BEREA — Josh Gordon exceeded his goals and gained a ton of confidence this season. It’s obvious in his expectations for 2014.
“Hands down just be outright the best wide receiver in the NFL,” he said Thursday.
Those are strong words for a 22-year-old finishing his second season. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is widely considered the best wideout in the league. Others in the discussion are Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, Dallas’ Dez Bryant, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas.
No one’s had a better year than Gordon.
He leads the league with a franchise-record 1,564 receiving yards and a 19.6 average per catch entering the final week. Gordon is nearly a lock to become the first Browns player to win the NFL receiving title.
He has a 72-yard lead over Johnson, who isn’t expected to play in the finale as he battles injuries. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is third with 1,412, 152 yards behind Gordon. The Browns and Steelers face off Sunday in Pittsburgh. Green is fourth with 1,365.
The only Cleveland player to lead the league in receiving yards was Jim Benton of the Cleveland Rams in 1945.
“At this point, I definitely want to make that a goal and finish on the top this season if I can,” Gordon said.
Quite a jump from his preseason goal of 1,000 yards.
“I think I did pretty well, considering the circumstances and what I wanted to get done,” he said. “I think I met every expectation I could have had, maybe a few more plays here or there.”
The honors began to stream in for Gordon on Thursday when he was a unanimous selection as Cleveland’s Player of the Year by the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America. Kicker Phil Dawson was the 2012 winner.
“When they told me I was definitely honored to have somebody or a group of individuals decide that,” Gordon said. “I’m definitely grateful to have that.”
He tops the league with 120.3 receiving yards per game and is fourth with 1,652 yards from scrimmage. He has 80 catches and nine touchdowns. All done in only 13 games after opening the year on a two-game suspension.
The next accolade for Gordon figures to be his first Pro Bowl selection. The picks will be announced tonight at 9 on NFL Network, but he said he’s not nervous.
“When it happens it happens and we’ll be grateful for it and I’ll be excited,” he said.
Does he think he’ll make it?
“I hope so. I definitely hope so,” he said. “If not, fine. If I’m in it, that’s wonderful, too.”
Gordon leads the Browns with 80 catches – from three quarterbacks — and needs 10 to pass the franchise mark of 89 shared by Kellen Winslow (2006) and Ozzie Newsome (1983, ’84). His seven 100-yard games are a club record and share the lead league. He’s the only player in NFL history to top 200 receiving yards in consecutive games, and his 649 yards in three games and 774 in four games are NFL records.
But Gordon is admittedly not a finished product. His record streak ended with three catches for 67 yards against the Bears, and he dropped two passes last week against the Jets, including a fade in the corner of the end zone that cost the team seven points in the 24-13 loss.
“I want to do the best that I can do and I never want to let anyone down and miss a play,” he said. “I always want to make a play and be a guy that can be relied on. It seems as though I’ve missed a few plays the past few games and it seemed out of character for me.”
Even the best receivers drop passes, and no one gains 100 yards every week. But greater consistency is the next step in Gordon’s rapid maturation process.
“He’s still a receiver that’s learning on the go,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “He’s had some outstanding games this year, there’s still some things he can continue to keep working on, continue to keep improving and really sky’s the limit for a guy like him.
“How good can he really be? Just talking to him, that’s the challenge I would have for him to himself, how great you want to be. Because he has all the ability and week in, week out he’s putting up numbers. We talked about last week’s game, I said, ‘Every player has those games, you just can’t get stuck on it. Bounce back this week and go out and perform in practice and move on and just challenge yourself to be that elite receiver that you want to be.’”
Gordon acknowledged he tried to do too much against the Jets, particularly on the dropped slant where he took off before he had it secured. That’s part of the fundamentals the coaching staff continues to stress.
“You can never have too much consistency,” he said. “I don’t think I have enough of it. I’m glad where I’m at right now, but I think I could always do a lot better.”
With the Browns on a six-game losing streak, the finish to the season Sunday can’t come soon enough for many fans. Gordon feels differently.
It was during last offseason that he violated the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He said he tested positive for codeine that was in a prescribed cough medicine.
“We’re not ready for this to be over. When it’s the offseason you’re bored and you have nothing to do,” he said. “You need to have structure in your life, so I know me, I can’t wait to get it going again.”
He has a lofty goal he wants to reach.