The forward momentum of the Cleveland Browns ended at one season. Freddie Kitchens looked overmatched as the head coach in 2019 while failing to make significant growth on either side of the ball. Cleveland brought in Kevin Stefanski to take over as the head coach. Over the previous 14 seasons, he worked in the Vikings’ system with various coaching jobs. Last year he ran Minnesota’s offense for the first time.
The Browns slipped to 22nd in points scored (335) while having the same finish in yards gained. Since 1988, Cleveland ranks in the top ten in scoring only once (2007 – 8th).
Alex Van Pelt spent the last six seasons as the quarterbacks’ coach for the Packers and the Bengals. He’s been a coach in the NFL since 2006. Van Pelt has one season of experience as an offensive coordinator.
Cleveland improved to 22nd in yards allowed. They allowed 393 points (22nd), which was one point more than they allowed in 2018.
Joe Woods takes over as the defensive coordinator. Last year he held the defensive back coach and passing game coordinator for the 49ers after running the Broncos’ defense in 2017 and 2018. Woods worked in the Vikings’ system from 2006 to 2013.
Their top two signings in the offseason were T Jack Conklin and TE Austin Hooper.
The Titans drafted Conklin in the first round in 2016. He signed a multi-year deal in March with over 30 million in guarantees. Conklin should be an edge in run blocking while only being league average in pass protection.
Hooper signed a four-year contract for this spring worth over $40 million. His game improved each year in the NFL while setting career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787), TDs (6), and targets (97). His opportunity won’t be as high for the Browns, but Hooper should add another dimension to the passing game.
Cleveland lost LB Joe Schobert, S Damarious Randall, CB Eric Murray, S Juston Burris, S Morgan Burnett, CB T.J. Carrie, and LB Christian Kirksey from their defense.
Schobert was the only player of value lost off the defense. He had risk vs. the run while regressing in the pass rush.
They brought in Case Keenum to back up the quarterback position.
The Browns added S Karl Joseph, DT Andrew Billings, CB Kevin Johnson, and S Andrew Sendejo, DE Adrian Clayborn, and LB B.J. Goodson to the defensive side of the ball. All players signed minor deals. Joseph and Goodson have a chance to start.
The first player added in this year’s draft was T Jedrick Wills. He should solve their left tackle spot that was a disaster last year. Wills had an attacking style in the run game with the quickness to make plays in space. His hands grade well, but he doesn’t engage long enough at times. Wills plays with power and manhandles his opponent when pass blocking.
Over the next three rounds, Cleveland invested in S Grant Delpit, DT Jordan Elliott, and LB Jacob Phillips for their defense.
Delpit struggled last year due to a high ankle sprain. His play grades well vs. the run while offering fire and fight. He fared better in coverage earlier in his career. Delpit loses value when put in chase mode in coverage. His tackling skills need work.
Elliott would gain value if he lined up next to DE Myles Garrett on the defensive line. He has a disrupter feel, which increases his impact when faced with a single blocker. His hands grade well with a winning base in his technique. Elliott needs more power to add follow through to his pass rush.
Phillips does his job while needing a free run at the quarterback or the oncoming ball carrier to make big plays. He lacks size (6’3” and 230 lbs.) with no edge in speed and quickness. His thinking style puts him a tick behind on some plays. Phillips won’t be a difference-maker in coverage.
TE Harrison Bryant was the choice in the fourth round. He has experience at offensive tackle, which is a big win for his feel for blocking. Despite needing to add some bulk, Bryant grades well as a blocking option due to his career path and foundation skill set. His most significant issue in this area will come when faced with a straight on power rushers.
In college, his team ran a spread offense, which led to him getting a free release outside the hash marks on many plays. He showed a feel for soft zones and the ability to beat his man downfield, especially with no help over the top. At the next level, Bryant will need to work harder to get open while facing much better talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Over the final two rounds, the Browns drafted C Nick Harris and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Harris flashes an attacking feel at center, but his lack of power and base lead to a limited upside. His hands need improvement with a question rhythm with his snaps. Harris plays well on the move with the vision to land strikes in the open field.
Peoples-Jones underperformed his expected upside in college. His route running isn’t where it needs to be, and he lacks the wheels to be a deep threat on the outside. People-Jones should gain value vs. zone coverage while lacking the release or quickness to win against press coverage. I expect his hands to shine. Look for him to make plays with his legs after the catch.
The Browns finished 12th in rushing yards (1,901), but they did gain 4.8 yards per rush with 15 rushing TDs. If Cleveland played more games from the league, their rushing attempts (24.6 in 2019) would rank much higher. The offensive line allowed 41 sacks and 67 QB hits leading to a 22nd place ranking in passing yards (3,847) with 22 TDs and a league-high 21 Ints.
LT Jedrick Wills
The Browns hope Wills hits the ground running in his rookie season. He has to be an upgrade over Greg Robinson as run blocker while also owning the talent to add length to QB Baker Mayfield’s passing window.
LG Joel Bitonio
Bitonio ranked highly for his position in pass protection in five of his six years in the NFL. His best play as a run blocker came over his first three seasons in the league from 2014 to 2016. With a better option at left tackle, he should help him in this area.
C J.C. Tretter
Tretter started all 48 games for the Browns over the last three seasons. The best part of his game continues to be his pass blocking. With Green Bay in 2015 and 2016, he did show more success as a run blocker as a part-time player. Tretter is trending to the league average in the run game.
RG Wyatt Teller
Last year Teller moved into the starting lineup over the nine games. Over two years in the NFL, he allowed minimal sacks while grading as a league-average player in pass protection. Teller remains a liability in run blocking. Not a lock to keep the job all year, and he may not be in the starting lineup in Week 1.
RT Jack Conklin
Conklin solves the Browns’ weakness on the right side of the line in run blocking. Even with reasonable success in pass protection, he’ll allow some sacks and pressure.
Offensive Line Outlook
Cleveland has an offensive line that has the potential to be much improved in 2020. I expect the run game to be improved while lowering the overall sack total.
The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.
2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Browns have four matchups (WAS, JAX, and CIN X 2) against teams that struggled to defend the run in 2019. They also have four contests (PHI, NYJ, and Bal X 2) vs. opponents that played well in the run game. Their schedule projects close to the league average.
Cleveland will be challenged in four games (BAL X 2 and PIT X 2) within their division in the passing game. Their most upside throwing the ball will come against the Texans, the Giants, and the Raiders.
This offense has strength at running back, which should translate into plenty of runs with upside in scoring in close on the ground. Last year they ran the ball 42.3 percent of the time while receiving weakness in play at the quarterback position—the changes in the coaching staff and offensive line point to better production in all areas in 2020.
Here’s a look at the early projections for the Browns, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:
Equifax issued a fraud alert on Mayfield after his step back in play his sophomore season. He threw an interception in 13 of his 16 games with five of those contests resulting in two or more Ints (13 combined). His first game with two passing TDs didn’t come under the 9th game in the second week of November. Mayfield had a completion rate below 55 percent in six games. He passed for over 300 yards in two games (342/1 and 327/3).
The Browns added an upgrade at TE (Austin Hooper), but the jury seems hung on the new ceiling of Odell Beckham. Overall, Cleveland has talent at RB, which will temper the overall chances in the passing game for Mayfield. His accuracy (68.5 percent) was elite in college, which will need to be corrected to be considered a top 12 QB in the NFL or the fantasy world. The gambler in me gives him a chance at beating his rookie season in TDs with over 4,200 passing yards.
His conservative projections are 4,176 combined yards with about 28 TDs and 15 Ints. He has an early ADP of 101 as the 15th quarterback drafted.
Other options: Case Keenum, Garrett Gilbert, Kevin Davidson
Cleveland gave the running backs 451 chances in 2019, which led to 2,481 combined yards with 12 TDs and 91 catches. Their backs gained almost 4.9 yards per rush while trending to be improved in 2020. The one area of weakness last year was their yards per catch (7.98).
Chubb finished second in the NFL in rushing yards after faltering over his final two games (15/45 and 13/41). Over his first eight games, he gained 964 yards (121 per game) with six TDs and 25 catches. After RB Kareen Hunt returned to the field, Chubb gained 808 yards with two TDs and only provided 11 catches. In essence, he lost over half of his role in the passing game. Due to his failure in rushing TDs. his value took a hit with more responsibility falling on the team's playmaking when at the goal-line.
Overall, Chubb had 334 touches (20.9 per game) with strength in his yards per rush (5.0) and runs over 20 yards (11). This season with Hunt in the mix all year, Chubb won’t make any progress in the passing game, and Hunt will undoubtedly steal some rushing TDs on passing downs in close.
Talented player, but I have to lower his projections to 1,457 combined yards with 11 TDs and 28 catches. Chubb has an ADP of 15 as the 10th running back selected over the forts month after the 2020 NFL Draft.
After missing eight games due to his suspension, Hunt worked as a high volume passing catcher for the Browns down the stretch. Cleveland gave him ten touches per game while scoring between 11.8 and 17.5 fantasy points in seven contests in PPR leagues. His path over a full season projected him to score over 200 fantasy points, which would have ranked 18th at the running back position last year.
Viable flex option or a cheat RB2 for an owner that wants to be WR strong. If given a starting opportunity, Hunt would instantly become a top ten back. Almost a must handcuff for RB Nick Chubb at all costs.
Hunt ranks as the 30th running back drafted in the early draft season with an ADP of 70.
Other options: Dontrell Hilliard, D’Ernest Johnson, Brian Herrien, Ben LeMay
The length of the Browns’ catches at wide receiver grew to 14.21 yards in 2019, but their catch rate fell from 62.9 percent in 2018 to 56.8 percent. Over the past two seasons, Mayfield has used his wide receivers much more than their value in 2017 (134/1801/7 on 287 targets). In 2019, 69 percent of Cleveland’s passing yards came from the wide receiver position.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham lost the bounce in his step over his last 32 games, which came after an explosive start to his career over three seasons for the Giants (288/4122/35 on 157 targets). His catch rate (55.6) in 2019 came in well below his rookie season (70.0) percent). Beckham finished 12th in WR targets (133), but 25th in WR scoring (203.0) in PPR leagues with only one impact game (Week 2 – 6/161/1). He scored between 10.0 and 16.10 fantasy points in nine of his 16 games. Over his first 43 games, Beckham had 20 catches for 20 yards or more and 35 TDs compared to eight catches over 20 yards and 13 TDs over his last 32 games. The decision here is between the chicken (Baker Mayfield) and the egg (Beckham).
He failed to gain over 90 yards over his final nine games while offering only one impact game (6/161/1) on the year.
Fantasy owner’s priced him as the 11th WR off the board (ADP of 37) in the early draft season in the high-stakes market. The first run of his projections came to 73 catches for 1,026 yards and nine touchdowns. His talent screams value, and the offseason changes at head coach, and on the offensive line should turn the tide on the Browns’ passing game in 2020.
Landry continues to be an overlooked asset in the fantasy world. He has over 80 catches in all six seasons in the NFL while setting a career-high in receiving yards (1,174) in 2019. Over his previous five seasons, Landry averaged 96 catches for 1,086 yards and five TDs or 234.6 fantasy points in PPR leagues.
Last year he led the Browns in catches (83) and receiving yards (1,174) while ranking 13th in WR scoring (18.84 FPPG), yet his ADP (82) remains pedestrian as the 31st WR selected in the early draft season. Almost a layup with the talent to be a slam dunk if QB Baker Mayfield finds his accuracy in 2020.
In 2017, Landry ranked fourth in WR scoring (262.70) in PPR leagues, followed by an 18th place finish in 2018 (218.75 fantasy points). This year I have him projected for 85 catches for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns, which ranks 16th in the first run of the projections.
After trending forward in 2017 (27/312/2) and 2018 (39/572/4), Higgins posted on four catches for 55 yards and one TD last year over ten games. He caught two of his three targets for 46 yards in Week 1, but he missed the next five games with knee and ankle issues. Once Higgins returned to the field, he was the odd man out in the Browns’ wide receiver rotation.
With Cleveland added a top pass-catching tight end in the offseason, the third wide receiver in this offense has minimal value without an injury to Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry. Higgins works as only a low-value insurance policy that will be found in the free-agent pool in all leagues.
Over three seasons at Michigan, Peoples-Jones caught 103 passes for 1,327 yards and 14 TDs on 181 targets. His best season (47/612/8) came in 2018 as a sophomore. In his career, he doesn’t have a game with over 90 yards receiving. Peoples-Jones will make some plays and score touchdowns, but his opportunity will be minimal early.
Other options: Damion Ratley, KhaDarel Hodge, Taywan Taylor, JoJo Natson, D.J. Montgomery
An early-season injury to Njoku left the Browns with weaker options at tight end in 2019. Their catches fell from 75 in 2018 to 41 last year with regression as well in receiving yards (497) and targets (67). The only positive was that Mayfield looked for his tight ends at the goal line (eight TDs in each of the past two seasons). With Hooper added in 2020, the tight end position will be much more active.
Hooper improved every year in the NFL, and he was on pace for 92 catches for 969 yards and seven TDs in 2019 if he didn’t miss three games with a left knee injury. Even with growth in his game, Hooper remains more of a short area target (10.1 YPC over the last three years) while showcasing strength in his catch rate (78.0).
Last year the Falcons led the NFL in pass attempts (686) while finishing 30th in rushing attempts (362). In comparison, Cleveland came in 22nd in rushing attempts (394) and 19th in passing attempts (537). In essence, the Browns threw the ball 22 percent less than Atlanta.
His best play last year came over his first eight games (52/591/5 in 62 targets), highlighted by three games (6/66/2, 9/103, and 8/117/1).
Hooper will undoubtedly improve on the Browns’ 2019 TE stats (41/497/8 on 67 targets), but His ceiling is much lower this year. At best, 65 catches for 650 yards and less than five TDs. He looked overpriced in the early draft season (ADP of 94), but his draft value fell to 105 over the next month after the 2020 NFL Draft. I have projected 57 catches for 563 yards and about four touchdowns, which pushed him outside the top 12 tight ends this year.
As the summer moves, his projections will change based on any news coming out of Cleveland. For the record, the difference from the 18th projected tight end in 2020 to the tenth is only 22 fantasy points in PPR leagues.
Even with a ninth-place finish in TE scoring in 2018, Njoku gave fantasy owners a losing feeling (eight games with fewer than 10.0 fantasy points in PPR leagues). He finished with career-highs in catches (56), receiving yards (639), and targets (88). Njoku ended up being a bust last year after batting wrist, knee, and concussion injuries. Cleveland brought in Austin Hooper, which pushes Njoku to a backup role this year. Only a handcuff while needing an injury to have any starting fantasy value.
Over the past three seasons at Florida Atlantic, his game improved each year (32/408/5, 45/662/4, and 65/1004/7). Last year Bryant had one impact showing (10/182/1) while ending the year with six touchdowns in four games.
Overall, his speed (4.73) is about average for his size and position. He needs to get stronger (13 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine). Bryant runs good routes with an excellent feel for the game. I expect him to do his pregame prep while striving to become a better player.
On the positive side, he understood play development allowing him to get open on delays or set passing plays designed for him. Bryant can win jump balls, and he will bounce off defenders at times in the open field, helping his value after the catch.
He may emerge as the TE2 for the Browns sometime in 2020.
In his rookie season, Seibert made 86.2 percent of his 29 field goals while being up and down kicking extra points (30-for-35). Over four years at Oklahoma, he was an extra-point machine (309-for-314). He didn't have many chances over 40 yards (10-for-18). The Browns underperformed offensively last year, which may be corrected in 2020. More of a flier with possible upside if Cleveland finds their scoring wings.
With two games on the schedule against the Ravens, Cleveland can’t help but rank poorly vs. the run for their defense in 2020. They also face Houston and Dallas, who ran the ball well in 2019. The Browns have the most significant advantage defending the run in six matchups (WAS, NYJ, CIN X 2, and PIT X 2) based on 2019 stats.
The Browns have one of the best schedules for their pass defense. They face seven opponents (WAS, NYJ, IND, PIT X 2, and BAL X 2) that ranked low in passing yards last year. All of those teams should be improved in the passing game this season except the Redskins. Cleveland only has one game (DAL) against a team that threw the ball well in 2019.
Cleveland slipped to 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (2,315) with 19 TDs and 14 rushes over 20 yards. They allowed 5.0 yards per rush with opponents attempting 28.9 rushes per game. They climbed to 7th in passing yards allowed (3,470), but they allowed 25 passing touchdowns with 14 Ints. The Browns had 38 sacks with QBs gaining 7.3 yards per pass attempt.
DE Myles Garrett
Garrett lost control of his emotions in Week 11 vs. the Steelers, which led to him ripping the helmet off QB Mason Rudolph. The NFL suspended him for the remaining six games. Over his last 26 games, Garrett delivered 23.5 sacks. His career started with success against the run, but he did not play well in this area in 2019. The Browns drafted Garrett with the first overall pick in 2017.
DE Olivier Vernon
In his first year with the Browns, Vernon missed six games late in the year with a knee injury. He finished with 3.5 sacks, which was below his expected value over his previous 71 games (36 sacks). Vernon grades around the league average against the run. He continues to miss tackles, which limits his impact value.
DT Sheldon Richardson
After starting his career as a great run defender with the Jets, Richardson slipped closer to the league average over the past three seasons while playing for the Seahawks, Vikings, and Browns. He only has ten sacks over his last 62 games. Richardson knocked a career-high four passes with a rebound in tackles (62).
DT Larry Ogunjobi
Ogunjobi had almost the same production in tackles (50) and sacks (5.5) as 2018 (52 and 5.5), but his play negatively trends against the run. In his rookie season as a bench player, he showed strength in his run defense.
LB Mack Wilson
After getting drafted in the fifth round, Wilson made 14 starts with 11 coming at the middle linebacker position in his rookie season. He offered minimal value to the pass rush (one sack) with 82 tackles. Teams picked on him in coverage, with most of the damage done after the catch. His play, when attacking the line of scrimmage, tends to be cautious rather than instinctively. Mack offers power when moving forward with his vision focusing on the developing play.
Both outside linebacker positions lack impact options, which invites repeated risk defending the run.
CB Denzel Ward
Despite four missed games with a hamstring injury, Ward continued to hold wide receivers to a low-catch rate. His game isn’t built to help in run support, and he does miss some open-field tackles. Over 25 games in his career, Ward has 97 tackles with five interceptions, 22 defended passes, and one touchdown.
Ward brings impact speed (4.32) to the cornerback position while offering top-notch cover skills and athletic ability. His next step in his development is adding strength to help combat bigger WRs at the point of attack.
CB Greedy Williams
Over his first two NFL starts, Williams held wide receivers to minimal chances while helping in the run game. A hamstring injury cost him the next four weeks. He looked about league average in coverage while only one touchdown. Williams failed to pick an interception with only a couple of defended passes.
Cleveland selected Williams in the second round in the 2019 NFL Draft. His best asset coming to the NFL will be his overall speed (4.37 40 yards dash at the NFL combine) and his feel for coverage. Williams brings size (6'2" and 185 lbs.) to the cornerback position, but he needs to get stronger to handle press coverage. Even with elite speed, his initial quickness can leave him trailing over the field's short areas. He also needs to improve his open-field tackling, which will come with more strength.
S Karl Joseph
Over four seasons with the Raiders, Joseph saw action 49 games. His best play came in 2017 (79 tackles with a sack, one Int, and four defended passes). He plays well vs. the run while holding receivers to a low number of catches in most games. Joseph was the 14th overall pick in 2020. I expect him to be an asset in the Browns’ secondary.
S Grant Delpit
In his rookie season, Delpit should move into the starting lineup for Cleveland. The Browns need him to add value to their run defense. He’ll attack with fire going forward with the feel to breakout short passing plays at the line of scrimmage. His technique in coverage needs work.
Team Defense Outlook
This defense has talent at two levels, but the lack of edge players at linebacker can lead to many first downs and big plays by their opponents. I’d like to see more playmaking skills from their cornerback before considering them a viable fantasy starter. It all starts with DE Myles Garrett. If he turns into a beast, the passing window will shorten, making the whole overall defense better.
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