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2022 Fantasy Forecast: Cleveland Browns

@DanT_NFL continues our 32 teams in 32 days with coverage on the Cleveland Browns
#Browns

Football is right around the corner, so our fantasy season will kick off before you know it. It’s the time when fantasy magazines begin appearing in bodegas, and NFL Network begins airing fantasy football content. This is the beginning of the casual season, as some call it, but for us dynasty diehards, this is just the culmination of offseason work. Today we are covering the Cleveland Browns. Welcome to the 2022 NFL season!

This past spring, the Browns’ front office made an all-in move and acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans for three first-round and a handful of later-round picks. Watson is currently facing a suspension due to sexual assault allegations. News finally broke yesterday on the Deshaun Watson suspension. The NFL and NFLPA agree that Watson will be suspended for 11 games and pay a fine of $5 million. After all of this back and forth, we finally have an answer on what the season will look like for the 2022 Cleveland Browns. Now we can start assessing what this team might look like for dynasty fantasy football.

Quarterbacks

Deshaun Watson

As stated earlier, the Watson suspension has been finalized at 11 games. The player’s union and league front office were the ones that agreed upon this settlement. This legal process is over, and the fantasy production of these Browns can start to be debated.

Jacoby Brissett

The one clear thing is that in the absence of Watson, Jacoby Brissett will be the starter for the 2022 Cleveland Browns. Brissett has recently started for the Colts in both 2017 and 2019 and five games last season for the Dolphins. At that time, he was serviceable as a starter, but not to the level to elevate the offense around him. In the seasons where he saw a large portion of work, he had an adjusted completion percentage of at least 73, according to PFF. This would have been top-24 in the league last year, amongst starters. His average time-to-throw was around three seconds over this time, another statistic that falls in the top 24. Brissett will be a league-average starter and not much else.

Trades

A quick browse of the DynastyGM trade browser returns mixed results for Brissett trades. He might be a cheap piece to acquire if you need some depth at quarterback. We can find examples of him going for various depth pieces, such as Adam Trautman and Jakobi Meyers. Rookie pick-wise, he goes for 2024 fourth.

Suppose it wasn’t for all of the off-the-field issues. Watson is a top-ten quarterback and fantasy option in the league. Despite him facing a eleven-game suspension, dynasty managers are still valuing Watson highly, as you can see from the trades we have highlighted below:

If you enjoy rooting for the players on your dynasty team, you can still move Watson and retain some value. Examples of him going for another quarterback plus other assets. These values may change as a lengthier suspension sinks in, so you would be best served by acting soon to get Watson off your roster. 

Running Backs

The 2022 Cleveland Browns roster’s highlight must be the running back room. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt make up the best duo of starting running backs on any team across the league. If that were not enough, D’Ernest Johnson has shown his ability to handle a workhorse-style load when called upon, and the Browns brought in rookie Jerome Ford during the 2022 NFL Draft. There are many options for fantasy managers on this Cleveland roster, and we must identify the targets and values for our dynasty squad.

Nick Chubb

Chubb is one of the best pure runners in the league. According to PFF data, he led the league in yards after contact per attempt with 4.24. The next closest running back only came in with 3.83 yards. Chubb is almost impossible to bring down one-on-one in the open field and will carry multiple defenders whenever possible. He is under contract for the next three seasons and guaranteed on the roster for the next two. Believe it or not, he is the star of this Cleveland offense and one of the fans’ favorite players.

Kareem Hunt

Hunt is currently operating around rumors that he of a trade before the start of the NFL season. As any Browns fan can tell you, this offense operates much more efficiently when Hunt can be on the field. He gives Chubb the option of taking plays or even drives off without the offense missing a beat. That is great for the Cleveland Browns but terrible for fantasy football. As long as Hunt is in town, the ceiling for both Chubb and Hunt will be limited. Hunt is entering a contract year, and the money talk has already started. The Browns currently have about $42 million in cap space this year, but the 2023 salary cap is already looking tight, with a projection of $15 million over the projected cap. Hunt may threaten to hold out, and Cleveland might be in a spot where they can’t pay him.

Depth Pieces

The final two running backs of note are UDFA Johnson and 2022 rookie Jerome Ford. Johnson has proven himself a capable runner displaying his skills in three starts last season, where he topped 20 fantasy points in each one. Cleveland even saw fit to sign him to an extension this summer, only fueling the rumors of a Hunt departure. Despite being under contract, he can still move on from the Browns for a minimal dead cap hit in the 2022 season. If a starter somewhere around the league was to go down with an injury, Johnson might be a player on the move. 

The Cleveland Browns selected Ford in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft. He started his career at the University of Alabama before eventually transferring to the University of Cincinnati after his freshman season. Ford was part of a team that gave the Bearcats their first college football playoff appearance and was the first Group of Five schools to accomplish that feat. He was a capable starter in college, and those skills were displayed during last week’s preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ford was able to find the endzone twice in addition to almost a hundred all-purpose yards in his first NFL appearance. With Hunt and Johnson being free agents after this year, Ford could be next in line for the backup role for the 2023 Cleveland Browns.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Wide receivers might be the weakest of the position groups for the 2022 Cleveland Browns, but that just means there is a dynasty value to be extracted. The room has seen quite the turnover from this time last year. Gone are Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry; instead, we have Amari Cooper brought in as the top option. Holdovers from the roster last year include Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz. Jakeem Grant signed as a return specialist and has a limited offensive snap count. However, he tore his Achilles during training camp last week and will miss the 2022 season. 

Amari Cooper

Cooper is the most fantasy-relevant wide receiver on this roster. He is on the third team of his career and, in a crazy wide-receiver market, was moved for what amounted to peanuts. This past spring, he was sent from Dallas to Cleveland for a fifth-round draft pick and a swap of sixth-round picks. That was a crazy discounted price for a starting wide receiver considering the large deals and contracts that other receivers around the league went for. Last season, he posted numbers that were much in line with the rest of his career averages. The only motivation behind the move is a lack of cap space for the Dallas Cowboys. One team’s pain is another team’s joy. 

Cooper will slot in as the top passing option in Cleveland. Under Stefanski, this team is averaging 510 pass attempts a season. This is a significant decrease from the Dallas Cowboys offense that Amari Cooper is used to operating in, and thus his ceiling should be much lower. Cooper has finished as a top-30 wide receiver in points per game in PPR leagues, and I expect that trend to continue. However, there may be fewer spike weeks where Amari finishes as a top-12 option. He will get you consistent WR2 production for your fantasy team, and that might be exactly what your roster needs. According to the DynastyGM trade browser, Cooper can be had for as little as a 2023 second. If you have a contending team, that is a small price to pay for some consistent wide receiver depth.

A Second Option?

Donovan-Peoples Jones is an exciting third-year player out of the University of Michigan. He was a five-star prospect coming out of high school but fell in the NFL draft due to a lack of production during his college career. He has shown excellent skills in his young career and adds an explosive vertical option for this Cleveland offense. Watson excels at the deep ball and could have a new favorite option in Peoples-Jones. Brissett does not share that trait; he will likely want to keep the ball close to the line of scrimmage. People-Jones can be had for as little as a 2025 3rd and is worth the flier if he is somehow on your league’s waiver wire.

The latest draft addition by the Cleveland Browns was David Bell from Purdue. The rookie put up some big numbers in college, putting up over 1,200 yards his senior season alone. Unfortunately, he tested less than ideal at the NFL Combine and fell to the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Still, it will be exhilarating to see what he can do in this Cleveland offense. With the Browns expecting a lower passing volume than the league average, I would not expect a rookie year breakout from Bell as we may see with a Drake London or Chris Olave. He is a name to keep an eye on, possibly dropped by dynasty managers in-season as the waiver wire gems become increasingly enticing.

TIGHT ENDS

David Njoku

The Cleveland Browns and coach Kevin Stefanski love their tight-ends. The offense had two on the field almost half the time during the 2021 season. Now that Austin Hooper is in Tennessee, David Njoku takes over as the top dog at that position. And the Browns are paying him like he is! This past May, they signed the fifth-year player to a four-year, $56.75 million contract extension. This keeps Njoku in Cleveland until at least the 2025 season. You must imagine they plan to use him after paying him so much. The departure of Hooper leaves behind 61 vacated targets that we should see Njoku gobble up on top of his 53 from last season. That would put him at over 100 targets and top five in the league at his position.

Harrison Bryant

The other name of note in this tight-end room would be Harrison Bryant. Bryant is a third-year player out of Florida Atlantic University. He was the recipient of the John Mackey award for the top tight end in the country. Harrison hasn’t been able to break 30 targets in a season yet but is in line for a lot more work as the second tight end on the field for personnel packages that call for two tight-ends. He also carries the upside of being the top option if Njoku were to go down with an injury. Bryant can be found on waiver wires and should be added in deeper leagues that are tight-end premiums. 

Trades

Njoku’s price is low. He is going as TE18 on Underdog fantasy, and his dynasty price is low. Check out these trades we could find in DynastyGM. Grab Njoku.

Conclusion

We finally have word on a suspension for Deshaun Watson, and we can begin to asses this Cleveland Browns team with Jacoby Brissett as the starter for 11 games. Regardless, this coaching staff and front office are doing the right things regarding roster building. After many seasons of being at the bottom of the league, the Cleveland Browns are again in playoff contention. This roster is talented enough to challenge a wild-card spot even with Brissett. Use this uncertainty to buy the dip on some of these players. 


The NFL season is just around the corner! Want exclusive access to my rankings and those of over twenty fellow analysts? Subscribe to the #NerdHerd, where you get exclusive content, dynasty/rookie rankings, and DynastyGM! If you want 15% off  ANY SUBSCRIPTION, USE PROMO CODE “LUNA” or CLICK HERE.

I hope you enjoyed this piece in our Fantasy Focus series. For more content like this, follow me on Twitter @DanT_NFL. DMs are always open for any questions, comments, or craft beer recommendations!

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