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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Cleveland Browns

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Cleveland Browns.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously, individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day, players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Cleveland Browns

Last Year’s Accuracy
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1010455 (45.0%)555 (55.0%)35 (6.3%)260 (50.0%)130 (25.0%)110 (21.2%)
2020 Stats1022495 (48.4%)527 (51.6%)26 (4.9%)248 (49.5%)79 (15.8%)140 (27.9%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.
Coaching Changes

The Browns had not reached 8 wins since 2007 and had not reached the postseason since 2002. One year with Kevin Stefanski as head coach and Cleveland makes it to 11 wins and a wild card berth. Not bad. With nothing egregiously wrong with either the offense or defense, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and defensive coordinator Joe Woods both return to the team in 2021.

Stefanski out of basement, back with Browns after COVID-19 | WGN Radio 720  - Chicago's Very Own
Justin Berl/Associated Press
Coaching History

It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Cleveland end up so run-heavy in Stefanski’s first year, given that they put together a loaded backfield behind arguably the best offensive line in the league. It also wasn’t surprising to see a de-emphasis on the wide receivers (5th lowest positional target share in the league) given the Browns’ lack of depth at the position. What was surprising was that despite the backfield featuring the best 1-2 punch in the NFL, the running backs posted a well below average 15.8% positional target share. The tight end group showed their depth in picking up the slack to the tune of the 4th highest positional target share in the league (27.9%).

As for the team-level stats, I had noted last year that Stefanski tended to vary the speed of his offense drastically depending on situation. Notably, his Vikings offense was the 6th fastest when trailing by 7+ but 22nd fastest when leading by 7+. While this discrepancy was definitely still present in Cleveland last year, it was not so pronounced. More notably, Cleveland’s 2020 offense was much slower in neutral situations than Minnesota’s 2019 offense. Despite this, Cleveland recorded only slightly fewer total plays than league average (1022 vs. 1030), thanks in no small part to an offense that ranked in the top 10 in both plays per drive and time per drive. The effectiveness of the running game and aforementioned offensive line also took pressure off quarterback Baker Mayfield as Cleveland allowed the 7th fewest sacks in the league.

Looking Ahead

Not surprisingly, consistency was the name of the game this offseason as the Browns aimed to preserve their top tier offense. It’s safe to say they succeeded in that department as Cleveland returns every key offensive starter in 2021. We may even get a rare Odell Beckham Jr. sighting, which would likely provide a not-insignificant boost to the wide receiver target share…if he can stay healthy for the whole season. For what it’s worth, he does have a decent shot; his string of injuries have all been separate rather than a single recurring issue. If OBJ can return his first fully healthy campaign since 2016, he will probably force a small shift of targets from the tight ends to the wideouts.

Why the Cleveland Browns will get a great season from Odell Beckham Jr.
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Beckham’s health aside, the only truly notable thing to change for Cleveland this offseason was the defense. Their overall numbers didn’t look so bad in 2020, but that was in no small part because the Browns’ offense typically kept the Browns’ defense off the field. When their defense did end up on the field, their efficiency numbers were among the worst in the league. A long list of injured starters didn’t help. With the offense already set, Cleveland spent pretty much all of free agency, and their premium picks in the draft plugging holes, upgrading starters, and building depth in the maligned defensive unit. Any improvement in play should lead to the Browns’ defense getting off the field faster, which will mean more drives for the offense. More drives equals more plays, which equals more volume for the offense. Exactly what we like to see for fantasy.

2021 Projections
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats1022495 (48.4%)527 (51.6%)26 (4.9%)248 (49.5%)79 (15.8%)140 (27.9%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1108543 (49.0%)565 (51.0%)25 (4.4%)288 (53.3%)91 (16.9%)133 (24.6%)

Previous Entry: Cincinnati Bengals

Next Entry: Dallas Cowboys

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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