2010's New Stars - Houston WR James Cleveland
Houston WER James Cleveland
Houston WER James Cleveland
Posted Mar 20, 2010

Who are the top players you need to know about going into 2010? Richard Cirminiello profiles Houston WR James Cleveland.

Spring Preview 2010

The Players You Need To Know

James Cleveland, WR Houston

By Richard Cirminiello 

12 New Superstars You Must Know About
- Boston College LB Luke Kuechly
- Connecticut RB Jordan Todman
- Iowa S Tyler Sash
- Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas 
- Navy QB Ricky Dobbs
- Temple RB Bernard Pierce
- TCU LB Tank Carder
- California RB Shane Vereen
- Kentucky WR Randall Cobb
- North Texas RB Lance Dunbar
- Nevada DE Dontay Moch 

Who is James Cleveland? … That Cleveland kid, who began his college career in Iowa, is looking to continue his revival back home in Texas.

Cleveland had one monster of a debut for Houston in 2009, finishing sixth nationally with 104 catches and being named first team All-Conference USA in a league flush with quality receivers. It was quite a turnaround for a kid who, just a couple years earlier, wondered if he'd ever play football again at this level.

Cleveland always felt comfortable in Iowa City. He loved the area, the people, and the coaching staff. Oh, and it didn't hurt that former high school teammates Drew Tate and Charles Godfrey had also made the journey from Baytown Lee (Tex.) High School. After redshirting in 2006, he really started to take flight in 2007, catching 36 passes for 464 yards and emerging as a budding star within the receiving corps. However, the ride ended abruptly after police found two different prescription drugs in his dorm room and he was booted from the program. Just like that, a career filled with so much promise was now on life support.

For Cleveland, the long road back began with a stop at Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College, a humbling experience and a crossroads if he was ever going to recapture that sparkle and potential as an athlete. He used 2008 to begin getting his act together, in life and in the classroom. So far, it's worked. Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin took notice of the transformation and gave Cleveland the second chance he'd been seeking since nearly erasing all of those years of hard work on the practice field and in the weight room.

From every possible angle, Cleveland is in the right place to showcase his physical talents. The offense is high-flying, the quarterback is a record-setter, and the staff truly believes in him. Heck, by the second half of the year, he was virtually unstoppable as Case Keenum's favorite target. Whether it's the right place for him to continue rebuilding his life is something only Cleveland can decide. One thing is for sure; he knows what another huge season could mean to his future and takes nothing for granted after hitting rock bottom two years ago.

James Cleveland's best game so far was … at East Carolina in last December's Conference USA championship game. Yeah, the Cougars fell short, but this was a national coming-out party for Cleveland, who'd been overlooked for much of the regular season. He toyed with a pretty good Pirate secondary, making a school-record 19 receptions for 241 yards and three touchdowns, nearly carrying Houston back from a second-half deficit.

Why should you care about James Cleveland? … He's the top returning receiver in an offense that led the nation in total yards and scoring a year ago, and brings back Heisman-contending QB Case Keenum. By catching more than 100 passes in his first season at Houston, he became an instant favorite in fantasy circles and a new target for NFL scouts in charge of covering the Southwest. After erupting in his debut, there's no telling what he's capable of accomplishing now that he has that first full season in the vault.

Positives about James Cleveland … At 6-1 and 205 pounds, Cleveland is a tough and physical receiver, the ideal complement to all of those Cougar jackrabbits at the position. A fluid athlete, with good straight-line speed, he runs the precise routes of a receiver who was well-coached during his previous stops. He has big, strong hands, is not timid about catching the ball in traffic, and does an outstanding job of picking up more yards after the catch. You like guys who'll play through pain? Cleveland played all of last season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder that kept him from lifting his arm above his head.

Negatives about James Cleveland … Prior to matriculating at Houston, Cleveland pled guilty to two counts of unlawful possession of prescription drugs and labored in the classroom. Although he's taken steps to turn his life around, he has zero margin for error off the field. A high-risk, high-reward type athlete, the staff can't help but hold its breath, hoping that his transgressions remain strictly a part of his past. With just one year on campus, Cleveland plans to use the offseason to become a better student of the complex offense and improve his chemistry with QB Case Keenum.

A cool thing about James Cleveland you probably didn't know … According to various NFL scouts and the league's advisory committee, Cleveland would have been drafted in April had he decided to forego his final year of eligibility. Wisely, he opted to return to the campus that hosted his rebirth a year ago, get that bum shoulder back to 100%, and continue to work toward a shot at the 2011 draft.

Career Statistics 2007: 36 catches for 464 yards (at Iowa)
2009: 104 catches for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns