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Fantasy Forecast: Cleveland Browns

Many Browns disappointed for fantasy football in 2019. Will there be a resurgence in fantasy points under new Head Coach Kevin Stefanski? @Josh_FF lays out the options.

The 2019 Cleveland Browns were preseason Fantasy Football darlings. With Hue Jackson out the door, fantasy players and analysts expected Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr, and Nick Chubb to take Freddie Kitchens into the playoff hunt. The Baker Mayfield hype pushed him into the conversation of a top-five fantasy QB, while Odell Beckham Jr., David Njoku, and Nick Chubb were drafted top 10. After a blowout loss in week one against Tennessee, the Cleveland Browns never saw better than a .500 record.

Managers who drafted Baker Mayfield or Odell Beckham Jr were disappointed. Topping it off, David Njoku missed 12 games, and those who spent a 7th round pick on him had to eat the loss. While some of the top Browns underperformed, it was not all bad in Cleveland. Nick Chubb continued to prove himself as one of the best backs on the ground, while Jarvis Landry aggressively outperformed his fantasy expectations. After serving his 10-game suspension, we also saw fantasy relevance from Kareem Hunt as a complimentary back and pass-catching weapon.

Looking forward to 2020, the Cleveland Browns will be learning another offensive scheme led by first-time head coach, Kevin Stefanski. The former Minnesota OC has invited Alex Van Pelt to take over as the new Cleveland Browns OC. Van Pelt has been a QB coach in the league for over a decade, and the hope for a Baker Mayfield bounce back is growing.

Quarterback

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Baker Playmaker

Baker Mayfield seemed like the savior for the few season ticket holders remaining. After his exciting record-setting rookie campaign, Mayfield was drafted as a top 5 fantasy QB with ADP in the 5th round. After finishing as QB19 in 2019, the industry has cooled on Baker Mayfield, and he has become an affordable commodity in 1QB and SuperFlex formats.

Kevin Stefanski’s system in Minnesota was far from pass-heavy, having fewer attempts and yards than Baker Mayfield in 2019. Still, the new system could help Mayfield produce for his NFL team and your fantasy team. One major issue for Baker Mayfield was the poor play of the Cleveland offensive line.

They drafted Jedrick Wills tenth overall to help that unit. Stefanski is also known to run multiple tight-end sets, leading to more time and less pressure for QBs. Mayfield was hurried the 4th most among QBs with 250 attempts (12.2%) while Cousins was 17th (10.8%). A little more time in the pocket should allow Mayfield to get through his reads and perform adequately in 2020.

I like Mayfield as a post-hype sleeper going into the season. While he is likely a streaming option in most redraft leagues, he’ll be a reliable bench QB for your dynasty team. In SuperFlex, I think he’ll find his way into your lineup most weeks unless you have a stud position player that would outperform him. Keep in mind he starts the season on the road in Baltimore, so don’t lose all hope if he disappoints week one.

Running Backs

Kirk Irwin-Getty Images

Nick Chubb

For Nick Chubb, the 2019 season went mostly as planned amongst the Browns offensive pandemonium. Finishing as the RB8, Chubb helped get many of his fantasy managers to the playoffs. 

Unfortunately, once they got there, Chubb’s production dropped with the addition of Kareem Hunt to the offense. 

Here are Chubb’s PPR splits with and without Hunt in 2019. At 13PPG, Chubb would have finished around the RB22 in 2019.

Hunt isn’t gone, and Stefanski will likely find a way to use both. In a few years, we could look back at Nick Chubb and say 2020 was his most disappointing season. That said, he still has the potential to finish as an RB1, and selling him would be foolish.

Kareem Hunt

Hunt’s role in this offense should only grow in 2020 as we’ve seen Stefanski use running backs in the receiving game. Averaging only 2PPG less than Chubb in 2019 is a good sign for fantasy teams that invested in Kareem Hunt during his dip. He comps better to Dalvin Cook than Nick Chubb does, and Stefanski might like him more than Chubb, but that’s a bit of a hot take. The Browns used him all over the field as an offensive weapon in 2019, and should in 2020 as well.

If you have a share of a Browns running back, 2020 could be murky. Both players have a stellar long term outlook, but they might cannibalize each other’s fantasy points. The best-case scenario for these backs looks like a 2009 Carolina Panthers. That team ran the ball enough to feature both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Another great outcome would be the 2016 Patriots, where Blount scored the touchdowns, and White caught the passes. I think the most realistic scenario is Chubb finishing the season as a low-end RB1, and Hunt as a low-end RB2. Even if you’re in win-now mode, don’t sell these two backs, as 2021 should be an excellent year for both backs.

Wide Receivers

Ken Blaze/Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The list of fantasy-relevant Wide Receivers for 2020 in Cleveland is a relatively short one. While some have hope for Donovan People-Jones as a long-term asset, he’s still a raw receiver that will need to learn the offense. 

If it’s not Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry, they won’t help your dynasty team in 2020.

OBJ

Odell played the 2019 season through a sports hernia, and some are hoping that’s why he hurt your dynasty team’s hopes and dreams. OBJ had core muscle surgery this offseason and appeared to be recovering on pace to start the season. His WR25 finish was not worth the price you had to pay to acquire him, and if he underperforms in 2020, there will be serious concern about his long-term expectations. There’s an apparent path for Odell to return to greatness. One driver of his down year in statistics was his 55% catch percentage. If this number regresses to his career average of 61.5%, and he catches one or two more touchdowns, he’ll return top 12 numbers for your dynasty team. The improvement of the offensive line should also help OBJ as he moves into a downfield role similar to Stefon Diggs.

Juice Landry

Alongside his former LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry performed admirably. While he finished as the WR12 in 2019, he’s still being disrespected in fantasy leagues. Landry is still a player I’d be looking to acquire in dynasty formats, and there’s no reason he can’t finish as a high-end WR2 in 2020. He’s one of the most consistent receivers in football, and that’s all that needs to be said about this undervalued stud.

Tight Ends

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns opened the checkbook for Austin Hooper this offseason. Stefanski’s 12 personnel offense provides a prime ceiling for Hooper, but many are still tempering their expectations. While in Atlanta, Hooper finished as TE3 in PPG in 2019. The Falcons offense and Matt Ryan have been quite fond of the tight end position over the years, while the Browns have rarely used one well. Hooper will have to compete with Njoku for targets, but he should still get his share. Although he has an outside chance to finish as a top 5 TE in 2020, it’s more likely he’ll finish in the 8-10 range with all the weapons around him. Njoku will just be a nuisance to anyone rostering Hooper and shouldn’t have any standalone value in 2020.

IDP

Billie Weiss-Getty Images

Myles Garrett

Myles Garrett is a stud with an excellent opportunity to finish as a top-three defensive lineman in 2020. In just ten games, he recorded 10 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. While he showed bad decision-making last year, he should rack up points for your dynasty roster in 2020 and beyond. Not much more needs to be said about the young defensive end, but if you doubt his talent, you can reach out to any QB in the AFC North, and they’ll vouch for him.

A New Pair of Linebackers

Outside of Garret, there are some players with the potential to impress. With Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert out the door, Mack Wilson should start all 16 games in Cleveland. In his rookie season, Wilson outperformed classmate Sione Takitaki who was drafted two rounds ahead of him. If you’re looking for more on these two, Jordan Rains breaks down the Browns linebacker corps beautifully here. On the backend, rookie Grant Delpit could surprise and help managers in year one. If you drafted Delpit, you’re hoping he returns to his sophomore likeness and can give you some points when you need him.

One More Thing

The last name to mention here is Larry Ogunjobi. While he may not be the prettiest start, he could rack up tackles in the middle of the field. In 2019 he also accumulated 5.5 sacks over 15 games.

Conclusion

While it shouldn’t be your expectation, the Cleveland Browns are one of few teams with the potential to have a top 10 player at each offensive position. While Stefanski’s offense traditionally isn’t a great fantasy producer, the talent in Cleveland is there in every situation.  

The fate of this offense for fantasy relies on Baker Mayfield. If Mayfield can repeat his rookie performance, this team could fly high. 

If he is closer to his second year, managers will be disappointed with most of their Browns pieces. Even if Mayfield disappoints, Chubb and Hunt should get their share, but the split might be too great for either to emerge as a fantasy stud this season.

You can find me and my takes on Twitter @josh_ff. Shout out to Jordan Rains and Eric Herauf for their input on the Cleveland Browns 2020 IDP scenario.

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