Fantasy Football 32: Cleveland Browns

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Johnny Manziel
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

 

In perhaps one offseason, the Cleveland Browns have gone from the laughing stock of the NFL to, well, the most talked about laughing stock of the NFL.

But excitement is looming.

A certain not-so-shy quarterback is in town, the defense has top-10 talent and the team drafted very well. Of course, there are also some aspects that just make you realize how tough it’s been for Cleveland sports, as star wideout Josh Gordon could be facing a season-long suspensions (horse manure). So, with a handful of uncertainty in The Dawg Pound, what does 2014 have in store for the Browns fantasy prospects?

Depth Chart

Browns Depth Chart

Quarterback

Here comes the money.

The Browns are looking for an answer at quarterback, and if not, at least a boost in ticket sales. Johnny Manziel is in Cleveland, but the former Heisman winner isn’t a lock to enter the season as the starting quarterback. Sure, many people believe that he’ll be under center at some point this year, but for the time being, it appears to be Brian Hoyer, who was apparently the best quarterback in football last year.

Look, I get it. Hoyer was very impressive last year– for two contests. During those two games, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 590 yards, five touchdowns and a total of almost 40 fantasy points. Hoyer would be a very popular quarterback to stream if Gordon was available and Manziel was not. However, that isn’t the case. Manziel is there, even when he’s not, generating all of the buzz, and when he’s under center, fantasy owners are going to gravitate towards him.

It’s just going to happen.

And let’s not just call Manziel strictly a “rushing quarterback.” The guy is the all-time most accurate passer in SEC history (68.9), while scoring 93 touchdowns and accumulating nearly 10,000 total yards of offense during his time at Texas A&M. Manziel proved that he could make all of the throws, too, as almost 19 percent of his passes from last year traveled 20 yards or more, but he still completed a healthy 56 percent of such passes. It’s worth nothing because college football seems to be more of a short-passing game nowadays. Many people are bringing up the fact that even Tim Tebow was very fantasy relevant, and while Manziel is a far better passer/player than Tebow, the comparison is worth noting.

Tebow Time

Tebow

 

According to Michael Fabiano, Tebow averaged nine fantasy points per game during his tenure with Denver– with just his legs alone. He scored a rushing touchdown in every single one of his starts during the 2010 campaign. Manziel, meanwhile, averaged 15 fantasy points per game in college as a runner, and while you cannot expect that, consider this. Via Matt Schauf, there have been four rookie quarterbacks since 1969 to rush for at least 400 yards. All four finished as top-12 fantasy passers.

Running Back

I’ve made the case too many times, but Ben Tate is a bust of mine.

Many people were probably high on the former Texans back after signing with the Browns to become their featured back, and I get it. The guy has talent, showed flashes as a backup, and will now be the featured back in an offense. However, it’s not exactly looking like that any longer. Rookie Terrance West is drawing a ton of buzz, and continues to impress. Meanwhile, Tate has showed zero signs of durability during his first three seasons. Get this. The guy has missed 24 of 64 possible regular season contests (38%), while showing up on the Texans injury report 80 percent of the time, according to ESPN. He’s dealt with ankle, ribs, foot, head, you name it, he’s battled the injury. Cleveland suddenly wants to run the football as much as anyone in football, one year after throwing it more than anyone in football. I’m not sold that Tate will be able to withstand this potential workload, which is why West is going in the 7th or 8th round at the moment.

Meanwhile, new head coach Mike Pettine is more of a defensive-minded coach, but he realizes how effective the ground and pound is, especially during his time as the DC in New York with the Jets. During his time there, the Jets ranked 1st, 2nd, 17th and 7th in rushing attempts per game. Also, Kyle Shanahan has been a run-oriented coordinator during his tenure in the league, too.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Tate played less than 10 games this year, or, if he does stay healthy, we see a committee approach in this backfield.

Wide Receiver

Cleveland receives, Cleveland loses.

A year after watching the making of a star, the Browns are prepared to lose Josh Gordon for at least half of the year, it seems. Despite missing two contests last year, Gordon still dominated the league, leading all receivers in fantasy points, recording a whopping 15.8 fantasy points per game. Sadly, he is gone, for the time being, and the Browns have a major hole in their receiving corp.

And, call me crazy, but I’m not too excited about Miles Austin or Nate Burleson, but one guy does offer some appeal. Andrew Hawkins could very well be this team’s number one wideout in terms of targets, especially if he operates out of the slot. Hawkins is a very good player, an elite route-runner and has strong speed to make big plays for this offense. Other than that, pray Gordon appeals his suspension and gets it limited.

Tight End

Well, at least they still have Jordan Cameron.

Through the first eight weeks of the season, only Jimmy Graham had more fantasy points among tight ends than Cameron, whose offseason sleeper appeal came to fruition. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner created another fantasy star at tight end, but should we be concerned with his absence? Last year, Cameron operated out of the slot 60.3 percent of the time (via PFF). Only Tony Gonzalez ran out of the slot more among tight ends. With no Gordon, Cameron should lead this entire team in targets, receptions and touchdowns. Manziel is used to throwing it up to big targets (see Evans, Mike), so I think he can consistently get him the ball. Also, tight ends seem to be a rookie passers best friend.

Adam Pfeifer is a lead fantasy sports writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.