

If you count Seth DeValve, Cleveland actually took five receivers in this year's draft. DeValve played both tight end and receiver at Princeton, but the Browns list him as a tight end. He joins Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins as the new Browns pass-catchers.

"I wanted to get some bigger targets on our football team, but I'm also very happy with the group we had," coach Hue Jackson said. "I think you can never have too much talent or competition at that position because I think it helps improve your quarterback position. ... You have to have targets for him to throw at, and we have accomplished that in this draft."

Jackson said he wanted guys who could score, and in Coleman he has the nation's leader in receiving touchdowns in 2015. Similarly, Coleman and Higgins led their respective schools (Baylor and Colorado State) in receiving touchdowns.

"You have to score touchdowns and you have to put yourself in position to score touchdowns," Jackson said. "You need to have players that give you the flexibility to do that from a lot of different areas, from a lot of different places, whether it is from air or from land.

"I think we have accomplished that from this draft to go along with the guys we already have here."

The Browns have seven experienced receivers on the roster. Taylor Gabriel, Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins have the most cachet with the team.

Gabriel saw his catches drop from 36 in his rookie season to 28 in his second season, but the biggest drop was the number of times he was targeted: That number went down from 72 to 48. His yards per reception also plummeted -- from 17.3 in 2014 to 8.6 last season.

Hartline, meanwhile, had a strong finish after a slow start to the 2015 season. Some 34 of his 46 receptions came in the final five games he played before his season ended Dec. 13 when he broke his collarbone.

Hawkins' catches went from 63 in 2014 to 27 in 2015, and he ended the '15 season sidelined with his second concussion.

Former quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues to try to latch on at wideout. The Browns cut him after camp last season, re-signed him late in the season and then signed him to a new deal in the offseason. Jackson seems enchanted with Pryor's capabilities, and he looked good in the voluntary veteran minicamp, though that is a long way from the regular season.

Marlon Moore is one of coach Chris Tabor's favorite special-teams players, but with a new staff, that kind of carryover might not mean much. The final two fighting for a roster spot are Rannell Hall and Darius Jennings.

Barring a Vince Mayle-like performance, all the rookies have a good chance of making the team. It's possible three make the roster and one goes to the practice squad.

Coleman is a given by virtue of his status as a first-round pick and his talent.

Of the remaining three, Louis is the highest pick, but he also needs the most work. Payton and Higgins are more polished receivers who put up big numbers in college.

What could the final group look like? 
It depends on whether the Browns keep six or seven receivers; eight is usually too large a group.

Two of the three among Hartline, Hawkins and Gabriel should make the team. Pryor seems to have caught the eye of the new coach, who loves to deploy players in unique spots. He could be an extra "receiver" who is used in creative ways. If three of the rookies make the roster, that makes a group of six. If all four make it, that's seven.

The competition will be tough for Moore, Hall and Jennings, but Jackson has said he will let it play out and see who's best.