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Fantasy Football Team Previews: Cleveland Browns

This is the year to be excited about the Cleveland Browns.
Is Baker Mayfield the answer for the Cleveland Browns’ seemingly endless search for a quarterback? (Twitter // @PFF_Fantasy)

2019 Summary

Record: 6-10 (3rd in AFC North)

2019 Offensive Points-Per-Game: 20.9 (22nd)

2019 Total Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: -9.7% (23rd)

The 2019 offseason darlings, the Cleveland Browns, led by newly acquired wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and sophomore quarterback Baker Mayfield seemed poised to take a major jump in the AFC North. Instead, the team fell flat on its face and finished well below projections. Beckham Jr. topped 1,000 yards, but hardly looked himself. Mayfield threw less touchdowns and more interceptions than he did during his rookie campaign, while also seeing his completion percentage take a significant dip. WR Jarvis Landry had a solid season, leading the Browns in receiving yards and receptions. the running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, both had good seasons, with Chubb topping 1,400 rushing yards on 5.0 yards-per-carry while Hunt brought in 37 receptions in just eight games.

Major additions

  • QB, Case Keenum
  • TE, Austin Hooper
  • RT, Jack Conklin
  • CB, Kevin Johnson
  • DT, Andrew Billings
  • DE, Adrian Clayborn
  • OT, Jedrick Wills
  • S, Grant Delpit
  • DT, Jordan Elliott
  • LB, Jacob Phillips
  • TE, Harrison Bryant
  • WR, Donovan Peoples-Jones

Major subtractions

  • CB, Travis Carrie
  • G, Eric Kush
  • LB, Christian Kirksey

4 major storylines for 2020

Can head coach Kevin Stefanski get this offense back on track?

After an abysmal showing in 2019, Freddie Kitchens was canned as head coach of the Browns. Stepping in is former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, Stefanski. Despite having two talented running backs in Chubb and Hunt, the Browns had two RBs on the field for just 13% of their plays last season. With Stefanski, the Vikings operated in 21 personnel 26% of the time, the second-highest total in the NFL, and in 22 personnel 12% of the time, tied for the third-most frequent in the NFL. With the most talented running back group at his disposal, Stefanski should be able to play to Cleveland’s strength’s. The offense will operate in a lot of two wide receiver sets, which means Beckham Jr. and Landry should receive the large majority of the team’s targets on the outside.

How will Hunt’s presence for a full season affect Chubb?

Hunt is going to be a major thorn in the side of Chubb’s upside in fantasy football for 2020. Upon Hunt’s return in Week 10 last season, the two essentially split snaps with Chubb narrowly edging Hunt 332-309. That translated into fairly similar production for fantasy purposes in PPR, as Chubb once again slightly topped Hunt 103.8-101.4. The way I see this shifting with Stefanaki is that there will be less of competition for snaps, but more competition for touches. Unfortunately, there’s only one football, which means although they both may share the field more in 2020, they can’t share a football. From Week 10 to Week 17, Chubb finished as RB15 in PPR while Hunt finished as RB17. I could see the two slightly improving upon those finishes, but still being very close when the season is over. That means Chubb right now, as RB11 in NFFC drafts, is being slightly overdrafted, while Hunt, as RB29, is a really nice value.

Can Austin Hooper replicate his 2019 breakout?

Hooper was solid in 2018, topping 70 receptions while compiling 660 receiving yards and four touchdowns across 16 games. In 2019, needing just 13 games, Hooper snagged 75 receptions for 787 yards and six touchdowns. Production for Hooper will be harder to come by in Cleveland than it was in Atlanta. For starters, Stefanski will be bringing a run-first system. Last year, the Vikings passed the ball the fourth-least frequently of any team, while the Falcons topped the league in passing frequency. Secondly, there are not many vacated targets to be had in the Browns’ offense as five of the team’s six target leaders will be returning in 2020. Additionally, Stefanski deployed two tight ends or more on 57% of the Vikings’ plays in 2019. That means if David Njoku stays in Cleveland, the two will likely share the field often. Hooper is someone that I’m fading in my fantasy football drafts.

Is Baker Mayfield the answer at QB for the Browns?

Mayfield’s touchdown total in 2019 dipped from 27 to 22 while his interceptions increased from 14 to 21 – not the type of progression you’d like to see from a No. 1 overall pick. Another concerning development for Mayfield is that even though the team added Beckham Jr., his yards per attempt dropped from 7.7 to 7.2. I’m willing to give Mayfield the benefit of the doubt, however, as I think former head coach Freddie Kitchens was in far over his head with the team last season. With Stefanski at the helm, I expect much better results from the third-year QB. if Mayfield falters this year, it’ll be fair to wonder if he can ever be a starter in the NFL.

Sleeper: Kareem Hunt

As outlined earlier, I expect the fantasy production between Hunt and Chubb to remain relatively the same as it was last year when Hunt returned. He’s an extremely talented running back that will see the field quite a bit. In PPR leagues, Hunt will be extremely helpful for fantasy football owners.

Bust: Austin Hooper

The stark contrast between the Falcons offense where Hooper broke out and the offense the Browns will run in 2020 is enough to have me out on him. he’s currently being selected as TE11 in NFFC leagues, which is a little too rich for my liking. The lack of vacated targets in this offense along with the established receiving weapons in it will make it extremely difficult for Hooper to replicate his Falcons numbers.

Browns Players in Rally Towel’s Top-200 Fantasy Football Rankings

16. RB, Nick Chubb

26. WR, Odell Beckham Jr.

60. RB, Kareem Hunt

67. WR, Jarvis Landry

101. QB, Baker Mayfield

114. TE, Austin Hooper

Download Rally Towel’s 2020 PPR Fantasy Football Cheatsheet here.

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