2017 Fantasy Football: Cleveland Browns Team Outlook
Let's face it. It hasn't been fun to be a Browns' fan since 1989. They've only made the playoff twice over the last 27 years, which includes 14 straight non-playoff outcomes. Cleveland won 10 games in 2007 while failing to make the playoffs. Last season they allowed 188 more points than they scored, which was worse than 2015 (-154). The Browns ranked 31st in point scores (264), 30th in offensive yards, 30th in points allowed (452), and 31st in yards allowed. The bottom line here is this team didn't do anything well, and it's time to put this package together. Hue Jackson has 16 years of NFL experience with most of his coaching falling on the offensive side of the ball. Jackson was the head coach of the Raiders in 2011 (8-8) and the Browns in 2016 (1-15). His offenses in his career as an offensive coordinator only had one year of a high level of success (Oakland in 2015 - 5th in points scored). Hue will run the offense again this year. Gregg Williams takes over as defensive coordinator after holding the same job for 16 seasons in the NFL for five different franchises. Williams struggled over three seasons at the head coach of the Bills from 2001 to 2003 (17-31) while picking up a Super Bowl title as the defensive coordinator for the Saints in 2009.
Cleveland didn't lose or add any defensive player of value in the offseason. CB Tramon Williams and DT Stephen Paea were released. Williams lost a set at age 34 while Paea looks like a neutral rotational player. The Browns dumped four offensive players - QB Josh McCown, WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Andrew Hawkins, and TE Gary Barnidge. Pryor was the player with the best chance of being an asset, but his age (28) and his success in 2016 led to him being overpriced for the direction of this franchise. G Austin Pasztor remains a free agent after starting 16 games in 2016 with league average value. Cleveland did sign CB Jason McCourty in mid-May to upgrade the secondary.
WR Kenny Britt was brought in to help bridge the gap to the next generation at wide receiver. Cleveland signed RG Kevin Zeitler to a five-year $60 million contract in March. They took a swing in C J.C. Tretter who struggled with some injuries over the last couple seasons with the Packers.
Houston gave away QB Brock Osweiler in the offseason. The Browns may still cut him with the development of rookie QB DeShone Kizer being the key.
I thought the Browns did a nice job in this year's draft while keeping an eye on the future. They had three first round drafts - DE Myles Garrett, S Jabrill Peppers, and TE David Njoku. Garrett looks like the real-life version of Vontae Mack who Cleveland drafted in the movie Draft Day. Myles has a great burst off the line of scrimmage with high value rushing the QB. He'll be a disrupter on many plays while needing to prove he can beat double teams and improving his motor. Garrett is the first move toward the climb to the top of the NFL mountain. He showed plus speed and strength in this year's NFL Combine.
S Jabrill Peppers will add value in run support with enough speed to handle himself in the passing game. Peppers will have an edge in speed at his position while showing the willingness to hit. Jabrill comes with questions in ball skills while offering value as a returner. Once he learns to react rather than think, he'll be one step closer to the ball where his returns skills will be exciting.
TE David Njoku was the third TE selected in the first round. As this point of his career, Njoku is more of an athlete with enough speed and quickness to make plays all over the field. His route running needs development while improving his catch rate especially in the heat of a battle. David has the rise to win many jump balls. He needs to improve his release when pressed by physical defenders plus add bulk to improve his value as a blocker. At age 21, he has a bright future in the NFL when the pieces come together.
The Browns placed their future bet at quarterback with DeShone Kizer in the second round. He has an NFL arm, which will threaten the defense in all areas. He stands tall in the pocket with the willingness to make some players with his legs. His accuracy in the medium and short ranges need improvement as well as his ability to read the whole field. I don't get the feeling he makes the players around him better, which is what the great NFL QBs do. NFL defenses will have success against him when they force him to reload or move off his spot. DeShone will need some time to develop, but this team may need him to learn on the fly.
In the 3rd and 5th round, Cleveland added a pair of defensive tackles - Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley. Larry is aggressive at the point of attack leading to his best impact coming off his first step. When shutdown off the snap, Ogunjobi lacks the second gear to finish plays plus he needs to add more bulk to stand his ground against power run game. If he has an edge in his matchup, his name will be on the stat sheet. If Larry struggles to beat his man, he will be a non-factor on many plays. Overall, his game will offer rotational value with starting upside down the road. Brantley projects more as early down player with value off the snap. He lacks follow through to finish plays when rushing the QB after being shut down early off the snap. He tends to cheat the snap leading to many offside, which may be a sign of less upside down the road. Caleb needs to add more weight to upgrade his value as a run clogger.
CB Howard Wilson was added in the fourth round. His best asset is his short area quickness. Despite his lack of strength and size (6'1" and 184 lbs.), he handles himself well when asked to tackle. Wilson has a feel for the ball, but he needs more time to develop defending plus route runners. Looks the part with some risk in his deep speed. Howard missed much of 2015 due to a torn ACL. Value pick with more upside coming.
The Browns do have talent on the offensive line, so T Rodrick Johnson was the only swing to improve the depth on the line. His scouting report paints an interesting picture, but he clearly has some issues with his technique. It seems like he fears speed and he tries to offset this shortfall by beating his man to the punch. If he misses, Johnson has downside risk. With better awareness and understanding of his ultimate goal, his game will improve quickly. It may take a downgrade in position, but he will help the Browns at some point in his career.
With two picks in the seventh round, Cleveland invested in K Zane Gonzalez and RB Matt Dayes. Gonzalez has a big leg leading to upside in the long kicks and delivering touchbacks. Dayes has pass-catching ability, but he lacks the talent to break many tackles and create in the open field. His finishing gear is below NFL standards while bringing questions about his ability to pass protect.
Game score led to the Browns averaging only 21.9 rushes per game, which tied Detroit for the 31st ranking in the league. They averaged a surprising 4.9 yards per rush (2nd) just below the Cowboys (5.3). Their lack of attempts led to a 19th place finish in rushing yards (1,712) with 13 rushing TDs and 12 runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers had 54 runs over 10 yards with 46 negative rushes.
Cleveland allowed an amazing 66 sacks, leading to poor results in passing yards (3264 - 28th) and 15 passing TDs. Their QBs completed 44 passes over 20 yards while tossing 14 Ints. Was the failure in sacks due to poor QB play, poor receiving options, or a poor pass blocking? I have to say a combination of all three.
LT Joe Thomas is one of the better players at his position in the league. He plays well in both run and pass blocking. Cleveland selected him in the first round in 2007. Thomas hasn't missed a game in his 10-year career.
LG Joel Bitonio suffered a foot injury in 2016 leading to 11 missed games. The Browns signed him to a five-year $51 million extension in March with $23 million in guaranteed money. This just shows how much they respect him after being selected in the second round in 2014. Joel tends to offer more upside as a run blocker.
C J.C Tretter will have the inside track to start after only playing seven games in 2016 due to a torn MCL that required surgery in January. He has one full season on his resume after the Packers selected him in the fourth round in 2013. His ranking was helped by Aaron Rodgers being an elite QB.
RG Kevin Zeitler was an asset for the division rival Bengals over the last five seasons after Cinci drafted him in the first round in 2012. He signed a big contract as well ($60 million). This gives Cleveland a third high-value option on the offensive line.
RT Cameron Erving missed some time in 2016 due to a shoulder injury plus he suffered a left knee issue in Week 17. His game isn't where it needs to be after the Browns invested a first-round pick on him in 2015. Erving has plus strength with some quickness for his position. He adds versatility to the offensive line with his biggest asset coming in run blocking.
The pieces are in place on the offensive line with three first-round draft picks and a fourth option that grades highly for his position. The only thing missing is offensive talent at QB and WR. They should run the ball well, and I expect a huge step forward in pass blocking in 2017. I just wonder if the offensive line will be around long enough to see the right combination of players on offense.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
The Browns' offensive line will get tested in nine games against teams with above average success defending the run. They only had two matchups with that offer a slight edge (IND and @CHI).
The passing side has more hot and cold spots. The Titans and the Packers struggled to defend the pass in 2016 with Colts having some risk as well. Their worst three matchups will come vs. the Texans, the Vikings and the Jaguars plus five more games with some risk in the passing game.
The Browns ran the ball only 38.2 percent of the time in 2016 due to game score and a bad defense. I'm sure this season they will want to run the better with improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The big question is the quarterback play and development at WR and TE.
The Browns have a favorable schedule for their run defense. They play five games vs. teams with weakness rushing the ball (BAL X 2, MIN, LAC, and DET). Cleveland has one game against a team with strength running the ball (TEN).
They have a three-game stretch against teams (NYJ, HOU, and TEN) with risk passing the ball. The Browns do play eight teams that have above league average success passing the ball.
Cleveland has the second worst rushing defense in the league (2,283 yards allowed). They allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 18 rushing TDs.
They finished 21st in pass yards allowed (3,996) while allowing the most passing TDs. The Browns only had 26 sacks and 10 Ints. Cleveland allowed a league-high 16 completions over 40 yards.
DT Danny Shelton showed improvement across the board in 2016 after getting drafted in the first round in 2015. His best asset will come against the run. Over 32 games in his career, Danny only has 1.5 sacks. DE Myles Garrett will instantly upgrade the pass rush while offering steady value in run support. His style may work better in a 4-3 defense early in his career. DE Emmanuel Ogbah had 5.5 sacks in his rookie season after the Browns selected him in the second round. Ogbah looks the part of an upside pass rusher with strength and speed, but he needs to improve his motivations while he does lack impact athletic ability. His talent offers upside, and his game should continue to improve. DE Carl Nassib is motivated by not being respected as a player. He has pass rushing skills with one-dimensional speed. His best asset is his motor with a solid feel for the game. Carl may need time to develop especially when matchup up with power defenders.
LB Christian Kirksey had tremendous growth at a tackler (148) in his third-year in the league while chipping in 2.5 sacks. LB Jamie Collins is a playmaker, and he'll be better in his second year on this defense. He needs to play within the system to avoid making big mistakes in pass coverage. Last season Jamie had 112 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. LB Demario Davis regressed in the last two years after flashing upside with the Jets in 2014. Maybe he was just part of bad defense so his stats could improve with more talent around him on defense. LB Joe Schobert lacks power and speed while gaining his edge in vision and anticipation. He will hold his own in coverage with sporadic value in the pass rush.
CB Joe Haden has failed to live up to his draft value (1st round in 2010) over the last couple of seasons. Joe missed 14 games over the last two years. If he regains his previous form, it will help this defense tremendously. CB Jason McCourty will fight for a starting CB job after the Browns signed him in May. He'll compete with CB Jamar Taylor who played his best ball of his career in 2016 (13 defended passes and three Ints). S Jabrill Peppers will compete for a starting job. He'll have a learning curve at safety so it may take a few games to learn the NFL game. When on the field, Peppers will improve the run defense. The other two options at safety are Derrick Kindred and Ed Caldwell. Both players are league average at best.
The first and second levels of this defense should be improved in 2017. The Browns need someone to develop into a run stopper at the second defensive tackle position, which may come in next year's draft. The lack a second CB of value while needing a couple of pass covering options in the secondary. This defense will be much improved this year especially if the offense can do a better job staying on the field. Possible gamble as a second defense in the season long games.
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QB Cody Kessler, CLE - Dynasty Only
Cody lacks an impact arm while offering some upside as a game manager. Cody plays more not to lose rather than seizing the moment with impact throws in tight coverage. His accuracy plays well within the pocket with a solid feel for the pass rush. When forced to run, his game loses value leading to minimal big plays and declining success. In his first season in the league, Kessler went 0-8 in nine games played. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 1380 yards with six TDs and two Ints. Cody was sacked 21 times in 195 attempts (9.7 percent of the time). As expected, he had no value as a runner (11/18). His only game of value came in Week 6 vs. the Titans (336 passing yards and two TDs). His success in training camp may be the key to the lifeline for Brock Osweiler. Likely starter, but wins will keep him behind center all year. Kessler has no Fantasy value headed into 2017.
QB Kevin Hogan, CLE - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 10/16/17DeShone Kizer will have to learn his next NFL experience holding a clipboard after tossing nine Ints in five games with poor completion rate in his last four starts (48.4, 46.8, 47.1, and 47.1). This gives Hogan a chance to show his stuff in Week 6. In his limited playing time this year, Kevin has a 68.4 percent completion rate while gaining 9.9 yards per pass attempt. Hogan tends to struggle throwing TDs in the red zone, but he'll face a Texans' defense that won't have as much fire power after the injuries to two of their top defenders (J.J. Watts and Whitney Mercilus). Nothing more than a gamble due to the limited receiving talent.
QB DeShone Kizer, GB - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Update 12/09/17Kizer only has one game with over one passing TD. DeShone has a rushing TD in three of his last five games while improved value as runner over this stretch (31/182). He has fewer than 270 yards passing in each game. The Packers are 21st in the league against QBs with three TDs teams scoring over 25 Fantasy points (DAL - 251/4, DET - 361/2, and PIT - 351/4). QBs have 19 TDs against Green Bay while gaining 7.8 yards per pass attempt. Kizer has improved talent at WR with Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman in the starting lineup. Gordon looked the part last week so DeShone looks ready to produce an impact game in this favorable matchup.
RB Isaiah Crowell, NYJ - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 12/09/17Crowell came up flat last week (44 combined yards with a catch on 11 touches) in a favorable matchup. Over his last five games, Isaiah 380 combined yards with two TDs and seven catches while averaging 14.2 touches per game. GB allows 3.9 yards per rush with RBs scoring seven rushing TDs. The Packers did struggle against the run in their last two games (59/286), but they did allow a rushing TD. Possible TD, but he'll need over 100 yards rushing for the first time all year to be in play.
RB Duke Johnson, CLE - Quality Backup
Update 12/29/17Headed into Week 17, Duke is the 12th highest scoring RB in PPR leagues despite failing to break the 20-point barrier in his last ten games. Over the last three weeks, he scored 14.90, 16.30, and 17.10 Fantasy points thanks to his high value in the passing game (16/161/1). On the year, Johnson has 946 combined yards with six TDs and 68 catches. His worst game of the year came in Week 1 (2 catches for 20 yards) against the Steelers. RBs have 74 catches for 642 yards and a TD on 94 targets vs. Pittsburgh in 2017. More steady than explosive with his best value coming in a chaser game.
WR Josh Gordon, CLE - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 12/29/17For the Fantasy owners that carried Gordon all season, he was a no show on the stat sheet over his last two games (5/47 and 2/19) after flashing upside in his first two games (4/85 and 3/69/1). Over his four games played, Josh caught 14 of his 35 targets (40 percent). The inaccuracy of DeShone Kiser is a huge problem. The Steelers will rest some player this week, giving the Browns' offense a chance to face a weaker core of players. Only a flier in his last dance in 2017.