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2018 Fantasy Football Preview: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland is suddenly loaded with potential fantasy options in 2018, but can they be trusted?




It might seem crazy considering the Browns didn’t win a game last year, but Tyrod Taylor is surrounded by the best offensive talent of his career with one of the league’s top receiving corps, a three-headed monster at running back, a second-year breakout candidate at tight end, and a really good offensive line keeping it all together. However, Hue Jackson is still the head coach in Cleveland, a No. 1 draft pick is waiting in the wings, and Taylor is a low-risk passer that might not take advantage of the situation he finds himself in from a statistical standpoint. I like Tyrod as a real-life starting quarterback, but I’m down on him as a fantasy option going ahead of guys like Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Bradford.


The Browns continue to say that Taylor will be the starter this season, but Baker Mayfield wasn’t drafted with the No. 1 pick to sit the bench, and if he looks like the best quarterback on the roster in camp, starting Tyrod would be a difficult sell for a coach that has a 1-31 record over the past two seasons. If he does see the field, Mayfield has all the weapons to make a fantasy impact as a rookie, and he would undoubtedly be a hot waiver wire addition if he’s named the starter during the regular season.


That said, excluding questions regarding his character, my biggest concern about Mayfield in the pre-draft process was his ability to consistently make tight-window throws against NFL defenses. The accuracy was apparent at Oklahoma, but receivers were always getting open in Lincoln Riley’s spread attack. Even though Baker has very strong arm, I think, overall, he’s closer to Case Keenum than Drew Brees as a player. Cleveland is the perfect situation for Mayfield in terms of supporting cast, but I would still rather have Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Sam Darnold in dynasty leagues.


Running back


The Browns signed Carlos Hyde to a three-year deal worth more than $15 million this offseason, but he could be a frustrating own in a backfield that also includes a well-paid pass-catcher and a second-round rookie. While Hyde is a well-rounded back with requisite talent (the most important factor to consider for fantasy owners), I won’t be drafting him at his current Round 8 ADP as the RB28 because the risk is simply too great.


The biggest reason I am down on Hyde is that Nick Chubb—the No. 34 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft—is an excellent early-down runner that will earn a role sooner rather than later. I think Chubb could be Terrell Davis 2.0 with a perfect combination of power and the ability to accelerate on the corner or outrun defenders in the open field. However, expectations should be kept somewhat in check this season, as an injury might be the only way for Chubb to reach his full potential as a rookie. He is a good value as a hopeful FLEX at his current late-round ADP.


Duke Johnson is going a couple rounds ahead of Chubb, and he might be a little safer than the rookie because of a stable role in the passing game. Still, the 24-year-old is unlikely to ever turn into an RB1/RB2 in standard leagues, which Hyde and/or Chubb could both accomplish this season. I think Johnson is a solid mid-round target in PPR leagues, but I wouldn’t draft him before Round 13 or Round 14 in standard leagues due to a lack of upside.


Wide receiver


Josh Gordon finally returned to the field in 2017, appearing in five games and catching 18 passes for 335 yards and one touchdown. His 18.6 yards per reception was better than his impressive career average of 17.3, and this year, he will be the focal point of Todd Haley’s aggressive passing game. I would have much rather he been paired with Josh Allen to connect on deep digs, comebacks, and other downfield routes, but Gordon carries overall WR1 upside with a WR2 floor if he gets competent quarterback play. The risk of a suspension is something that fantasy owners need to always keep in mind, though.


I’m always lower on Jarvis Landry than most, as unlike his new teammate “Flash”, the slot receiver just doesn’t have the upside to be worth a fifth- or sixth-round pick in fantasy drafts for me. However, he is an ideal fit for both Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield (more so than Gordon), and you can probably bank on at least 80 receptions and 900 yards this season. I think that’s currently worth a selection in Round 9 of standard leagues, but I can see why his stability pushes him way up draft boards.


Corey Coleman has been unable to stay healthy over the past two seasons and has dealt with drops when he is on the field, but I don’t think it’s wise to give up on him just yet. The Baylor product is extremely explosive, and Year 3 is often when receivers break out. A trade might be the best-case scenario to unlock his potential in 2018, but based on talent, Coleman is still a borderline top-150 player for me.


There is room for three receivers to all be fantasy contributors nowadays, but Coleman could be dropped to fourth on the depth chart if Antonio Callaway gains favor with the coaching staff in training camp. I thought the troubled Florida star was undraftable following a failed drug test at the Combine, but Cleveland believes in him enough that they traded up and drafted him in the fourth round. He is somehow miles off the fantasy radar, but Callaway is a legitimate first-round talent with 4.41 speed that translates to on-field explosiveness.


Tight end


David Njoku is the prototypical breakout candidate after recording a respectable 32/386/4 line in limited playing time as a 21-year-old rookie on the worst team in football. This year, the Browns got better everywhere, and Njoku could be unleashed with new play-caller Todd Haley taking duties away from the ineffective Hue Jackson. The Miami product should see a lot of single coverage down the seam and has more than enough talent to take advantage of it. Njoku is arguably the best mid-to-late round target at tight end.


Veteran Darren Fells was brought in to be the team’s main blocking tight end at six-foot-seven, 281 pounds, and I think the 32-year-old has more to offer as a receiver, too. However, he’s unlikely to make a significant statistical impact or drain any value from Njoku, so he can be ignored outside of desperate owners seeking a touchdown in very deep leagues. The same is true for Seth DeValve, who is coming off a nice season but will struggle to make a fantasy impact with Njoku and Fells ahead of him.



For more in-depth analysis, analytics, and access to early draft rankings to see exactly where each player stands, buy the recently-launched Fantasy Football Consigliere here.


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