By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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NYG, IND, HOU, DEN, NYJ, TB, CHI, OAK, SF, MIA, CIN, WAS, GB, ARI, BAL, LAC, DAL, SEA, DET, BUF, TEN, KC, ATL, JAX, CAR, NO, LAR, PIT, MIN, NE, PHI.
The Cleveland Browns haven’t won a game since October 11, 2016. There. That’s your 2017 recap. This IS THE RECAP, Bania.
Damn it…I’m being told that I have to discuss at least one Browns player or trend from last year. Well, if I MUST, I may as well focus on the lone bright spot for professional sports’ worst franchise, running back Duke Johnson, Jr. The third year back from Miami racked up 196.6 points and finished as RB12. Pretty remarkable that 161.3 of Johnson’s points came from his production as a pass catcher. There’s nothing more Cleveland-y than a running back finishing twelfth and getting 82 percent of his points via receptions.
There, I did it, I wrote something about the Browns’ fantasy impact in 2017. You happy, Josh?
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB1||Tyrod Taylor (w/BUF)||233.00||QB19|
|QB2||Drew Stanton (w/ARI)||52.76||QB40|
|QB3||(R) Baker Mayfield||N/A||N/A|
|RB1||Carlos Hyde (w/SF)||214.00||RB10|
|RB2||Duke Johnson Jr.||196.60||RB12|
|RB3||(R) Nick Chubb||N/A||N/A|
|WR2||Jarvis Landry (w/ MIA)||235.80||WR8|
|WR5||(R) Antonio Callaway||N/A||N/A|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to watch: RB Nick Chubb, WRs Antonio Callaway & Damien Rattley.
Oh goody, you mean I get to talk about Cleveland quarterbacks in 2018, too? Yay! I’d just love that, thanks. Especially since the Browns have started 28 different quarterbacks since 1999. Let’s see what garbage smorgasbord is on the menu this year.
Wait, hold up. The Browns acquired Tyrod Taylor this offseason? And they drafted Baker Mayfield as his successor? That actually sounds…hopeful. I mean, Taylor put up QB19 numbers last year in Buffalo with no stud wide receivers AND after being inexplicably benched in the middle of the playoff hunt for some guy whose name you’ve likely already forgotten. He’s dynamic as a rusher, averaging 80.5 fantasy points on the ground per year since 2015. And he’s pretty safe with the ball, too. In three seasons as the Bills’ starter he’s thrown just 16 interceptions and lost only 8 fumbles. It’s also pretty clear that Taylor’s got tons more talent surrounding him in Cleveland than he ever did in Buffalo, at all the key positions. He’ll have three dynamic running backs and wide receivers, and a tight end with serious potential. He’s also got a new quarterbacks coach, Ken Zampese, who developed Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton during his time in Cincinnati.
All that being said…it’s freaking Cleveland. If you want to win your league, you should be a “prove it to me” fantasy football manager, especially when it comes to this team. Don’t give your stamp of approval to any Cleveland Brown as a QB1 until they show you they can produce first. Don’t get me wrong – someone’s GOT to reverse this trend, and Taylor may just have the best chance to do it since the Browns rose from the dead in 1999. Go ahead and count on a QB20 finish at worst for Tyrod. That’s good enough for him to be your backup or bye week fill-in.
You should also stash Mayfield in dynasty leagues. No one knows what impact (if any) he’ll have this year, but down the road he’s sure to provide some excitement. In standard and keeper leagues, let Mayfield ride the waivers until the picture becomes clearer.
Let’s kick off our running backs discussion with newly acquired Carlos Hyde, fresh off his best fantasy season ever (RB10) with the San Francisco 49ers. As much as I love Hyde’s running style and want him to be the consistent top 10 back that I know he can be, I’m not buying into him as more than an RB2 this season and neither should you. Last season Hyde caught 59 passes which is two times more than his previous best (27 catches in 2016). His critical involvement in the San Fran passing game accounted for 44% of his total fantasy points scored. He’s simply not going to replicate that in his first year in Cleveland with Johnson and rookie Nick Chubb in the fold. Hyde should carry the workload on first and second downs for most of the game and get spelled by Johnson on third downs and Chubb occasionally, perhaps more frequently as the season progresses. When you have this many weapons in the backfield, you’ve got to use them, and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley should do just that. Target Hyde as a decent RB2 to start the season, but don’t be surprised if he falls off the radar at the middle or end of the year if Cleveland struggles and they want to know more about what they have in Chubb.
If there was any chance for Duke Johnson, Jr. to be the team’s number one running back, those hopes were squashed when the Browns signed Hyde and drafted Georgia standout Nick Chubb in the 2018 NFL Draft. Johnson should still see a decent opportunity for playing time as a dangerous third down receiving back. You may be able to utilize him as a FLEX play in deep leagues with big rosters (I’m talking 12 teams, with at least 6 total starting RBs and WRs). But you can’t trust him as a starter each week. The Browns’ backfield is simply too crowded. He’s worth a late round pick and a spot on your bench. After all, if Hyde or Chubb get injured, it could be Johnson’s time to shine.
Closing out running backs is one of the more curious picks of this year’s draft, former Georgia Bulldog Nick Chubb. I’ve got all the faith in the world that Chubb is going to be a big time player in the NFL and on fantasy teams. I just don’t get why the Browns took him after acquiring Carlos Hyde in the offseason. Like many other rookies we’ll talk about this offseason, you’re definitely drafting Chubb in dynasty leagues and stashing him on your rosters in keeper and standard leagues. Definitely worth one of your late round picks.
I can’t believe what I’m about to type: the Cleveland Browns may have the league’s best talent at wide receiver. We begin with one of my all-time favorite players, Jarvis “Juice” Landry. What’s not to love about the fifth-year man from LSU? He’s an iron man, having played in 46 of his last 48 games. He averages 100 catches per season, punctuated by a 112-catch, nine-touchdown performance in 2017, good enough for a WR8 finish. And best of all, he’s undervalued by fantasy owners, who consistently draft him as late as the 6th round. Haters knock Landry’s historic low touchdown total (his previous high was four in 2015 and 2016) and his 8.8 yards per catch last year. Remember who he’s got throwing to him this year: Tyrod Taylor, whose average yards per attempt with Buffalo was just 7.2 over three years. You probably shouldn’t expect Taylor to suddenly develop into a deep threat quarterback, and that means Landry’s going to eat. Let people hate, and let Landry drop to you in the 4th, 5th, or 6th rounds. Scoop him up and he’ll be the perfect WR2 with likely-to-be-realized WR1 production.
Landry’s running mate will be the fully reinstated Josh Gordon. Gordon is very fortunate to still be employed considering all the problems he’s had off the field. If you ignore those problems, though, it’s not much of a leap to say he’s a top 5 talent at his position. He can move all over the field and catch short and deep balls, and has incredible hands. He may even provide better return value than Landry. Expect Gordon to drop to the middle of your draft, and grab him as a top-tier WR3 with WR1 potential – as long as he stays out of trouble.
Finally, we’ve got Corey Coleman, who has a couple of problems to deal with. First, he’s lost a ton of playing time to injuries since he joined the league. Now he has to learn a new offensive system and work with a new quarterback. Can he stay healthy? Second, refer back to my comments about Taylor’s lacking deep ball skills. Coleman’s greatest potential is when he’s on the fly, and I just don’t see Taylor being able to connect with him much. I’d pass on Coleman until he shows he can stay healthy and becomes a multi-dimensional receiver.
David Njoku enters his second year as the clear number one tight end in Cleveland. There’s no questioning Njoku’s athleticism and potential, but you’re not drafting him as a starting tight end until he – you guessed it – proves that he can be your starter. His stats last year were underwhelming to say the least. He only finished in the top 10 in scoring among tight ends ONCE in 16 weeks and he was only targeted nine times in the red zone throughout the season. Over the last four weeks of the season, Njoku only caught 4 passes including a goose egg against the Ravens in Week 15. Perhaps Todd Haley will show him a little more love than Hue Jackson did, but man, with all the competition for touches and targets in Cleveland (see cute dog pic above), are you really willing to spend anything higher than an 11th or 12th round pick on the guy? Njoku’s a strong dynasty stash and only worth a spot on your roster in standard leagues if you’ve got depth at all the other positions and a spare bench spot.
My recommendations for Njoku represent my overall approach to fantasy football: minimize risk, maximize your chances for success. Do I believe Njoku’s going to eventually be a star and consistently produce top 10 numbers? Sure. Do I think that’s going to happen this year? Absolutely not, which is why I will not be drafting Njoku unless I have depth at other positions and a far more proven, reliable starter at tight end. Njoku is a prime example of a player that fantasy owners overthink and want to get cute with. If you want to win your league, your best bet is to stay safe, minimize risk, and put yourself in a position to win each week. You can start by letting others take chances on guys with huge potential like Njoku.
Rookie to Watch
Baker Mayfield finished his college career with a bang, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading his team to the College Football Playoffs. Mayfield is likely to sit much of his rookie season behind Tyrod Taylor. And with 28 screw ups at quarterback prior to his arrival, would you blame the Browns for babying him a little? But he was the number one overall pick, so I doubt he sits long. – Chris Tyler
Corey Coleman was the Browns 2016 1st round pick. Coleman’s only played 19 games in two seasons due to some injury issues, but when he’s been on the field, he’s shown signs of explosiveness and a dangerous deep threat ability. He now slides to the WR3 role in Cleveland behind Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon. If the Baylor product can stay healthy, he’ll be a mid-to-late round gem that you can’t pass up. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Cleveland Browns will be the NFL’s most talked about team this preseason due to a 1-31 record since 2016 and the major player and coaching moves they made this offseason. At this point we’ve got lots of questions and few answers. In standard and keeper leagues, you’d be wise to watch every player from afar except for Landry and Gordon. In dynasty leagues, Chubb and Mayfield are worth spots on your roster. Remember: minimize risk, maximize potential reward. Most of the Browns need to prove they can produce 15+ points on a regular basis before you put your faith in them.
|11||** BYE WEEK **|