3-Point Stance: Cleveland isn’t quite a fantasy factor of sadness
As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Wednesday’s topic: The Cleveland Browns.
Tarnished by general views of Cleveland, RB Isaiah Crowell underwent a breakout of sorts in 2016. He finished RB20 in standard formats, improved massively in multiple primary and secondary categories and was a key cog on championship rosters (21.8 fantasy points scored Week 16). OVER/UNDER: Final fantasy rank this fall among rushers 20.5.
Liz – UNDER. Hue Jackson is a running backs specialist, having coached the position numerous times over his career. It’s no surprise that the Bengals backfield fell apart after Jackson lefty Cincy for Cleveland. Of course he wants to feed The Crow. And despite game-flow preventing the ground game from heating up last year, Crowell remained impressively efficient, averaging a career-high 4.8 YPC and receiving nearly two red zone carries per contest.
I know we’re talking about the Browns here, but it’s unlikely the team performs worse in 2017 than they did in 2016. After all, they’ve upgraded their offensive line, have a dedicated starter under center, and Jackson has a full year of experience as the HC under his belt. At just 24-years-old, with little competition on the depth chart, and having never missed a game due to injury, Crowell is one of the surest things at an otherwise scarce position. The Browns lead back figures to produce high-end RB2 fantasy numbers again this season.
Brad – UNDER. The Cleveland bruiser shares much in common with his nickname. Similar to American Crows, he’s an omnivore, a player who devours yards in various ways. Not limited to between-the-tackle grinds, he expanded his game in 2016 contributing markedly as a receiver (40 receptions for 319 yards). He also popped in other noteworthy categories, including breakaway runs (13, RB7), yards per carry (4.8) and yards after contact per touch (1.7, RB6). And that was achieved behind the fifth-worst run-blocking line in the league according to Football Outsiders. At times Crowell reminded onlookers of another former Brown, Jamal Lewis, an exemplary power back with trustworthy hands.
He’ll again work in tandem with Duke Johnson this fall likely garnering at least 60-65 percent of the opportunity share. Hue Jackson’s run-heavy desires combined with a revamped offensive line – new additions Kevin Zeitler, Joel Botonio and J.C. Tretter are anthropomorphic boulders – arrow to a possible mammoth 2017. If the Cleveland D can at least play respectably, it would be no shock Crowell breaks into the RB1 ranks. For now, he’s my RB13, a tank capable of firing off 1,400 combined yards with 7-9 TDs. At his 37.8 ADP, he’s a fireworks stand bargain (Buy one, get five free!).
“Heroic” is the best way to describe Kenny Britt’s accomplishments last season in Los Angeles. Though attached to QB junkyards Case Keenum and Jared Goff, he managed to tally a 68-1002-5 line (WR24). BUYING or SELLING: Britt tops his laudable 2016 in his first year with the Browns.
Brad – BUYING. A blindfolded, one-legged Jim Everett chained to an anvil would’ve been more productive at QB compared to what LA trotted out last year. When weighing the situation, Britt’s 1,000-yard season ranks up with holding a plank for 90 minutes, surfing a 100-foot wave or doing whatever nutty endurance test David Blaine attempts next. Seriously folks, it’s that kind of human achievement.
According to most estimations, moving from LA to Cleveland is a parallel fantasy move. However, I believe people are sorely undervaluing Cody Kessler, who should win the starting job in camp. As fellow rookies Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz dominated the headlines last year, the USC product performed admirably. He completed 65.6 percent of his attempts and notched the third-best under-pressure completion rate in the league. Brock Osweiler and greenhorn DeShone Kizer will push him in training camp, but if Kessler secures the job, he and Britt could compose beautiful music. Transpires that way and I could see Britt landing in range of 73-1100-6. Remember, he’s still two years shy of 30 years old.
Liz – SELLING. After seven years in the league, Britt finally tops 1,000 yards and everyone goes bananas. No thanks. I’m not taking away from the vet’s dauntless 2016 effort, but history has shown us that rampant and consistent production isn’t Britt’s thing.
Admittedly, his situation in Cleveland looks rosy. And the argument in his favor is strong, from improved talent under center to having a coach that’s famous for motivating his players. Still, I can’t bring myself to buy on this one. Maybe I’ll regret it, but the burn factor still stings.
PICK YOUR POISON. What Brown will bark the loudest in PPR leagues: Corey Coleman or Duke Johnson?
Liz – DUKE JOHNSON. Last year, both players averaged the same number of receptions (3.3) and fantasy points (9.1) per game. But I’ll take experience and health over upside and tropes, please. While Johnson has yet to fulfill the hype that surrounds him each offseason, Coleman hasn’t been able to stay on the field.
Afflicted by a sore hamstring heading into his rookie campaign, Coleman is dealing with hammy soreness again this summer. Let’s not forget that he also missed six weeks last year due to a broken hand. It’s crucial for these young players, regardless of their physical tools, to get some reps. I’m worried that Coleman may begin to fall behind. Plus, Johnson’s skill set offers a duality that provides more than one path to points. Like it or not, the RB is the safer bet.
Brad – DUKE JOHNSON. Corey Coleman, though talented and tenacious, is quickly becoming a fantasy Humpty Dumpty. The receiver, who missed six games due to a broken hand last year, is already dealing with a tender hammy. He hopes to return for training camp, but there are no guarantees. For that reason alone, Duke is the safer pick in the above head-to-head.
Johnson mostly underwhelmed in his second season with the Browns largely due to an end zone allergy (1 TD). As usual, he mystified would-be tacklers in space (RB2 in juke rate), catching 53 passes, but his two combined touchdowns explain why he finished RB30 in PPR settings. Crow’s role will grow, but I suspect Cleveland’s young defense will experience growing pains forcing Hue to rely on Johnson when faced with deep deficits. Post similar yardage/catch numbers as 2016 and cross the chalk 2-3 more times and he’ll best the fragile Coleman.