2020 Fantasy Preview: Cleveland Browns
Last year, the Cleveland Browns entered the season with sky-high expectations. It was supposed to be the year that the Browns finally escaped their standing as laughing-stock of the NFL. But after a promising 2018 season where the Browns finished the season winning five of their last seven games (7-8-1 record), the Browns failed to build upon it, stumbling to a disappointing 6-10 record. Rising star Baker Mayfield went from being regarded as the next great quarterback to being most well-known for starring in Progressive commercials. Superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had one of the worst years of his career in his first year for the team. And the once-promising offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens was fired after just one season as the head coach after his offense ranked 22nd in passing yards and averaged only 20 points per game. The Browns decided to bring in a whole new front office and coaching staff headlined by former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. With Stefanski and the new coaching staff, there’s a lot of hope that the Browns will get their offense going and finally escape their status as being bottom-dwellers of the NFL.
The Browns are positioned to be a win-now team and should be in the mix for a wild card spot. Mayfield will retain his spot as the starting quarterback, and be backed up by journeyman Case Keenum. Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will start at wide receiver with Rashad Higgins joining them for three-wide sets. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will be in contention for the best running back duo in the league. Free-agent acquisition Austin Hooper is set to be the starting tight-end with plenty of David Njoku mixed in as well. There are a lot of great pieces here for the Browns, and fantasy owners should have the opportunity to capitalize on many of the Browns post-hype sleepers.
ADP: 138.2, QB17
Baker Mayfield had a record-setting rookie year where he completed 310 passes for 3725 passing yards (266.1 per game) and 27 touchdowns in just 13.5 games. But in 2019, he suffered a sophomore slump where he threw for only 3827 passing yards (239.2 per game) and 21 interceptions (7 more than his rookie year). Despite this down year, with the coaching staff changes and offensive line additions of Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills, Mayfield should be able to get back on track and show why he was taken 1st overall in 2018.
Best Case: Mayfield lives up to his status as a #1 overall pick and throws for 4500+ passing yards with 30+ touchdowns in the new system. The Browns end their playoff drought and are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl
Worst Case: Mayfield continues to struggle and has a year as bad as 2019. The Browns make the decision that they need a new QB for the 2021 season, and Mayfield is only known for his Progressive commercials.
2020 Projection: 475 attempts, 310 completions, 3800 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 30 rushes, 140 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD
ADP: 13.2, RB11
Ever since Nick Chubb took the starting job from Carlos Hyde in 2018, he’s proven himself to be one of the best running backs in the league. And despite a terrible offensive line last year, Chubb managed to finish 2nd in the NFL in rushing with 1494 yards (5.0 YPC). The craziest thing about that? He averaged four yards per carry after contact. This year he will be running behind a much improved offensive line with the additions of Wills and Conklin. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski is a very run-heavy play-caller, with his offense averaging 29.42 rushing attempts per game when he called plays with the Vikings (19 games). Chubb will prove this year, if not for sharing the load with Hunt, he would belong in the same conversation as Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey for fantasy purposes. For 2020, however, Chubb will have to split touches with Hunt, so that’ll make it difficult for him to challenge for the #1 overall fantasy running back this year. Regardless, Chubb remains a surefire RB1 in virtually all fantasy football leagues.
Best Case: Chubb is the clear lead back in Stefanski’s system, with Stefanski deciding only to use Hunt as a change-of-pace option. Chubb leads the league with 320 carries and runs for a league-leading 1700+ yards and 10+ touchdowns.
Worst Case: Hunt is the better fit for Stefanski’s offense and takes a lead with a 70/30 split. Mayfield’s continued struggles result in opposing defenses stacking the box, and Chubb has his least efficient year to date.
2020 Projection: 250 carries, 1250 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 25 targets, 20 receptions, 150 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown
ADP: 53.9, RB26
Kareem Hunt is the second part of this dynamic duo that could rival the 2017 New Orleans Saints’ backfield of Mark Ingram & Alvin Kamara for the best RB pairing in recent years. Hunt was a star for the Kansas City Chiefs, running 272 times for 1327 rushing yards and catching 53 passes for 455 yards in his rookie year in 2017. Hunt has been involved in a few off-the-field incidents since then, but his football talent remains. He will be the primary pass-catching/third-down running back for the Browns, the best “handcuff” in fantasy football, and in Stefanski’s run-heavy offense he should have some standalone value as well.
Best Case: Hunt fits Stefanski’s offense like a glove to a hand and commands the majority of the carries/running work. He returns to his Kansas City glory as one of the best backs in the league, running for over 1000 yards on the ground while excelling in the passing game.
Worst Case (for fantasy purposes): Hunt is clearly bested by Chubb, and Stefanski only uses Hunt as a change-of-pace and third-down running back.
2020 Projection: 155 carries, 725 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, 60 targets, 50 receptions, 450 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns
Odell Beckham Jr.
ADP: 36.6, WR13
Odell Beckham Jr. had a bit of a down year in 2019 playing through a sports hernia. Despite it being a down-year for the supremely talented receiver, he still saw 133 targets for 74 receptions, 1035 receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns. With another year to develop chemistry with Mayfield at quarterback, and an improved offensive line giving Mayfield more time in the pocket, expect Beckham to be much more efficient this upcoming year even with the shift to a more run-heavy Stefanski led offense.
Best Case: Seeing the Browns’ pass-catching weapons, Stefanski changes his approach to be more pass-friendly. Beckham Jr. is healthy all season long, and with Mayfield’s improved accuracy, OBJ averages over 100 receiving yards per game and catches double-digit touchdowns.
Worst Case: Stefanski goes run-heavy with Hunt & Chubb, and Beckham Jr. struggles with injury yet again. OBJ has to fight for targets between Landry, Hooper, Njoku, Hunt, Chubb, and Higgins, and lacks the target volume to be a true fantasy football difference-maker.
2020 Projection: 110 targets, 65 receptions, 1100 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns
ADP: 76.9, WR32
Despite the addition of former LSU teammate Beckham Jr. last season, Jarvis Landry remained Mayfield’s favorite receiver, seeing 138 targets and catching 83 passes for 1174 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. In the past, Landry has been one of the most consistent wide receivers in the league, playing in every game of his six-year career (96 games) and totaling 564 receptions for 6188 receiving yards. While he had a career year last season, I expect Landry to fall into high-end WR3 territory in Stefanski’s offense. Landry underwent hip surgery in February of this year, and while all signs of his recovery are positive at the moment, be aware that he could be eased back into camp as he builds up strength and conditioning.
Best Case: Landry continues to be Mayfield’s favorite receiver, keeps his iron-man streak alive, and has over 1000 receiving yards. His WR32 ADP looks like a steal in retrospect.
Worst Case: Stefanski’s offense is extremely run-heavy. Beckham Jr. cements himself as the clear WR1 on the team. Landry fights for targets with the other talented Browns players and ends up with under 700 yards receiving as his injury recovery limits him to start the season.
2020 Projection: 100 targets, 65 receptions, 800 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns
ADP: 226, WR100
Higgins is expected to be number three wide-out for the Browns in 2020. But considering there are six skill position players better than him in Hunt, Chubb, Beckham Jr., Landry, Hooper, and Njoku, as well as Stefanski’s preference for 2 tight-end sets, it’s difficult to envision him as fantasy-relevant barring an injury.
Best Case: Higgins steps in if his teammates miss time and keeps the ship afloat. He ends up being a streamer for favorable matchups in fantasy football leagues.
Worst Case: Higgins gets beat out for the #3 WR job and is later cut.
2020 Projection: 15 targets, 8 receptions, 80 receiving yards
ADP: 135.4, TE13
Austin Hooper was exceptional for the Atlanta Falcons last year, catching 75 passes on 97 targets for 787 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns in just 13 games. This was his second year in a row in which he caught 70+ passes, establishing himself as one of the better receiving tight ends in the league. But it’s a new year, new team for Hooper. While Stefanski’s offense does a good job of utilizing tight ends, Hooper will have more competition than he did in Atlanta with former 1st round pick Njoku still on the Browns roster. With two talented wide receivers, a workhorse running back in Chubb, and an above-average pass-catcher in Hunt, this Brown’s offense is much more crowded than what Hooper dealt with in Atlanta, making volume concerns his primary obstacle in 2020.
Best Case: Hooper is the clear receiving tight end while Njoku is primarily used for blocking. He has a few big games when defenses are focused on Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and is a steady presence in fantasy lineups all year long.
Worst Case: Hooper starts the season off as the starter, but as the season wears on the Browns opt to utilize Njoku more and more. Hooper settles into the profile of a solid on-the-field contributor at tight end, but for fantasy purposes, he lacks the upside to make a difference in your weekly lineup.
2020 Projection: 70 targets, 52 receptions, 570 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns
ADP: 354, TE41
David Njoku struggled with injury in 2019, only appearing in four games and catching five passes. But it wasn’t so long ago that the former 1st round pick was showing promise: In 2018, Njoku caught 56 of 88 passes for 639 yards and 4 touchdowns. Njoku is still a young player, set to be 24 years old at the start of the season, but this season he will face some tough competition for reps in former Falcons tight end Austin Hooper. He likely won’t have a breakout season unless a few of his teammates miss time, but the potential is still there for Njoku.
Best Case: Njoku shows out in preseason and training camp, making it hard to keep him off the field. As the season goes on he takes on a larger and larger role and helps the Browns make the playoffs and fantasy owners win their championships.
Worst Case: Njoku has another forgettable season like 2019 and is unable to step up when the team needs him due to injuries and the prominence of two tight end sets. The Browns miss the playoffs and regret not trading Njoku in the preseason to recoup some of their investment.
2020 Projection: 40 targets, 28 receptions, 380 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)