BEREA, Ohio — Last season, fans became enthralled when then-rookie wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones started making plays. Now, early into Cleveland Browns training camp, he's turning heads and drawing eyes again.
Making his presence known on offense, snagging difficult catches and getting himself open in different field situations, Peoples-Jones is owning his role as a potential WR3 in the upcoming season. He's also pulling his weight on the special teams unit as a key man in the rotation at returner and in other team drills.
His ability to be impactful on multiple sides of the ball is something he prides himself on—and something that can set him apart in a very tough, highly talented position battle in the receiver room.
“I feel like if you stay ready, you do not have to get ready," Peoples-Jones said. "[I] just continue to be myself.”
When Odell Beckham Jr. went down last season with a torn ACL, the other receivers, including Peoples-Jones, had to step up and fill the void. The rookie out of Michigan did just that.
Catching 14 of his 20 targets last season for 304 yards and two touchdowns, and averaging 15.5 yards per reception in the playoffs, Peoples-Jones quickly showed a connection with quarterback Baker Mayfield.
That connection, Peoples-Jones believes, will only be stronger in his second year, especially being able to work so closely with Mayfield compared to last season, which saw training camp complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The more we're around each other, the more you're around anybody, I feel like you build chemistry and get to know them a little bit better, so [we'll] continue to move forward," Peoples-Jones said.
He's been spending plenty of time with Mayfield. He said he "100%" knows the quarterback better than ever, both as a person and a player. That's something Peoples-Jones believes is very important as they prepare for the regular season.
“It builds a lot of chemistry. You get to see guys, hang around guys and talk to guys, even in the locker room. I feel like it builds great camaraderie and chemistry,” Peoples-Jones said.
But getting to know his teammates isn't the end of the line for Peoples-Jones. He's also focused on learning from his teammates, and star receivers Jarvis Landry and Beckham, who have already begun teaching him one of the most important lessons for any young athlete.
"Just how to be a pro," Peoples-Jones said. "I've learned so many different things from those guys that it would be a very long list, but just how to be a pro. They have their track record, and they're great, so just learning from them in any type of way."
The work Peoples-Jones has put in so far has impressed head coach Kevin Stefanski, who had high praise for the rising wide receiver.
"He's done a nice job. Physically, when he showed up on campus here, he was ready to roll and looked great. Worked very hard in the offseason," Stefanski said. "He's been productive in practice, catching balls that are coming to him."
Cornerback Greedy Williams also spoke to Stefanski's last point, commending the way Peoples-Jones has been dominant throughout training camp.
"He's having a great camp, catching a lot of contested balls and has got great releases and things like that," Williams said. "DPJ is one of those guys we'll definitely depend on this year.
Even though the Browns have a lot of weapons, Peoples-Jones will likely find himself in a lot of the action as he not only helps the team's passing threat but produces for special teams as well.
Stefanski said Peoples-Jones' work on special teams through training camp might be the most impressive thing about his performance so far.
"Probably the most impressive thing is special teams—[he's] running around returning kicks, covering kicks," Stefanski said. "So he's an all-day guy right now. He's really going."
Seeing him through the first two weeks of training camp perform so well is promising, but what exactly does Year 2 look like for Peoples-Jones?
We'll have to wait and find out. The straight-to-the-point receiver appears to be set on letting the work on the field speak for itself while making it clear he's ready to help take the Browns to the next step in any way he can.
"I'm happy to be here. I love being around greats, so I'm really happy and excited," Peoples-Jones said. "I just want to do everything I can to help the team and I feel like I'm a full player, very versatile, and I feel like I can do everything."
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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