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Much like the Jaguars and Jets, the Browns are once again in reset mode. The biggest difference is that the Browns actually had one of the best fantasy football players in the game in Josh Gordon, but off-the-field issues for the star receiver have crippled the Browns hopes in 2014.
A possible year-long suspension for Gordon was announced the day of the NFL Draft, and the tears of keeper owners could have filled Lake Erie.
But let’s talk about what is still in Cleveland and how we can squeeze as much fantasy help out of this team as possible.
The new faces on this team include head coach Mike Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, quarterback Johnny Manziel, running backs Ben Tate and Terrance West, and wide receivers Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andre Hawkins.
If you like No. 2 wide receivers, then you’ll love the Browns! The days of the Browns leading the league in pass attempts (that inexplicably happened in 2013) are over.
Tate and West will reportedly battle for the starting tailback spot, but it makes more sense for the Browns to start the free-agent pickup from Houston, and use the shorter, thicker rookie in short yardage situations (West had 83 rushing touchdowns in three seasons at Towson.) Tate is the better option in the passing game right now also, until the rookie proves he can pass block and catch balls out of the backfield.
As far as the rest of the club, tight end Jordan Cameron is the only other player that should see fantasy starts in the early weeks. The rest of the players need some things to happen before you start them in 12-team leagues.
Pettine is a former defensive coordinator for the Bills and Jets, and it stands to reason he’ll prefer a ground-and-pound attack with Ben Tate. Unfortunately for Tate, West is built even better for a power-running scheme.
Brian Hoyer is back after impressing all of us in his first two start last season before a season-ending knee injury in his third. Hoyer returns to find Johnny Football on the roster, eyeing the starting job also. They’ll both be learning a new offensive system, and Hoyer has the added problem of coming back from a serious injury -- and losing an All-Pro receiver he had built a rapport with.
It’s quite possible, the Browns lineup we see at the beginning of the season (Hoyer, Tate, Austin, Hawkins and Cameron) will be almost entirely different than the one we see near the end of the season (Manziel, West, Burleson, Hawkins and Cameron).
Strangely enough, that’s similar to what happened last year, as Gordon was suspended to start the season and Trent Richardson was the featured running back.
The more things change in the Cleveland, the more they stay the same.
Most overvalued playerJordan Cameron, TE
Three of Cameron’s seven touchdown catches last season came in Week 3 against the Vikings, the second-worst defense against tight ends in the NFL.
The good news is that he’s the No. 1 target for the Browns passing game, with Gordon watching TV with the rest of us. The bad news is -- NFL defenses will know he’s the No. 1 target, and he won’t come anywhere near the ball without two or three defenders draped on him. I’d rather have either Jason Witten, Greg Olsen or Dennis Pitta -- all of whom are being drafted after Cameron.
Most Undervalued player
Terrance West, RB -- Every fantasy magazine and most summer fantasy drafts will have Tate as the higher drafted fantasy running back. But knowing they’re actually in a battle for the starting job makes West, who is available in Rounds 7 and 8 of many leagues, a much better value over Tate (Round 5). Even if Tate wins the job out of camp, he has had major injuries in the past (broken ankle and broken ribs), so West should end up seeing starts by midseason anyway. Also, Shanahan is quite familiar with running backs built like West, as the rookie was poured directly out of the Alfred Morris mold. While Morris will try to run through you, West has the ability to dance around you.
QB: Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer
RB: Ben Tate, Terrance West, Dion Lewis, Isaiah Crowell
WR: Josh Gordon (suspended), Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson, Charles Johnson
TE: Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge
K: Billy Cundiff
Manziel has dual threat ability, and his college football persona will get him drafted higher in fantasy football draft than he really deserves to be. Watch him in the middle of the season though. If he does get some starts, he could prove to be a good bye-week replacement because he can pick up fantasy points with his legs as well as his arm. When a rookie running quarterback gets frazzled, they tend to take off and run.
Unfortunately, as Robert Griffin III found out, NFL defenders are able to get to him quicker -- and hit him harder -- than the college football defenders he was used to seeing. The Browns face the Buccaneers (only four teams allowed more passing touchdowns last season) in Week 9, when Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers will be on a bye. Also, Manziel could prove to be an excellent choice in daily fantasy football leagues, as he’ll start out cheap and add running points. Think Terrelle Pryor in orange and brown.
Dynasty leagues and deep keeper leagues should take note of Crowell as a deep running back sleeper on this roster. He was a five-star recruit out of high school when Georgia signed him, and then he was named the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year. Remember -- this is the SEC, which is like the NFL’s minor league. After an arrest on weapons charges, his time at Georgia was done, and he ended up running at Alabama State. If Tate suffers an injury and West disappoints, Crowell could suddenly find himself as the starter.
This wide receiver crew has to rank as one of the worst in the NFL (with Gordon suspended), so you’d likely be better drafting a young up-and-comer from another team than one of these also-ran veterans.
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Remember that Pettine was once a defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, so he likely has similar philosophies. They actually played well last season, ranking in the top 10 overall in both points and yardage, and they added quality players this offseason in linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner. Dansby will look to replace D’Qwell Jackson’s skill and leadership, but the secondary is definitely above average, led by cornerback Joe Haden. IDP owners should take a good look at rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, who should get tested early and often with Haden on the other side. After the elite fantasy defenses are off the board, the Browns are a decent choice.