2022 AFC North Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Drew DeLuca breaks down the AFC North from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 20.5 20th
Offensive Snaps 62.0 20th
2021 Record 8-9 T-16th
2022 Vegas Win Projection NL N/A

 

The Cleveland Browns have had an…interesting…offseason, and that’s putting it kindly. One season removed from their first playoff win in decades, they cut ties with Baker Mayfield, the team’s most successful quarterback since Bernie Kosar, after one subpar, injury-riddled season.

The Browns replaced Mayfield with a man who faced two dozen sexual assault cases this offseason, former Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson. Despite multiple looming civil cases, and the possibility of criminal cases in other counties that have not yet been filed, Watson received a 5-year, $230 million contract from the Browns with over $40 million guaranteed for a 2022 season in which he may or may not play.

The Browns, a picture of mediocrity last season, will need a lot of breaks to go their way in order to contend for a playoff spot in 2022. Thankfully, one positive constant remains; a strong ground game that grinds down opposing defenses behind one of the league’s best offensive lines.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 195.3 27th
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.2 T-20th
Pass Attempts per Game 30.6 28th

 

Browns fans endured one of the league’s least potent passing attacks last season. Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper finished 1-2 in targets last season, and neither is back in 2022 after signing deals with the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans, respectively. Donovan Peoples-Jones, who flashed as a size/speed prospect on the outside, returns for 2022. Tight end David Njoku inherits Hooper’s role (and a healthy pay raise) after receiving the franchise tag this offseason. Meanwhile, third-year tight end Harrison Bryant, winner of the 2019 John Mackey Award as college football’s premier tight end, will see a healthy increase in both snaps and targets.

The Browns will miss Landry’s steady hands on third downs, but Amari Cooper was virtually stolen from the Dallas Cowboys not long before the Jacksonville Jaguars blew up the wide receiver market by giving over $100 million to Christian Kirk and Zay Jones. The team then added Purdue standout David Bell in the 2022 NFL Draft, who makes up for his lackluster speed with exceptional body control, sure hands, and the versatility to play in either the slot or outside. Do the math, and the wide receiver corps looks to be better on paper in 2022.

As far as running backs go, Kareem Hunt should reprise his role as the primary receiving option out of the backfield, while Nick Chubb once again figures to be a relative non-factor in the passing game.

This year, more than ever, the passing game in Cleveland will rise or fall with the state of the quarterback position. Rampant speculation early this offseason indicated that Watson would receive a season-long suspension (or more), making career backup Jacoby Brissett the de facto starter. Brissett served in a similar capacity as the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts following the sudden, unexpected retirement of Andrew Luck in 2019. However, in recent weeks, the buzz shifted, and there’s an increasing likelihood of a reduced suspension of two to eight games. The prospects of the entire offense, Cooper and Peoples-Jones in particular, get a massive lift if Watson starts half or more of the Browns’ games this season.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yards per Game 145.4 4th
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 1.2 T-6th
Rushing Plays per Game  28.5 8th

 

In spite of a sputtering pass attack that failed to strike fear into the hearts of its opponents, the Browns were a force to be reckoned with on the ground last season. Nick Chubb led the way with 228 carries, finishing as the RB8 in fantasy points per game in PPR formats. He should once again serve as a stable low-end RB1, with Top 5 overall upside if Kareem Hunt misses time. D’Ernest Johnson, who signed a $1.2 million deal this offseason, will reprise his role as a rotational back who’ll spell either Chubb or Hunt on occasion. Keep Johnson on your waiver wire “watch list,” as he proved last year that he’s capable of putting up numbers in an increased role, should an opportunity arise.

 

Sleeper

 

David Njoku (TE19, ADP 169)

There are several “deep sleeper” candidates on this team, but few true sleepers. Brissett is the clear choice in superflex or 2QB formats, but shouldn’t be drafted in traditional single quarterback leagues. That leaves us with David Njoku, who’s going off the board as the TE19 on average in drafts so far this year. Njoku is a great target for those who opt to punt the tight end position and load up on wide receivers and running backs and can easily once again finish as a Top 12 tight end, as he did in 2018 (TE9 in PPR).

 

Deep Sleeper

 

David Bell, WR (WR83, ADP 230)

If Deshaun Watson receives a suspension of six games or fewer, Donovan Peoples-Jones becomes a great target in bestball formats. The former Michigan Wolverine wins with size (6′ 2″, 212) and sub-4.5 speed, making him a matchup nightmare against undersized corners. Watson’s arm strength and superior deep ball placement are a great match for “DPJ.”

However, rookie wide receiver David Bell, who excels as a possession receiver, is the choice here. The Purdue standout lacks premium athletic measurements and speed, but is a great route technician with above-average size who wins at the catch point. Bell fits the profile of possession receivers that Watson has favored since his college days, from Adam Humphries to Hunter Renfrow. He’s likely to see a sizeable target share from Jacoby Brissett, as well.

 

 

Bust Candidate

 

Amari Cooper (WR24, ADP57)

Cooper, a six-time Pro Bowler, could become a terrific value if Watson starts eight games or more. However, we’re less excited with Brissett at the helm. Additonally, the former Oakland Raider and Dallas Cowboy moves to a team that runs the ball with more regularity than any he’s ever been a part of.

Cooper’s per-game yardage totals fell off in 2021, and we don’t see a Brissett-led Browns offense to be anywhere near the same caliber as the one he left behind in Dallas. With volume and quarterback concerns in mind, his ADP seems a bit high.

There are a handful of other wide receivers going later that I’d prefer to draft, including Brandin Cooks and Courtland Sutton. The fifth round also seems like a great spot to grab value at the tight end position or even running back: George Kittle, Darren Waller, and A.J. Dillon are all preferable options in the area of the draft where Cooper is going, as are high-end quarterback options like Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray.

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Larry Radloff, Frank Jansky, Andy Lewis + Ian Johnson / Icon Sportswire

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.