CLEVELAND — With all of the offensive talent assembled on the Cleveland Browns' roster, it would have been hard to imagine Donovan Peoples-Jones being at the center of a season-altering play.
But down 34-31 with 16 seconds remaining against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, that's exactly what happened, with quarterback Baker Mayfield finding the sixth-round rookie for a 24-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winning score in a 37-34 Browns victory.
Following Monday's news that Odell Beckham Jr will miss the remainder of Cleveland's 2020 season with a torn ACL, Peoples-Jones' playing time only figures to increase. With that in mind, here are three things to know about Peoples-Jones, who could play a prominent role for the 5-2 Browns moving forward.
While Cleveland was able to select Peoples-Jones in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it wasn't a lack of raw talent that caused the 21-year-old to slide so far down. In fact, based on his pre-draft SPARQ score, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound wideout was one of the most athletic receivers in the draft, testing as the top player at his position and in the 99th percentile of NFL talent at the Scouting Combine.
Peoples-Jones' pre-draft SPARQ score is backed up by his recruiting ranking, as the Detroit, Michigan, native ranked as a 5-star prospect and the nation's No. 1 receiver in the 2017 class. Earlier this year, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer -- who unsuccessfully recruited Peoples-Jones -- told LettermanRow.com's Jeremy Birmingham that he believed the Detroit Cass Tech product was a top-10 talent.
"I still think that guy should be a top-10 draft pick," Meyer said. "I think he’s that good...Donovan Peoples-Jones in high school football was one of the best receivers I’ve ever seen."
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So, what happened?
While Peoples-Jones arrived in Ann Arbor with lofty expectations, it would be tough to argue he lived up to the hype. In 37 games over the span of three seasons, the No. 12 overall prospect in the 2017 class totaled 103 receptions for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns, with his best season coming when he caught 47 passes for 612 yards and eight scores as a sophomore in 2018.
"I coached against him. He’s one of the best punt returners," Meyer said of Peoples-Jones, who returned two punts for touchdowns in his college career. "I don’t want to get into, 'Did they use him right?' and all that because I don’t know."
As Meyer alluded to, some of Peoples-Jones' production -- or lack thereof -- could be the result of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh's offensive system, as well as the Wolverines' disappointing quarterback play. Whatever the reason, Peoples-Jones still opted to forego his senior season and declare for the 2020 NFL Draft -- a decision that has already paid dividends for the team that picked him.
Barring a trade before next Tuesday's deadline, Peoples-Jones appears to be in line for an increase in playing time -- and not necessarily just in three-wide receiver sets. While Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins profile as possession receivers, Peoples-Jones is capable of providing the type of downfield speed the Browns offense would otherwise lack without Beckham -- as was evidenced on Sunday's game-winning play.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski had high praise for Peoples-Jones, referring to the sixth-round rookie as "Mr. Reliable." And if Stefanski is to be believed, it doesn't sound like the Michigan product's role will do anything but grow in the weeks to come.
“Really proud of how he played," Stefanski said. "He can line up anywhere, a very intelligent player. To see him go make a play with the ball in the air was outstanding. There are going to be opportunities for him moving forward just like that."