This week I am previewing the Cleveland Browns. Yes, you read that correctly. The. Cleveland. Browns. The team that has gone 1-31 over the past two seasons has managed to stockpile a ton of fantasy and real football talent. Despite the woeful Hue Jackson remaining as HC, new GM John Dorsey has made plenty of positive moves in free agency, the draft, and with his personnel.
Interestingly, for dynasty purposes, the Browns have more players inside the top 100 ADP than any other team. Let that sink in. And whilst their franchise is very much a work in progress, there are still plenty of players who are relevant for the 2018 season, so let’s dig in.
The man who holds the NFL records for most catches over the first four years of an NFL career (400), is one of the most overlooked WRs in the league. On the latest episode of the Vault Studio Fantasy Football podcast, I said that Landry and Josh Gordon might be the most talented WR duo in the NFL. I stand by that statement. Everyone knows how talented Gordon is, but Landry is still viewed as a “dink and dunk” WR. Whilst he was mainly used that way in Miami, he has already shown his abilities downfield in the preseason and in 2017 showed he could be used effectively in the redzone.
Landry has outperformed his ADP every year he has been in the league, posting three consecutive top 13WR seasons in the process.
Landry is the clear WR1 for the Browns. Over the past three seasons, the WR1 in Todd Haley’s offense has seen a market share of 28.67%. Whilst that WR was Antonio Brown, it is not unreasonable to think that Landry will see a similar amount of volume. Landry should lead the Brown’s in targets and will almost certainly surpass his ADP of WR17 if he plays all 16 games.
People forget how good this kid is. In 2013, he posted 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns in 13 games. That included back to back 200 yards receiving games, and amazingly he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol whilst he was dominating the league. Oh, and the QBs throwing him the ball were Jason Cambell and Brandon Weeden – hardly starting caliber players and he still scored 22.5ppg.
After serving a near 3 year suspension, Gordon returned in 2017 to an even worse QB situation – DeShone Kizer.
Last year, 46% of Josh Gordon’s targets were catchable (93rd of 93 qualifiers).
In 2013, when Gordon had 1,646 yards and nine TDs in 14 games, 64% of his targets were catchable.
A 64% catchable target rate would’ve ranked 56th last year.
All he needs is a chance.
— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) August 20, 2018
Despite the woeful passes thrown his way, Gordon looked good. In his return to football, he posted 4 catches for 85 yards on 11 targets and dominated Casey Hayward. For those of you who don’t know, Casey Hayward is one of the best CBs in football. He was graded as such by PFF in 2017, posting the best season since Revis’ legendary 2009 season. For reference. Revis graded at 96.6, and Hayward at 96.4, after he allowed just a 42.7% pass completion all whilst shadowing opposing WR1s.
Talent aside, his return of Josh Gordon is just a feel-good story. This is a person who hit rock bottom and is finding his way back. There is a great documentary on YouTube all football fans should watch. It’s compelling and will make you a Gordon supporter.
Gordon is being drafted in the late 4th round, which is just about right when you factor in his range of outcomes. If he hits the ground running, he could be a top 5 fantasy WR, or he might get suspended once more and never play in the NFL again. If you are shooting for upside, Gordon is a great pick here, although players like Golden Tate and Demaryius Thomas offer a much safer floor. It really all comes down to your appetite for risk in your drafts.
Antonio Callaway is a first-round NFL talent. His off the field issues caused him to fall in the draft, and the Browns selected him in the 4th round. He has shown his talent in the preseason, but shouldn’t be drafted other than in super deep leagues. He is facing a possible suspension, but if Gordon takes any further leave of absence, he should be rostered in all leagues.
Carlos Hyde is currently the RB1 in Cleveland, and he has looked in fine form during the preseason. He is currently being drafted in the late 5th round, which is too rich for my liking given the presence of the other running backs on the depth chart. Nick Chubb is being drafted five rounds later is the optimal value play. I think he will surpass Hyde on the depth chart at some point in the season. He is just a better player, and his workout metrics were ridiculous, posting a 98th percentile SPARQ score.
Duke Johnson is being drafted between both Hyde and Chubb in the middle of the 8th round. Last season he finished as the RB11 in PPR scoring being a beneficiary of the Browns playing from behind and a lack of weapons in other areas. Johnson saw more targets than any other pass catcher on the roster. But given the other acquisitions and the return of Gordon, I don’t expect that same level of usage to continue (16.4% target share in 2017). However, Johnson still should see plenty of 3rd down and hurry-up offense work, which keeps him in the flex/bye week conversation.
Quarterback and TE
The Browns offer great value at the “onesie” position this season (i.e. positions that standard leagues require you to start one of). David Njoku has gotten off to a great start in the preseason, and his usage from 2017 has increased significantly. He is being drafted as the TE11 in the mid-9th round and is a perfect target if you want to wait on the TE position to load up on RBs and WRs in the first half of your draft.
Tyrod Taylor is an underrated fantasy QB. Let’s look at his ADP vs his fantasy finish over the last three seasons (noting in 2015 he played 14 games and 2017 15 games:
Now he actually has competent NFL pass catchers like Landry and Gordon, and a play caller who likes to throw in Todd Haley. He averaged 513 pass attempts over the past three seasons and over the same span, Taylor averaged just 412. Taylor is absolutely in line for an increase of pass attempts. However he’s being drafted later than he was in 2018 despite upgrades at the O-line, OC, and pass catchers. Tyrod is a massive value in 2018.
Baker Mayfield has shown why the Browns took him 1st overall in his limited action so far. Progressing through reads, staying in the pocket, and making some excellent throws. Despite this, Tyrod is the Browns starter and is expected to remain so for the majority of the season. Baker should be left on waiver wires, except in deep Superflex leagues, until he takes over from Taylor.
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NB – all fantasy football statistics in this article come from ffstatistics.com unless otherwise stated. Shout out to its creator Addison Hayes (@_amazehayes). Other stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference. ADP data is taken from Fantasy Football Calculator.