It’s been awhile since I’ve written a sincere fantasy football article, so my apologies in advance. It does truly matter, though, as predicting fantasy football is more of a job than it is a hobby, meaning if you are competing in your league, you already know what you’re doing.
Fantasy football has evolved rapidly over the course of a decade. I can remember being in middle school and drafting up fantasy football leagues in the lunch room. You could always tell which kids never knew what the hell they were talking about when they drafted X player. Growing up in Ohio, there were a few homers. “I want Eddie George no matter what. I’ll trade anything for him”. Sure George finished as a top five back, but come on, was I really not going to take Marshall Faulk?
Who am I kidding. I was 13 years old. No 13-year old could tell you that Frank Winters was the starting center for the 1996 Packers, but was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 10th round of the 1987 NFL Draft. So maybe I
was am always too competitive.
What I can tell you is that thanks to me growing up a fan of the Cleveland Browns, I’m a 28-year old eternal pessimist. The fan motto inspires hope: “There’s always next year.” Except that since the franchise returned in 1999, the motto is more of a sarcastic joke than it is optimism and hope. But who cares? It’s all about loyalty. I’ll follow this team until I die and I have no problem with that.
Being a pessimist, however, means that any Browns offensive players are an absolute ‘no-go’ in fantasy football. Primarily because that would be fantasy suicide, and also partially because thanks to superstition, I couldn’t play with them just in case it jinxes them in real life. If I bet against the Cleveland Browns, it’s a win/win. They’ll likely lose and I’ll win money, or they’ll win and real life and I’ll then feel like I committed some form of bribery.
My problem with the 2015 Cleveland Browns squad is that they are being severely underrated. More specifically the offense, which is now being led at quarterback by journeyman Josh McCown. I mean, where hasn’t Josh McCown been, am I right? *chuckles*
What people aren’t realizing is that despite McCown’s age, he’s actually in one of the best positions of his career. Sure he’s 36, and has nearly as many interceptions in his career spent with five teams. Sure he’s completed just 58.8% of his career passes. Sure he’s taken 47 sacks in his last 19 games played after missing 2012.
But how much does that really matter? We know the ability is there. Just two seasons of go he threw for 13 touchdowns and one interception. Granted, he did have Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, and Martellus Bennett. I’m not expecting him to go for a 13/1 ratio again, however. I’m not expecting 8.2 YPA. I’m also not expecting 66.5% completion. I just am missing the reasons as to why he’s not going to succeed. He certainly does not have to deal with Johnny Manziel breathing down his back. I don’t care how much Manziel improves in training camp, he’s not on track to start at any point this season without an injury.
The fact of the matter is, a healthy Cleveland Browns offense as a whole can be a significantly better offense with McCown in the lineup. This is a team that couldn’t move the ball last year on the ground or in the air, scoring the sixth least amount of points, still winning seven games, while coming within three points of a few more. What’s that tell us? It’s that the defense still found a way to make stops despite an inept offense, and is therefore talented.
A great defense is an offense’s best friend. It takes the pressure off and allows the offense to obtain a rhythm and establishing it’s identity. But what the offense couldn’t do last year was primarily due to the poor quarterback play, and also losing the starting center in Alex Mack. The Browns offensively were able to move the ball on the ground in the first five games of the season to stay close in games that Brian Hoyer was slowly throwing away. Hoyer’s noodle arm had defenses fearing nothing, but that didn’t slow the running game down.
Well, Mack is back, the Browns offensive is healthy, added two talented pass catchers and a potential difference maker at running back. People fail to realize just how much a center can affect the offensive line. With Mack in the lineup, the Browns scored 27, 26, 21, 29, and 31 points. Cleveland scored just less than 24 points in eight of the remaining 11 games while playing against one of the leagues weaker schedules.
The two returning running backs in Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West are a year older with the same coach in Mike Pettine, adding rookie Duke Johnson in the mix. Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline have been added into the starting lineup. Cameron Erving provides depth on the offensive line, while Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack, John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz man the offensive line. Four of those five lineup are high quality players, while Schwartz has this year to prove his worth or be replaced.
Tight end has been downgraded with the departure of Jordan Cameron to Miami, but Rob Housler being signed could provide to be quite valuable from a receiving standpoint, while Gary Barnidge is a sleeper to make a few catches in the end zone.
There are no household names on the Cleveland Browns offensive roster, which is why there is no talk of them in fantasy football. I honestly do not blame the lack of discussion because, hey, it’s the Browns.
But what this team was missing in 2014 was the presence of a receiver that could make catches consistently down the field, and a quarterback that could throw the ball down the field. In 2015, the Browns have that presence on both ends. McCown doesn’t have a Jeff George cannon, but he can make consistent, accurate throws down the field as he proved at the end of 2013. He also showed that with rookie receiver Mike Evans in Tampa Bay in 2014.
You’re asking who the receiver is who can stretch the field a bit and I have no qualms with giving extra optimism toward Dwayne Bowe. NFL fans have watched a significant regression with Bowe in the last few years, yet they fail to realize that the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t had a quarterback that could throw the ball further than 15 yards was Joe Montana. Dwayne Bowe and Alex Smith just never had any chemistry together, and McCown’s ability to throw down field will yield what should be a 1,000 yard season for Bowe assuming health.
Can we talk about Brian Hartline for a second? Hartline had two 1,000 yard seasons prior to a weak 474 yard output in 2014. The good news? Hartline doesn’t have to catch 70+ passes for Cleveland to be effective. What he needs to do is make key catches on third down and be a guy that McCown can find in clutch situations. Andrew Hawkins won’t catch 60 passes again in 2015, but that’s okay as well. He still has a knack for finding holes in the middle of the field for quick receptions.
Overall, the Browns lack WR depth, as they’re even hopeful that former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor will work out. Honestly, all of us Clevelanders are hoping for it to pan out due to the fact that he is the ideal red zone target with his 6’4 230 pound frame.
The running backs are not household names. Isaiah Crowell is most known for getting kick out of Georgia, and Terrance West is a Division I-AA runner who packs a punch. Duke Johnson comes out of the U with heavy expections. While on the smaller side, Johnson has the ability to make defenders miss with excellent hands out of the backfield. Crowell rushed for 5.3 yards per carry and four touchdowns during the first five games with a healthy Alex Mack. In fact, Crowell rushed for 5.4 yards ypc, and four touchdowns during that span. Terrance West added 200+ yards and two touchdowns as well.
The Browns offensive line with a healthy Alex Mack is a top 10 NFL line. Assuming Mack is at full health, Josh McCown comes into an offense that can protect him and can make a huge push in the running game, as well as receivers that are experienced and have proven to be play makers.
Finally, let’s take a look at the Cleveland Browns 2015 schedule. They open up in New York with the Jets who are in line to receive the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. They follow up with home games against Tennessee and Oakland before going out to San Diego. Through four games they have yet to play a top 15 defense according to FootballOutsiders.com
Baltimore, Denver, St. Louis and Arizona follow before heading into a road game against the Bengals. Those are high powered defenses that can make plays. However, Arizona and St. Louis have questionable quarterback situations that could really affect the team. Carson Palmer’s health is an issue as with Nick Foles’ production. Denver is at home in what hopes to be a crisp, fall October game, with a road trip to Baltimore who the Browns have played very close over the course of recent seasons.
Cleveland faces the Bengals twice over the following four games, while going to Pittsburgh will be challenging, then again facing the Ravens at home. Overall, the fantasy season could be inconsistent for Josh McCown, but there are still enough favorable match-ups assuming he has a healthy line and receiving corps.
Are we banking on health offensively for the Cleveland Browns to produce on a solid level for 2015? Absolutely. Is there hope for the Browns in 2015 in terms of breaking the 350 point scoring mark? Absolutely. Josh McCown’s leadership, veteran knowledge, ability to make plays down field, and offensive line gives this team the stop-gap quarterback that they need before they find their next leader in the NFL Draft.
McCown is currently being drafted in less leagues than Johnny Manziel. The 34th quarterback drafted in fantasy football mock drafts, McCown has the ability to be a QB2 in most standard leagues and will finish out that way. To be drafted as a third QB is more than a steal. If you are drafting Manziel in any league, you are making a huge mistake.
The norm around society is that the Cleveland Browns aren’t going to compete. Just saying “Cleveland Browns” makes people laugh in many areas, however, looking at this team under Mike Pettine, they are tough as hell and they will be a lot more ready than people realize. That may mean you need to start putting some Browns players on your radar come draft day.