Going into last month’s draft, Cleveland faced a massive hole in an otherwise loaded offense. Landry, who had been an anchor for the Browns since 2018 operating underneath coverage, was released by the team in March.
Despite that, Landry still expressed interest in returning to Cleveland on a reworked deal. But the Browns had other plans. Two weeks before Landry would sign with the New Orleans Saints, Cleveland drafted Bell in the third round with the No. 99 overall pick.
Provided they don’t trade for another veteran this summer, the Browns are betting Bell can step into Landry’s role out of the slot.
“A very competitive player,” coach Kevin Stefanski said of Bell after Cleveland’s first minicamp practice on May 13. “Catches the ball really well … a natural competitiveness both in route-running and in route-catching — the ability to make contested catches and the ability in the route-running game to set people up [to get open].”
Replacing Landry, a Pro Bowl performer for Cleveland in 2018 and 2019, won’t be easy for Bell or the Browns. Since he entered the NFL in 2014, Landry’s 423 catches and 4,895 receiving yards out of the slot top the NFL over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That said, Bell, whom Stefanski has praised for both his “savviness,” has the potential to also thrive as Cleveland’s go-to possession receiver out of the slot.
“All the receivers in our room, they have their own unique talents,” Bell said after his first minicamp practice, when asked about his fit alongside Cleveland starting outside receivers, Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. “I think mine is being able to find the soft spot in the defense.”
Last season in a Big Ten conference that featured multiple future first-round receivers, including Ohio State stars Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, it was Bell who was named the league’s receiver of the year.
In 2021, the All-American from Purdue finished with 93 receptions for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns. That included putting up 240 receiving yards in a victory over then-No. 2 Iowa on Oct. 16, then 217 receiving yards in a win over then-No. 5 Michigan State, making Bell the only player in the past 25 seasons to record multiple 200-yard receiving games against Associated Press top-five opponents in the same season.
On top of that, the 6-2, 205-pound Bell led all of FBS with 232 receptions over his final three seasons with the Boilermakers, which included an FBS-high 67 catches on shallow or crossing routes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“We thought he had some of the best hands in this draft class,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said during the draft. “He’s also very savvy as a route-runner, just very nuanced and polished [with] the ability to separate. We think he’s a guy who can really play both outside and inside, but we think that he can really make a living with his size, his savvy and his hands in the slot.”
In spite of his production, the reason Bell was available so late on Day 2 of the draft was because of his speed — or lack thereof. Bell’s 40-yard-dash time at the combine was just 4.65 seconds, tied for second-slowest of any receiver in attendance. Bell fared even worse during Purdue’s pro day on March 29, posting a 40 time of just 4.71 seconds.
That didn’t stop the Browns from taking a chance on Bell, who can look no further than Landry to know that combine 40 time doesn’t necessarily dictate pro success. Landry ran a 4.65 at the combine back in 2014 (though would later post a 4.51 at his LSU pro day).
As Berry pointed out, Bell will never be the fastest player in the NFL. But just like Landry, he boasts the tools necessary to produce at the next level.
“Everybody loves speed across the field, but there are also fast guys that really don’t have the route-running ability to actually separate,” Berry said. “Good receivers come in different shapes and sizes. … We think he has a skillset that is playable in the NFL, and we’re happy to have him.”