Can the Bengals Help Greg Little Find Redemption?


Sep 15, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little (18) makes a catch as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (22) defends during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

When the Bengals signed wide receiver Greg Little this past Tuesday it elicited either a confused or joke-filled response from many fans–several of who joked, “did he drop the pen when signing?”  Little’s football career has been a disappointment dating back to his senior season at North Carolina.  Yet, fate may have landed Greg Little in the best place for him going forward: Cincinnati.

The Bengals have a long history of trying to help troubled players find redemption.  This dates back to the ugly days when Bengals players were getting into trouble at an alarming rate.  But owner Mike Brown always took pride in trying to help these players even referring to himself as a “redeemer” during the times when the late Chris Henry was finding himself in trouble more often than not.

“I guess the world is divided up between redeemers and non-redeemers.  I happen to be a redeemer. I think people can be made better and right. If that’s a fault, so be it.”          – Mike Brown

It’s an admirable quality of Brown’s, but one he couldn’t seem to execute properly.

Although Brown has since admitted to relinquishing team control to his daughter, Katie Blackburn, and head coach Marvin Lewis, this “redeemer” trait hasn’t completely left the team.  The goal of changing the team’s culture has been a success, which has resulted in the Bengals’ current admirable group of players and, more importantly, its standing as a model organization.  It’s allowed the team to actually find success when helping players revive their potentially lost careers, which has been a big part of this team’s progression in recent years.

The redemption stories vary in content, but where would this team be without the contribution of the once very troubled Adam “Pacman” Jones.  Where would they be without Terence Newman who was cast off by the Cowboys after struggling in 2011.  How about imagining this team without Reggie Nelson who was acquired from the Jaguars in 2010; Nelson was traded away after struggling within the Jaguars’ system.

Most notably, what would this team be without Vontaze Burfict, who was acquired as an undrafted free agent following a troubled college career that cost him his first-round grade.  Even Brandon Tate, who struggled to make it as a receiver in New England, has shown signs of life at the position this year thanks to Hue Jackson’s magic.  So, is Greg Little to be the team’s latest success story?

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Greg Little’s career troubles began prior to his senior season at North Carolina when he was suspended for his final year after accepting benefits including plane tickets and jewelry.  It was an unfortunate end for a talented college player who displayed success as both a running back in his freshman and sophomore years, and as a receiver in his junior year.  Despite his troubles, Little was talented enough to be drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.

His physical makeup and versatility as a runner and receiver mirror that of fellow Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.  At 6’3″, 220 pounds, Little is an intimidating receiver.  He possesses great leaping ability, strength, and explosiveness evidenced by his combine workout.  His evaluation also says he lacks “deep speed,” yet how’s that evaluation working for Sanu who had a similar critique?  But Little’s physical talents aren’t a question.  Rather, it’s his discipline.

His drops have been well noted and are the largest concern in his game.  Yet, Little made substantial improvement across his first three years in this area, which seems to have gone largely unnoticed.  Here’s a look at Greg Little’s first three seasons.

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A few thoughts here.  During his rookie campaign, Little was asked to be the team’s number one target with little help around him, which can be a tall task for many rookie receivers.  During his second season, Little’s decrease in production can be related to the presence of Josh Gordon who joined the Browns in 2012.  It should be noted that Gordon and Little had very similar target, drop, and reception numbers for the year.  And in 2013 Little’s production further took a hit as Jordan Cameron emerged within this offense.  Having arguably the league’s best receiver across from you while having one of the league’s premier tight ends alongside of you will bring down most receiver’s production.  While there’s no doubt that Little’s lack of discipline and focus allowed him to be passed on the depth chart and his production to drop, there were some extenuating circumstances here that would justify a decrease in Little’s production and shouldn’t be solely related to dropped passes, though it’s deniable this played some part.

Greg Little is a physically gifted and talented football player.  He can make plays in several aspects of the game, especially if a coach can instill discipline in him while also playing to his strengths.  And what better offensive coordinator is there for such a task than Hue Jackson?  The Bengals have a long history with helping struggling players find themselves and their careers.  Greg Little’s redemption could be the Bengals next success story.