Fantasy Football Team Preview Cleveland Browns: Could Johnny Manziel Have Value?
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When digging for Fantasy value on the Browns this year, you best bring your shovel and a change of clothes. Gone are Josh Gordon (suspension), Jordan Cameron (Dolphins via free agency) and Brian Hoyer (Texans via free agency). What remains is not pretty and Cleveland has all the makings of being a Fantasy wasteland in 2015.
In addition to overhauling their offensive talent, the Browns will also have new faces on the coaching staff. Among them is former Raiders QB coach John DeFilippo, who will assume offensive coordinator responsibilities from the departed Kyle Shanahan. The Browns’ defense is a middle of the road option despite 21 interceptions last season, good enough for second best in the NFL.
The outlook is not completely negative, however. Pro Bowl center Alex Mack is coming back from a broken leg and should boost an already strong offensive line. The running game should be the focal point of the offense while veteran receivers Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline will add a touch of legitimacy to the aerial attack in Gordon’s absence.
Journeyman Josh McCown was signed to take the place of Hoyer under center. The 36-year-old brings with him a career of mediocrity aside from an eight-game stretch in 2013 with the Bears. In Cleveland, he will be asked to merely manage the offense and hand off frequently to the talented backs behind him. He is not a Fantasy option, except as a streamer in two-QB leagues.
Bowe and Hartline are capable of having a few decent weeks due to target volume, but neither should be relied upon in your starting lineup with any regularity. Consider both veterans Fantasy bench depth, along with slot receiver Andrew Hawkins. Taylor Gabriel is going to be hard-pressed to match his impressive rookie numbers. TE Rob Housler was brought over after failing to maximize his pass-catching potential in Arizona. A change of scenery might be just what he needs to thrive. Given the lack of reliable receiving options around him, consider Housler a deep sleeper this season.
The wild card here is, of course, Johnny Manziel, who had an ugly year on and off the field last season. He looked lost on the field and needs to make a huge leap in order to push McCown for the starting job. It is too early to write off someone with his talent, but we are already at a pivotal point in Manziel’s career.
The most talent on the Browns roster for Fantasy purposes is in the backfield. They have an underrated offensive line and are expected to rely heavily on the run all season long. Isaiah Crowell is the favorite for lead back duties after operating as a between the tackles runner during his rookie season. There is definite RB2 upside for Crowell based on volume and TD potential.
Duke Johnson was drafted in the third round to add a much-needed play-making element to the backfield. Johnson’s receiving skills further enhance his profile in PPR formats. He is shaping up to be a quality mid-round sleeper who could earn regular touches and targets, as long as he stays on the field now that he's returned from injury.
Terrance West, the Browns’ leading rusher a season ago, could be on the outside looking in this year. He started off his career with a 100-yard rushing effort against the Steelers in Week 1, but eventually lost significant work to the more talented Crowell. Even on a run-first team, West is a late-round flier at best.
Kyle Shanahan, the Browns’ offensive coordinator last year, resigned and will now head up the offense for the Atlanta Falcons. John DeFilippo will take his place as the sixth offensive coordinator in Cleveland in the past six seasons. DeFilippo is best known for his work with quarterbacks and he will undoubtedly be tasked with getting the most out of Manziel. The Browns will keep the zone blocking running scheme installed by Shanahan last year, with the ground game being heavily relied upon weekly.
The Browns did bring in veteran receivers Bowe and Hartline to catch passes from new QB Josh McCown. They drafted RB Duke Johnson and WR Vince Mayle this past May, in addition to taking a shot on TE Rob Housler via free agency. The hope is for stability, which means not too much in terms of Fantasy production.
The questionable outlooks of nearly every player involved in the passing game could create some sneaky value this season. Manziel’s rushing ability still makes him someone to keep an eye on if he can make strides as a passer. Mayle may get an opportunity to climb the depth chart as a chain-moving possession receiver.
The Browns claimed Terrelle Pryor from the Bengals this summer, after he announced a willingness to play wide receiver. As an athletic specimen, few in the NFL can match Pryor’s size/speed combination. How he works out as a receiver after spending much of his life under center is an entirely different conversation. He is a longshot to make the roster, let alone have a Fantasy impact, but raw talent and a weak depth chart ahead of him offer a glimmer of hope..
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