The city of Cleveland has had a lot to be excited about in the sports world over the last few months. If the MLB season ended today, the Cleveland Indians would make the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Switching views to the association, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Andrew Wiggins first overall (check out his insane 44’ vertical jump), recently resigned star point guard Kyrie Irving to a max deal and last but definitely not least, there has been some pretty strong rumors pertaining to LeBron James’ return to the Cavs. The real winner here is Poland Spring, as all of the Cavs fans will look to extinguish the fire they set to their LeBron jerseys 4 years ago. Certainly welcoming him back home with open arms.
But seeing to the rapid approach of the start of the NFL season, let’s turn our focus to football. The Cleveland Browns used one of their first round picks on Johnny Football, and if nothing else at least they added an A list celebrity to their city’s repertoire. They signed the talented backup running back out of Houston, Ben Tate while also adding the rookie Towson product Terrance West in this year’s draft. Out with the old, in with the new seems to be the Browns motto for their offense. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at what implications these offseason changes have in fantasy football world.
In 2013, the Cleveland Browns had only 2 players ranked inside the top 250 in fantasy football by years end. One of which is highly unlikely to step foot on the football field in 2014. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out those two players were Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. If the Browns plan on having any success in the AFC North this year, they’ll have to increase their number of top 250 players exponentially. Let’s take a look at the Cleveland Browns 2014 fantasy football outlook, position by position:
The Browns quarterback situation is one of the most interesting ones in all of football, solely because of Johnny Manziel. Everyone is dying to know if he will start and how he will perform on the next stage. The only problem is that Brian Hoyer, at least according to Browns GM and head coach, is the starter. You have to take that with a grain of salt. Now, Brian Hoyer played very well in the beginning of the 2013 season for the Browns before suffering a season ending ACL tear, and I am not at all saying that he is incapable of performing well, but the Browns front office knows exactly what kind of circus this off-season will turn into if they rule Manziel to be the starting quarterback this early.
Now having said that, Hoyer may actually be the starter for week 1, maybe even week 2, but I doubt much longer. Once Manziel steps on the field all eyes will be on him, which is precisely when he performs his best (i.e. A&M last year vs. #1 Alabama in week 3 & Duke in Chick-fil-A Bowl, etc).
Johnny Manziel is what I like to call a lottery ticket fantasy player. If you are willing to buy in and purchase a ticket, the ceiling is through the roof, no pun intended. Johnny Manziel averaged 83 yards per game rushing in college. Now, to be safe let’s cut that in half, say 41 yards rushing per game, totaling about 650 for the year. Let’s guess he scurries for 4 touchdowns on the ground. Just on rushing yards alone, that’s 90 points. If he can average 14 points a game through the air (Average: 175 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception), that will put him at a total of 315 points on the year. To put that into perspective, in 2013 that would of ranked him ahead of RGIII, Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer. Also, it would have placed him within just 20 points of Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill, and Matt Ryan.
The next interesting position battle is at running back. When the Browns signed Ben Tate in free agency, most assumed he would take on the lead back role, playing all the downs as their work horse. Then the 2014 NFL Draft came and went, leaving the Browns with one more running back on their roster than the previous day.
Terrance West was chosen with the 94th overall pick and has received considerable praise so far this offseason by head coach Mike Pettine. Pettine has also made it very clear that the Browns will look to be a run-first team this year. Is it just me, or does it seem like every coach says that every year? Anyways, Pettine, similarly, has made it clear that the Browns will use a running back by committee backfield.
Ben Tate, according to Yahoo’s ADP, is going as the 26th running back off the board, around 89th overall, compared to Terrance West at RB37, 121st overall. Tate has proven successful as a back in the NFL, but the main concern around him is that once he gets a serious workload, his durability becomes an issue. He is being drafted ahead of players like Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell, who is expected to be the starting back in a much more promising RBBC. If Tate misses time, Terrance West could turn into the every down workhorse in Cleveland, producing RB2, even RB1 type numbers.
Another back to quickly take note of is undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell out of Alabama State. He recently missed a two week period in OTA’s due to a hamstring issue which is crucial to rookies trying to prove themselves, but Crowell possesses some serious talent. Don’t even consider drafting him in standard leagues, but in leagues with 16-18+ teams or dynasty leagues Crowell warrants some attention.
Had Josh Gordon behaved himself, this section would probably be filled with a paragraph or two about him and his awesomeness. However, he didn’t and it’s not so let’s take a look at the other receiver options the Browns have to offer to fantasy players, which isn’t much.
At the moment, it looks like Miles Austin will be the Browns #1 receiving option, assuming he makes the roster. Yeah, I mean that. Austin’s legs are made of Jell-O and he is highly unlikely to return to his form of old, so don’t put too many of your eggs in his basket.
Another notable making the list of Browns receivers you should not draft unless you are in a 200-person league is Nate Burleson. In what looks to be a run-heavy offense, Burleson isn’t likely to exceed 500 yards or 5 touchdowns this year.
Andrew Hawkins, the 5th year player out of Toledo, is a relatively unknown name but that could change this season. After playing well, but never really catching a break of success in Cincinnati, Andrew Hawkins signed with the Cleveland Browns and has been receiving some very high praise from OTA’s so far. A lightning quick slot receiver, Hawkins is primed to turn heads this year and could easily produce the best fantasy numbers of all Browns receivers. He will be a viable option in PPR leagues as well as deeper, standard leagues and dynasty formats.
With Josh Gordon likely suspended for the 2014 season, you can expect Jordan Cameron, one of 2013’s biggest breakout players, to flourish. After catching 80 balls for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns last season, Cameron is deservedly being the 5th tight end taken off the board in fantasy football drafts this year. He has been raved about this offseason as being “impossible to cover” and has showed “improved footwork and explosion in the open field” according to the Cleveland Browns official website. Expect Cameron to produce similar, if not better numbers than in 2013.
There is definitely fantasy potential to be had in Cleveland this year. But at the moment that is about all it has. Questions at the quarterback and running back positions leave it difficult to decide which player to take on draft day. Hopefully by that time, most of these questions will be answered.
If it’s me drafting, I’m taking Manziel over Hoyer because his ceiling is incredibly high for a rookie. However, take Johnny with caution and be prepared to take QB alternates on your roster in case things don’t work out to plan. In terms of the running backs, West seems like the better option. At Tate’s current ADP there are better options on the board. West is currently getting drafted 30 spots behind Tate, and could turn into a major fantasy player if Tate misses time due to injury.
Basically, the only sure-fire fantasy option in Cleveland is tight end Jordan Cameron, so swing away.
*Photo credit – Mark Runyon | Pro Football Schedules