The Cleveland Browns have looked to a familiar face as they look to turn around the fortunes of the franchise. Former Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will be their new head coach. This will be his third stint as a coach for the Browns. Previously, he served as offensive coordinator (2007-2008) and tight ends coach (2004) with two stints as tight ends coach for the San Diego Chargers (2005-2006, 2009-2010) in recent years as well.
Chudzinski’s hiring has come with reports he will turn to former Chargers head coach Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator. For all his faults as San Diego’s head coach, there’s no denying Turner’s acumen as an offensive mind and Carolina finished in the top 12 in the league in total offense during both of Chudzinski’s seasons there.
In his stint as offensive coordinator for the Browns, Chudzinski managed to get a career year out of quarterback Derek Anderson in 2007 and his work with Cam Newton over the last two seasons should lend some hope to what has been a dismal quarterback situation in Cleveland.
Browns fans may not be overly excited by his hiring, but let’s take a closer look at how Chudzinski’s presence will impact Cleveland’s key players from a fantasy perspective.
Brandon Weeden showed some promise as a rookie in 2012, throwing for 3,385 yards in 15 games played, but he completed just 57.4 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. A right shoulder injury kept him out of the regular season finale, but there is no long-term concern about his health. Weeden entered the league at a non-traditional age and will turn 30 during next season, so it’s fair to assume some competition will be brought in for him this offseason.
Colt McCoy was beaten out for the starting job by Weeden last summer, and despite some speculation that he would be traded, he spent the entire season with the Browns. He did see action in one game, Week 16 against the Denver Broncos, going 9-for-17 for 79 yards and a touchdown. It’s unclear if McCoy will be back with the Browns in 2013 or if he will be given a realistic chance to compete for the starting job.
Thaddeus Lewis started the 2012 regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers and went 22-for-32 for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Even if he were to be with the Browns next season, or on any other team, fantasy owners can completely ignore him.
Whoever emerges as Cleveland’s starting quarterback–assuming someone does–may be worth a look as a QB2 in 12 and 14-team leagues.
Despite being banged up throughout the season and missing Week 17 with an ankle injury, Trent Richardson had a productive rookie campaign with 950 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns along with 51 receptions for 367 yards and one more score. A return to full health next season creates hope for even greater production and as the centerpiece of the Browns’ offense, Richardson is a likely first round pick and a legit RB1 for fantasy owners in 2013.
Montario Hardesty had 65 carries for 271 yards and one touchdown in 2012 as Richardson’s primary backup and he should be back next season in the same role. Without a significant injury to Richardson, there’s nothing here for fantasy owners.
Chris Ogbonnaya spent the 2012 season buried on the depth chart with just eight carries for 30 yards all season. He is slated to become a restricted free agent, so he may not be back in Cleveland next season.
Josh Gordon was another rookie with a prominent role in the Browns’ offense in 2012 as he had 50 receptions for a team-leading 805 yards and five touchdowns. His ability as a downfield threat (16.1 yards per catch last season) seems to make him well-suited to an offense helmed by Chudzinski or Turner, so there is some upside potential here. Fantasy owners may be frustrated by his inconsistent production, but those in 12-and-14 team leagues can still consider Gordon a potential WR3 for next season.
Greg Little had 53 catches for 647 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, with his catch and yardage totals dropping from his rookie season (61 receptions for 709 yards), but a solid finish with 22 catches over the final five games creates some optimism for 2013. Little’s value is greatest in PPR leagues, but he is worth considering as a low-end WR3 or high-end WR4 in standard deep leagues for next season.
Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper and Jordan Norwood combined for 39 receptions last season, so fantasy football owners can safely ignore all three guys at this point. Benjamin and Cooper do have some appeal in very deep dynasty leagues, but even that is a stretch.
Ben Watson had 49 receptions for 501 yards and three touchdowns last season and he finished fairly strongly with 28 catches over the final seven games of the season. But he is slated to be an unrestricted free agent and at age 32, he may not be back in Cleveland next season. If he is back, Watson could be worth considering as a TE2 in deep leagues.
Jordan Cameron had 20 receptions for 226 yards and one touchdown in 14 games in 2012. He could move into a starting role if Watson is not back with the Browns next season. There is not a lot of fantasy value here right now, but that could change before drafts get going in earnest.
Chudzinski was the position coach for one of the league’s best tight ends during his time in San Diego in Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen had 114 catches and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons in his offense with the Panthers. Cleveland’s tight end crop does not have anyone on the level of either of those guys right now, but if someone emerges, there could be some fringe fantasy value here.
The offensive talent pool is not deep in Cleveland right now and Richardson is likely to be the only player drafted in the majority of leagues. But under Chudzinski’s tutelage, with Turner also possibly in place, there could be multiple players that become worthy waiver wire additions over the course of the 2013 season.