Gary Who?

Who the hell is Gary Barnidge? I’m guessing this was a pretty common search on Google over the past couple of weeks. The Cleveland Browns’ tight end has come out of nowhere to shock the league with his consistently dominant play at the position.

For a player who is playing so well, you have to wonder why we had never heard of him before. Well maybe he is really young? No, actually Barnidge is already 30 and playing in his eighth season in the NFL. Maybe he was buried on the depth chart? It’s the Browns. They do not have talented skill players for him to be buried behind. New quarterback gave him new life? Josh McCown is older than he is and not exactly a franchise QB.

There isn’t really an explanation for Gary Barnidge’s sudden emergence into the NFL spotlight. It sort of just happened.

Gary Barnidge
Barnidge spent most of his NFL career in anonymity. There were seasons where he was not even targeted.

Barnidge was drafted out of Louisville in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Carolina Panthers. Barnidge failed to record a catch in his rookie year. He also did not have a reception during the 2010 or 2011 NFL season. After the 2012 season, Barnidge made the move to Ohio. He didn’t see much of an uptick in production though, continuing as an unknown entity.

In fact, Barnidge’s career stat line heading into 2015 was 44 receptions for 603 yards and three touchdowns. That is probably an average season for most tight ends right there, potentially even a down year. It took Barnidge seven years to pile up those numbers.

There was no indication that anything had changed for the Browns’ tight end during the offseason. No one speculated that the 30-year old backup tight end for Cleveland was poised for a breakout season. That’s right backup. Barnidge did not start the first two games of the season for the Browns at tight end, sitting behind Jim Dray. He had very little production with just four catches for 55 yards and no scores.

Then, in Week 3, Barnidge exploded. He hauled in six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, his first since 2013. Since then Barnidge hasn’t looked back.

On the year, Barnidge has 40 catches for 567 yards and six touchdowns. He ranks seventeenth in the league for both receptions and receiving yardage among all players. His half-dozen scores are tied for fourth. In all of those categories, he is second among tight ends behind only Rob Gronkowski.

Gronk is far and away the best tight end in the league, and the best one we have seen in some time. His 2015 stat line is 40 catches for 646 yards and 7 touchdowns. Barnidge really isn’t too far off from Gronk’s production this season. The former has player one more game than the latter this year but the latter also has Tom Brady as a quarterback. That is a slight upgrade over McCown.

This is one of the most bizarre stories of 2015. No one, and I mean no one, expected this. Barnidge has taken the league by storm. He is on pace to beat his career totals in receptions and receiving yards this upcoming week in just his ninth game of the season. Barnidge will likely be on that shortlist for the players making the trip down to Hawaii for the annual Pro Bowl as well if he continues his production.

Even if Barnidge begins to taper off down the stretch this is still one of the most impressive runs we have ever seen by a player who was previously so anonymous.

Peyton Hillis
Hillis rushed for over 1,100 yards in 2010 then never eclipsed 600 yards in his final three years in the league.

The only comparison I can make to Barnidge’s fast track to fame is actually to a former Cleveland player in Peyton Hillis. Much like Barnidge, Hillis came from nowhere to finish sixth in yards from scrimmage and tied third in total touchdowns.

However, Barnidge and Cleveland fans alike must hope that Barnidge is not a one-year wonder like Hillis. Following his tremendous 2010 campaign, Hillis never rushed for over 600 yards again and scored fewer touchdowns over the next three years than he did in that one season.

There is no telling how long Barnidge’s run will continue. For now, we must simply enjoy it while it lasts.


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