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Donovan Peoples-Jones’ voice took on a less deliberate, quieter tone, his admiration for LeBron James palpable.

Browns’ second-year receiver Peoples-Jones had seen the tweet from the Los Angeles Lakers star after his 60-yard touchdown catch Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, and Peoples-Jones was still having a hard time fathoming the shout-out from his idol.

“Aw, man, it was surreal because I grew up watching LeBron and he means a lot to me just in looking up to him since I was younger and the growth as an athlete and everything that he stands for,” Peoples-Jones said Monday. “He’s been on top for a long time. LeBron will always probably be my favorite basketball player. That meant definitely a lot.”

In the second quarter of the Browns’ 41-16 victory at Paul Brown Stadium, Peoples-Jones got free over the middle for his team-high third receiving touchdown of the season and James tweeted, “DPJ!!!! TD. LFG” followed by four speaking head emojis.

While James’ “Let’s [bleeping] Go” tweet humbled Peoples-Jones, it was also a call-to-action just days after James’ #FreeOBJ tweet served as fuel for Odell Beckham Jr.’s release.

Peoples-Jones said he’d love to meet James — “Oh, for sure, 100%,” he said — and that could happen if Peoples-Jones proves to be the heir apparent to Beckham, waived by the Browns on Monday.

A model of consistency this season, Peoples-Jones has 15 catches on 18 targets for 314 yards. On Sunday, coach Kevin Stefanski called him “Mr. Dependable.”

Against the Bengals, Peoples-Jones pulled in two of his three targets from quarterback Baker Mayfield for 86 yards and a touchdown. Peoples-Jones’ TD was the Browns’ second-longest pass play of the season, trailing tight end David Njoku’s 71-yard scoring catch and run in a road loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 10.

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Peoples-Jones’ only setback was a groin injury suffered in warmups before a home victory over the Denver Broncos on Oct. 21. It cost him two games and the Browns felt his absence as a deep threat.

“When he came to training camp, a bunch of us thought he was in great shape. He looked one year better, one-year growth in his body,” Stefanski said. “He’s a player we’re going to be counting on and he’s continued to make plays when called upon.”

Cleveland Browns' Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Cleveland Browns’ Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Peoples-Jones sounded as if he is still coming to grips with the departure of Beckham, with whom he has a personal relationship.

“It was tough. It was different. That’s my guy, that’s my guy,” Peoples-Jones said. “But my relationship with Baker is pretty good. Just keep moving forward, keep putting pieces together and continue to focus on what I have to do to make me better every day.”

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Beckham and Peoples-Jones share the same agent, but Peoples-Jones said their relationship goes beyond that.

“I know him on a personal level and I know him on a different level than everything that may go on. But I don’t let those pathways cross,” Peoples-Jones said. “Obviously I want the best for him. … He has his business and I have my business and we’re friends outside of that.”

Browns  wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) makes a catch against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) during the Browns' 41-16 win Sunday in Cincinnati. [Aaron Doster/Associated Press]

Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) makes a catch against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) during the Browns’ 41-16 win Sunday in Cincinnati. [Aaron Doster/Associated Press]

A sixth-round pick from the University of Michigan, Peoples-Jones made his mark against the Bengals for the second time.

The breakout game of his rookie season came at Cincinnati on Oct. 25, 2020, when he pulled in all three of his targets for 56 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining in the Browns’ 37-34 victory. His first NFL catch came from receiver Jarvis Landry. As Beckham was lost to a season-ending torn ACL, Peoples-Jones added a 19-yard reception and opened the game-winning drive with a 13-yard catch.

Sunday was more of the same.

Asked if he caught the Bengals by surprise on the 60-yard touchdown, he said, “It was a really good play call. From the moment the play was called I felt like I had a chance on it, did my part, ran my route. I looked up and the ball was in a perfect location. It was easy on me to just finish the play.”

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He won’t tout himself to the media, but Peoples-Jones does have a touchdown celebration, a “West Coast” move he saw in a Chris Brown dance skit a couple years ago.

“I just like it and it was one of those things where it just happens naturally,” Peoples-Jones said.

Later in the game, Peoples-Jones avoided injury on a hard hit from safety Jessie Bates III on a 26-yard sideline catch. Officials escorted Peoples-Jones off the field to be checked for a concussion with 6:10 remaining, but he had no symptoms as of Monday.

Asked if he saw Bates coming, Peoples-Jones said, “I actually did not. I looked up and I was tracking the ball the whole time and I was hoping that he didn’t get there in time, and as soon as I caught it, it was just, boom,” Peoples-Jones said. “That’s all I remember. I’m just thankful I held onto the ball.”

Bates led with his shoulder before the two appeared to hit helmets, but was not flagged.

“I don’t really feel like it was helmet to helmet. It was a pretty clean hit,” Peoples-Jones said. “That’s football.”

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) catches a deep pass over Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) for a touchdown in the second quarter of the NFL Week 9 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. Cleveland led 24-10 at halftime.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) catches a deep pass over Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) for a touchdown in the second quarter of the NFL Week 9 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. Cleveland led 24-10 at halftime.

Stefanski said Peoples-Jones gained the trust of the coaching staff “very early” and lauded him for consistently making plays on the ball. That is even more important this season as Mayfield plays with a torn labrum and a fractured humerus in his left shoulder.

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Peoples-Jones said his biggest area of growth in 2021 has been in his awareness, which includes defensive and offensive schemes and where he can go on each Browns play. But he wouldn’t declare that he’s ready to step into the spotlight that Beckham used to occupy.

“I’ll just continue to get better every day, focus on me and what I have to do,” Peoples-Jones said.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.

Browns at Patriots

Time: 1 p.m. Sunday

TV: CBS

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: LeBron anoints OBJ’s successor Donovan Peoples-Jones with TD tweet



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