Fantasy football team preview: Cleveland Browns
The Browns seem to be a in a perpetual state of rebuilding, but there is some reason for optimism in Cleveland. That’s not to say that this team is a playoff dark horse, but the Browns have some interesting pieces in place, including arguably one of the league’s best offensive lines. Hue Jackson returns for his second year at the helm with his run-heavy offense that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer once described as “a pain in the rear-end.” At its core, Jackson’s offense is a West Coast scheme, but it also incorporates elements of the Air Croyell offense.
Team Offensive Stats
Who will be under center for the Browns in Week 1? The answer to that question has yet to be determined. Cleveland has three signal-callers battling for the job: second-year man Cody Kessler, rookie second-rounder DeShone Kizer, and embattled veteran Brock Osweiler. Things still seem to be wide open with any one of the three in the lead on a given day depending on which way the wind blows.
Kessler was thrown into the fire last year, playing in nine games. He posted a respectable 65.6 completion percentage, but displayed minimal upside with just one top-20 fantasy finish. Osweiler was acquired in a trade and is coming off a dreadful 2016 campaign where he threw 15 scores and 16 picks. That being said, he did have seven top-20 fantasy finishes. However, the most appealing option in this battle for fantasy purposes is Kizer. He enters the NFL more on the developmental side of things, but his big arm and ability as a runner – he scored 18 rushing touchdowns in two seasons at Notre Dame – bode well for fantasy upside.
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Ordinarily, we dive right into the running backs at this point in the previews. But it’s worth giving the Browns offensive line a quick nod. On paper the Browns have one of the best units in the league. Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio will continue to anchor the left side of the line, and the Browns added talent at center with J.C. Tretter and right guard with Kevin Zeitler. Former third-rounder Shon Coleman rounds out the line at right tackle.
With a strong offensive line in place, Isaiah Crowell is an intriguing fantasy option. Few were better at creating yards after contact last season. His 3.18 yards after contact per attempted ranked fourth among running backs with at least 100 carries last season. Despite the strong play, the biggest issue for Crowell was volume. Cleveland ranked second in the league in percentage of passing plays per game, which likely contributed to Crowell seeing just 14.9 touches per game. That ranked 24th among qualifying running backs. Still, the Browns offensive line would suggest Jackson is ready to get back to his running ways. With his explosive upside – only Jay Ajayi had more runs of 40-plus yards – Crowell is a borderline RB1 who is primed for a breakout year.
Duke Johnson isn’t likely to see a ton of work as a runner, but he’s continually drawn praise for his ability as a receiver. Last year, only four running backs saw more targets than Johnson’s 68. However, the biggest issue holding Johnson’s fantasy stock back has been touchdown productivity. In 291 career touches, Johnson has just three touchdowns. An uptick in productivity could certainly be in the cards, but touchdowns are notoriously difficult to predict. As it stands, Johnson is a fine as an RB3 in PPR, but he shouldn’t be considered more than a flex option in standard leagues.
This isn’t the most impressive fleet of receivers, but there is some fantasy value to be had. With Terrelle Pryor now in Washington, Kenny Britt will serve as the No. 1 option. While he never emerged as the elite fantasy option he once looked destined for earlier in his career, Britt is coming off a strong 2016 season where he was a surprise 1,000-yard receiver. He ended the season as the No. 28 fantasy wide receiver, the best finish of his career. While the quarterback situation is shaky at best in Cleveland, Britt has the potential to again return WR3 value on a draft day investment.
Corey Coleman missed six games in his rookie season due to a broken hand that he suffered following his massive Week 2 performance where the former first-rounder put up 104 yards and two scores against the Ravens. Coleman was generally ineffective for much of the season, but he showed in that big game that he’s capable of posting top-five fantasy numbers in a given week – he finished fourth that week. Coleman is worth a late-round dart, especially if Kizer ends up winning the starting job.
Wide Receiver Sets
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The Gary Barnidge era is over in Cleveland. Following the first-round selection of David Njoku, the Browns parted ways with Barnidge. Njoku figures to slot in as the lead receiving tight end, but second-year man Seth DeValve is also in the mix. Njoku enters the NFL with impressive athleticism and the ability to play both in-line and move. While he certainly should surface on the weekly fantasy radar at points this season, he’s a good bet to face some rookie growing pains. He isn’t worth drafting in standard-sized redraft leagues. DeValve doesn’t possess Njoku’s raw athletic ability, but he’s continually drawn praise for his performance over the offseason. Expect these two to cannibalize each other’s fantasy value.
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