2016 fantasy football depth charts: Cleveland Browns
(Editor’s note: As we lead up to the season, Director of PFF Fantasy Jeff Ratcliffe is breaking down each team’s depth chart from a fantasy perspective. Catch up on the work so far here.)
It’s the start of a new era in Cleveland. Following the failed Mike Pettine regime, the Browns retooled their front office with new general manager Sashi Brown and brought in Hue Jackson at head coach.
Of course, the transition is going to take time, and we can look no further than the Browns quarterback situation as evidence. Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown are the front-runners for signal caller duties, with rookie Cody Kessler a dark-horse candidate. Griffin has reportedly had an up-and-down offseason, but the former first-rounder remains the favorite to open the season as the starter. McCown could certainly push Griffin for the job. Of course, he could also get cut.
While the quarterback situation is still very much in flux, we can essentially ink in rookie Corey Coleman as the Browns’ No. 1 wide receiver entering training camp. The first receiver taken in this year’s draft, Coleman is an explosive playmaker who racked up 29 forced missed tackles and averaged 6.8 yards after the catch on his 138 catches over the last two seasons. Coming out of Baylor’s spread system, Coleman is still a bit raw, but he’s in an ideal spot and is a good bet to see triple-digit targets.
Things could change if Josh Gordon is reinstated. He’s eligible for reinstatement August 1, and we’ll update his status after the league reaches a decision.
Cleveland Browns projected 2016 offense with 2015 grades:
After Coleman, the Browns will likely look to Andrew Hawkins to start along with another rookie in Rashard Higgins. Taylor Gabriel is also in the mix for a starting job. Hawkins has carved out a solid career as a role-player, but Higgins is the player to keep an eye on in this receiver group. A favorite of PFF College, Higgins put up big numbers at the collegiate level with 239 catches for 3,649 yards and 31 scores. He isn’t particularly fast – he ran a 4.64 40 – but Higgins is one of the most polished route runners in this year’s class. While he isn’t likely to provide any sort of consistent production in season-long leagues, Higgins is an interesting dynasty option who might be worth a look as an occasional DFS play.
The Browns’ most-targeted player might not end up being a wide receiver, as TE Gary Barnidge is coming off a breakout year where he finished second at the position with 119 targets. Barnidge went over 1,000 yards and scored nine times on his way to finishing as fantasy’s No. 3 tight end. For fantasy purposes, Barnidge offered surprising upside, with only Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen seeing more deep-ball targets. While some might look to Barnidge as a one-hit wonder, he’s still likely to see a heavy target share this season and remains in the TE1 conversation.
At running back, the Browns have two young talents in Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson who should both benefit from Jackson’s run-heavy offense. In Cincinnati last season, Jackson called a run play on 45.8 percent of the Bengals’ offensive plays. Over his coaching career, Jackson’s offenses have consistent ranked among the league leaders in rushing attempts.
Crowell seems to have made amends for his distasteful social media post and doesn’t appear to be at risk of losing his roster spot. Last season, he saw 59.7 percent of the Browns’ running back carries, and he projects for a similar workload as the primary early-down runner. While some have suggested 1,000-yard potential for Crowell, he’s a bit of a longshot to reach that benchmark, as he’ll be splitting carries with Johnson.
As a rookie, Johnson amassed 104 carries, and we expect that number to rise this season. He also caught 61 balls on 70 targets. Often labeled as a receiving specialist, Johnson is actually the all-time leading rusher at the University of Miami. He also proved to be quite elusive last season, forcing a missed tackle on 26.6 percent of his touches. Only Marshawn Lynch and Carlos Hyde were more elusive on a per touch basis. Johnson is a good bet to return RB2 production in PPR leagues, though he’s better viewed as an upside RB3 in standard formants.
[Are the two Cleveland running backs going at a fair spot in fantasy drafts right now? Check out our PFF Draft Master tool and try a mock draft, complete with offensive line grades, full projections and all the PFF data.]
Beyond Crowell and Johnson, the Browns have Terrell Watson, Glenn Winston and Rahim Mostert battling for the third running back spot. Mostert generated a little dynasty buzz last year following a big preseason. Watson was a 2015 draftnik favorite out of Azuza Pacific. He’s a big back (6’1, 240) who reportedly had a strong offseason.
There isn’t much to get excited about for fantasy purposes along the Browns’ defensive front, though there is some potential for IDP value at linebacker. Free-agent signee Demario Davis is inked in as a starter on the inside, and he’s the Browns’ best bet for every-down duties. Davis will likely fly under the fantasy radar, but he has LB3-plus potential in a great situation with the Browns. Another IDP name to know from this Cleveland team is SS Ibraheim Campbell. The second-year man steps into the starting job with Donte Whitner out of the mix, and he should get plenty of opportunities for tackles behind a somewhat suspect linebacker group. Campbell is in the DB2 conversation.