The Browns appear to have scooped a legitimate deep-receiving threat off the scrapheap.
No one knows whether former Baltimore Ravens first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman will truly resurrect his football life in Cleveland, but he's at least trending in the right direction after hauling in a career-long, 66-yard pass in Sunday's 26-20 win over the visiting Carolina Panthers.
"We're going to keep finding ways to try to get him the ball and keep him active," offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said Wednesday as the Browns (5-7-1) prepared for Saturday night's road game against the Denver Broncos (6-7).
Perriman, 25, was plagued by injuries and dropped passes en route to busting his way out of Baltimore, where he missed his rookie season with a knee injury before catching 43 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns over the next two seasons. The Ravens cut him before this season, then Washington signed him a couple of weeks later, only to waive him after five days.
But when wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Derrick Willies suffered injuries, the Browns went into emergency mode, called Perriman on a Friday night, worked him out on a Saturday morning and then signed him the same day.
The 26th overall pick in 2015, Perriman said he "lost count" how many auditions he had with NFL teams before signing with the Browns on Oct. 13. Since then, he has played in seven games with one start and compiled 10 catches on 15 targets for 188 yards. He had two receptions on two targets for a game-high 81 yards against the Panthers (6-7).
"He’s a big factor," Higgins said. "He’s one of those guys that can take the top off a defense with his speed, and I’m glad he’s here. People said he dropped the ball a lot in Baltimore, but I don’t see that. I haven’t seen him drop a ball since he’s been here, [not] in practice, either."
Perriman, 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, burned Panthers rookie cornerback Donte Jackson on the offense's first play and caught the 66-yard bomb from rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to give the Browns first-and-goal at the 9 and set up their first touchdown. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the play is the deepest completion of the season by air yards (54.7) and the second-longest by air distance (63.8).
"Anytime that you can start fast, of course, it gives energy first of all to the crowd and to the team," said Kitchens, who revealed he knew last Wednesday or Thursday he would call the deep pass on the first play. "It just gives confidence to the group that, 'Hey, we can do what we said.'
"They knew that we were going to do that the first play of the game. When you tell them that you're going to do it, and you do it and it's successful, then you have built some validity."
The completion also influenced the Panthers' thinking throughout the rest of the game.
"Anytime that you have a guy that can stretch the field like [Perriman did], it presents a whole other ball game," Mayfield said. "One of [tight end] David [Njoku's] deeper catches towards our sideline, Breshad ran the same post and took the safety out of there, so he doesn't make that play.
"It stretches the defense and, obviously, it creates that in the back of their mind. They are thinking, 'We have to cover the deep ball.' That allows the underneath stuff to work and obviously the run game, too."
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Browns in need of a first down to chew clock, they faced second-and-11 at their 2-yard line when Mayfield rolled to his right in the end zone and connected with Perriman for 17 yards.
"It was a designed roll out to get [Mayfield] away from the middle of the field, and Perriman was the second read," Kitchens said. "Breshad did a great job of staying on the move and giving him somewhere to throw the ball because the ball was supposed to go to the flat to [rookie running back] Nick [Chubb], and they took Nick out. Both [Mayfield and Perriman] stayed on the move and made the play."
All of this raises the question whether Perriman has a future with the Browns.
"I hope so," said Perriman, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. "I really haven't been thinking about that at all. Just focusing on racking these wins up, but I definitely hope so. I love the team. I love the chemistry. I love my teammates. It's just a different vibe and energy there, so I'm loving it."
On Thursday, the Browns ruled out rookie cornerback and No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward for Saturday night. He'll miss his second consecutive game with a concussion he suffered Dec. 2 against the Houston Texans.
The Browns also ruled out rookie guard/center Austin Corbett (foot) and listed center JC Tretter (high-ankle sprain), defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (biceps) and cornerback Phillip Gaines (knee) as questionable to play the Broncos. Tretter and Ogunjobi, both of whom are starters, are expected to play.
The Broncos ruled out cornerbacks Chris Harris (fibula) and Isaac Yiadom (shoulder) and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (hip). They listed defensive end Derek Wolfe (concussion) as questionable.
The Browns placed fullback Orson Charles on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain and promoted linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster from the practice squad to the active roster.
Charles played in all 13 Browns games, two of which he started, and compiled three receptions for 23 yards and five tackles on special teams.
The Browns also signed Ashton Lampkin to the practice squad and placed fellow defensive back Robert Jackson (hamstring) on the practice squad/injured list.
Browns interim coach Gregg Williams spent two seasons (2015-16) with Broncos quarterback Case Keenum when they were members of the Rams organization.
So Williams knows exactly what to tell his players about Keenum's style.
"We can’t be surprised that Case will throw it into tight coverage," Williams said. "Sometimes whether maybe it's a relaxation point where you think you have your guy covered and you don't have your head around, that's not right because he'll put the ball in a tight window."
Keenum has completed 61.8 percent of his passes this season for 3,139 yards and 15 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. His rating is 84.3, which is ranked 27th in the NFL.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.