Fantasy Team Previews: Cleveland Browns
Critical Schedule Stretch
Sep. 7 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sep. 14 New Orleans Saints 1:00p
Sep. 21 Baltimore Ravens 1:00p
Sep. 28 BYE
If any franchise could lose on the bye week, it’s Cleveland. The Browns have been a franchise of haves and have not’s since returning the league in 1999.Usually the “Have” part of that statement is a good thing—except in the case of the Browns. While this may sound cruel—-please consider the following.
Have just one playoff appearance since their return in 1999.
Have not won more than five games in a season since 2007.
Have had a front office that changes more frequently than a traffic light in Manhattan—
Have had five head coaches since 2008, which is only a drop in the bucket to number of starting quarterbacks the team has paraded in and out of the lineup.
However, and give them credit, Browns fans still find a way to hold onto hope. Along with the rest of the football world, Browns fans world were glued to the TV in May during the NFL Draft. Everyone watched, as they did their best to screw up the two first round picks they owned. However, somehow, Cleveland managed to land on their feet. Within a 24-hour period during NFL Draft weekend, the Browns’ fans experienced a roller coaster of emotions, as they watched Cleveland trade back and then back up again. They watched, as the Browns selected a CB, a very good one in Justin Gilbert, with their first selection in round one. Then, after trading up to No.22, where they have had so much success in the past drafting a QB with this pick (sarcasm), selected Johnny Manziel. If this wasn’t enough, there was the announcement that their best offensive weapon, WR Josh Gordon, would be facing a yearlong suspension for his second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Regardless, the Dawg Pound, equipped with an actual dog mascot this season, is excited.
QB Brian Hoyer is expected to start the season and Johnny Manziel will likely replace him at some time. It appears they may not have WR Josh Gordon and if that is the case, then I’m not sure you ever look at the Browns for an offensive player in your fantasy draft, including the newly acquired RB from Houston, Ben Tate. The Browns will need playmakers to succeed in the defense heavy AFC North. Without Gordon and the threat of a vertical passing attack, stopping a rookie QB in Manziel or Hoyer, who played in three games for the Browns last season (5 TD’s 3 Int’s), while completing less than 60 percent of his passes before he tore knee ligaments during a Thursday night game against Buffalo, will not matter. They bring in Miles Austin but he’s an easy argument to make as nothing but a solid No.2. Austin averaged more than seven touchdowns per season (2009-2012) with Dallas but he wasn’t drawing the oppositions top DB’s. No Browns receiver finished with more than five touchdowns in a season during that same timeframe. He’s missed 11 games the last three season, but when healthy could be worthy of a fantasy pick around rounds nine and 10. Austin won’t replace Josh Gordon but could be plugged into the WR3 slot on most rosters.
Cleveland finished 14th in fantasy points scored among other fantasy DST’s in 2013. However, HC Mike Pettine’s defensive mentality and drafting arguably the top defensive back available could help the Browns become a top 10 DST in 2014. Their secondary could be in lockdown mode, as Justin Gilbert, Buster Skrine and Pro Bowler Joe Haden form a formidable trio ready to pick off the league.
The Browns won’t excite the fan base with Billy Cundiff. He finished 27th in fantasy points scored among fellow kickers and missed five field goals (80 percent accuracy), but connected on all 32 extra points. I’ll say it again; the trickledown effect of possibly not having Gordon won’t help Cundiff get more scoring chances in 2014.
Best Fantasy Player:
Arian Fosters backup in Houston was acquired via free agency to fill the hole left by, Trent Richardson. However, Tate broke his ankle in 2010 and missed his entire rookie season and hasn’t played a full season since he was selected in the second round from Auburn. Tate will get the work load but rookie Terrence West could steal some carries and eventually the show if Tate fails to stay healthy in 2014. Tate should get 250 carries, over 1,000 rushing yards and an opportunity – in an assumed spread offense led by Manziel – to score eight-to-10 touchdowns as a ceiling.
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC South
Swing Games: Oakland, at Buffalo
Opponents ’13 Record: 46.5% (26th)
The Browns always have a tough draw in the AFC North, as most teams would struggle with six games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. Swing games with Oakland and Buffalo are two excellent chances at wins and will be critical to evaluating the Browns’ overall trajectory within the AFC. Road trips to Carolina and Atlanta as well as a home game with New Orleans — sandwiched between the Steelers and Ravens in Week 2 — doesn’t give the Browns a cold-weather advantage over the warm-weather Saints. The middle of the schedule does provide opportunity as the Browns will face the Titans, Jaguars, Raiders, and Bucs over a five-week stretch entering November. After that, there is one game (at Buffalo) where Cleveland even has a chance to be favored—Athlon Sports.