BEREA - Browns coach Pat Shurmur wasn't certain where to start when he was asked to single out some of the team's most impressive rookies.
Here's a bit of advice: Why not start with receiver Josh Gordon?
From the first day of training camp it was obvious that Gordon possesses something special. So what if he hadn't played in more than a year and wasn't in shape. There was enough raw talent on display to put a smile on the faces of Shurmur and receivers coach Mike Wilson every day.
That talent is now playing out each week in front of our eyes as Gordon has become quarterback Brandon Weeden's go-to receiver. Through 12 games, Gordon has 34 receptions for 646 yards and five touchdowns. He's sixth in the NFL in receptions of 20 yards or more (12) and is third in yards per catch (19.0).
The difference in Gordon from the start of training camp to now is like night and day.
"It definitely is," Gordon said. "From being out of football a full year and then coming to the NFL, it was a huge difference for me. I'm where I'm supposed to be right now as a receiver. I know I have a long way to go. I'm trying to get a lot better coming to the end of this season, and I'm looking forward to next season."
Gordon's story has been well-chronicled. He failed two tests for the use of marijuana while at Baylor, which led to his dismissal from the team after the 2010 season. He transferred to Utah but didn't play in 2011. It was later discovered that he failed another drug test there.
The Browns, in need of an upgrade at receiver, acquired Gordon's services by placing a bid of a 2013 second-round draft choice in a supplemental draft last June. When Gordon arrived at camp in late July he was thankful for the opportunity but was out of shape and out of sync with the game.
It was clear from the start that Shurmur liked what he saw of Gordon. Although there were many bumps along the road, Shurmur never wavered in his belief that Gordon would eventually be worth more than a second-round pick.
"He's big and he's fast and he can catch," Shurmur said. "Those are three things that let's all assume he was born with, but all the rest of it needs to be developed. Then you've always got to determine what's down in here (pointing to his heart) and then what's up in here (pointing to his head) and how that all plays together. There's a lot that goes into it because there's a lot of big, strong, fast guys walking the streets that cannot play receiver in the NFL."
Gordon has deceptive speed and a gliding style of running. He often catches the ball with his hands, which is a rare trait among receivers.
Gordon had a couple of drops early in the season, including what would have been a sure touchdown on a deep pass against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 21. He hasn't had a drop since then.
"Something like that you can't let it linger too long," Gordon said. "You have to make up ground really quick. You can't keep dwelling on the past. I try to move forward and keep gaining more confidence with each game."
Shurmur sees Gordon's game evolving in many areas.
"I think it's all running parallel for him," Shurmur said. "He came here not in shape. He came here not knowing the offense. He came here not knowing our quarterback. He came here not knowing the tempo of this game. All of that's been developed parallel. I guess he came here not knowing what a real grind this is for a player that wants to make an impact. He's making progress."
That's clear to see.