Cleveland brought in Kevin Stefanski as the head coach in 2020. He seized the most of his opportunity by going 11-5, giving Browns’ fans their first playoff experience since 2002. They bowed out in the AFC divisional round to the Kansas City Chiefs. Over the previous 14 seasons, Stefanski worked in the Vikings’ system with various coaching jobs. In 2019, he ran Minnesota’s offense for the first time, leading to his promotion to the Browns.
The Browns improved to 14th in points scored (408), which was a jump of 73 points from 2019. They finish 16th in yards gained. Since 1988, Cleveland ranked in the top 10 in scoring only once (2007 – 8th).
Alex Van Pelt returns for his second year as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator after spending the previous six seasons as the Packers & Bengals quarterbacks’ coach. He’s been a coach in the NFL since 2006. Van Pelt now has two years of experience as an offensive coordinator.
Cleveland inched up to 17th in yards allowed. They allowed 419 points (21st), which was 26 more than they allowed in 2019.
Joe Woods gets a second crack as the defensive coordinator. In 2019, he held the defensive back coach and passing game coordinator jobs for the 49ers after running the Broncos’ defense in 2017 and 2018. Woods worked in the Vikings’ system from 2006 to 2013.
The Browns added four players (S John Johnson, DE Jadeveon Clowney, CB Troy Hill, and DE Takkarist McKinley) to the defense via free agency in the offseason.
Johnson delivered over 100 tackles in his last two full seasons with the Rams while also being on a productive pace in 2019 (51 over six games). His play in coverage graded well thanks to Los Angeles having a dominating pass-rusher (Aaron Donald) and a talented secondary.
Clowney continues to underachieve in the pass rush (32 sacks in 83 career games) while making his fourth franchise change since 2018. Over the last two seasons, he missed 13 starts. His game does play well in run support.
Hill saw his game improve after making a switch to slot corner for the Rams. His challenge will come when asked to cover elite physical receivers on the outside.
McKinley continues to fade against the run while losing in the pass rush over the past two seasons (4.5 sacks in 18 games – 13 over his first 31 starts with the Falcons). He is a former first-round draft pick (2017) who missed 12 games last year due to a groin issue.
The top four players gone from last season's defense are CB Terrance Mitchell, DE Olivier Vernon, LB B.J. Goodson, and DT Larry Ogunjobi.
Mitchell set a career-high in tackles (65) in 2020 while also picking up 13 defended passes and three forced fumbles. His downside came from allowing big plays and some damage in touchdowns allowed. When keeping a receiver in front of him, Mitchell tends to give up a low completion rate.
Vernon saw his 2020 season end in early January due to an Achilles injury. He finished with nine sacks and 36 tackles over 14 contests. Over his first seven seasons with the Dolphins and Giants, Vernon posted 51 sacks in 103 starts. He remains unsigned, which will come after recovering from his injury.
Goodson earned a starting job for the Browns over 14 games in 2020, thanks to his success in run support. He finished with a career-best 91 tackles while offering almost no pass rushing value (one sack over his last 44 games). Goodson remains a free agent in mid-May.
Over the last three seasons with the Browns, Ogunjobi had 148 combined tackles and 13.5 sacks. He will pressure the quarterback, but he tends to underachieve in sacks. His run defense has regressed in back-to-back seasons, suggesting his ceiling is a league-average player.
Cleveland didn’t add any offensive players in the offseason.
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Improving the defense was the Browns’ theme in free agency, and that continued with their first two selections ( and ) in the 2021 NFL Draft.
CB Greg Newsome II
Newsome brings the foundation skill set to cover all over the field. He shows the ability to win vs. press coverage while owning the panic button when beaten off the line, leading to some impactful penalties. His play in run support is favorable, along with his technique in following receivers out of their breaks. Newsome can get in trouble when seeing an oncoming pass play develop, creating a lag in his timing to break up some passes.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Owusu-Koramoah doesn’t have the size (6’2” and 220 Lbs.) to be a power linebacker when matched up inside with beefy interior lineman. He will fly to the ball with an attacking style to create plays for losses and sacks. I could see Cleveland using him behind Myles Garrett in the pass rush, where his playmaking and speed will shine. The Browns expect him to support the run, but Owusu-Koramoah will have more success if given a clear path to ball carriers. His game should translate well in coverage. To reach an elite ceiling, he needs to add patience to his play, get stronger, and improve his vision.
WR Anthony Schwartz
His elite speed will test defenses over the long field, but his hands limit his development into more than a one-dimensional deep threat. The Browns will run the ball well, giving Schwartz chances to get open on play-action passes. If he catches the ball, his window for playing time will increase. Schwartz may earn shots close to the line of scrimmage on easy completion to see if his speed can beat a defense in the open field.
T James Hudson
Hudson will need time to develop his technique, but his ceiling looks exceptionally high if he is willing to put in some hard work. Hudson has a short resume while offering the foundation to develop into a starting tackle. He needs to get stronger and improve his pass protection skills. His feet and hands set the tone for his success once Hudson develops a better plan after the snap.
DT Tommy Togiai
Togiai relies on his power and his first step to make plays at the point of attack. Most of his sack production in the NFL will come from his drive or beating his man to the punch. He plays hard with no plays off but limited range.
LB Tony Fields
Fields is a second undersized dart thrown by the Browns at linebacker. He understands his role and responsibilities well while playing with the restraint to stay in position to slow down the run game. His challenge comes when faced with blockers due to limitations in his tackling in space. Fields must get stronger and turn his thoughts on play development into aggressive wins.
S Richard LeCounte
LeCounte will fire when attacking the line of scrimmage supporting the run despite being undersized for his position. His game has risk in pass coverage over the long field when matched up with speed. He does have playmaking ability off the ball, with a good feel for play development. LeCounte loses value when asked to change direction in chase mode.
WR Demetric Felton
Felton played both running back and wide receiver in college while also returning kicks. The Browns may use him out of the backfield on some passing downs to create mismatches and take advantage of his open-field ability. His pass-catching grades well at running back until he develops better route running. With more strength added, Felton should find a home working out of the slot.
The Browns climbed 3rd in rushing yards (2,374) while pushing the ground total in touchdowns to 21. Their ball carriers gained 4.8 yards per rush for the second straight season. By winning more games, Cleveland moved to fourth in rushing attempts per game (30.9).
The offensive line allowed 26 sacks (eighth-lowest total in the league). Fewer pressures on the quarterback also came from the 28th ranking in pass attempts (501). The Browns finished 27th in pass yards (3,793) with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
LT Jedrick Wills
The first player added in last year’s draft was Wills. He has an attacking style in the run game with the quickness to make plays in space. His hands grade well, but Wills doesn’t engage long enough at times. He plays with power in his pass blocking.
With Cleveland, Wills minimized the damage in pass protection while falling short of expectations in run blocking. He made 18 starts in his rookie season, with growth expected in 2021.
LG Joel Bitonio
Bitonio ranked highly for his position in pass protection in six of his seven years with the Browns. His only sack allowed came in Week 1. The addition of a better left tackle led to his best play in the run game. Bitonio hasn’t missed a game in four seasons.
C J.C. Tretter
Tretter started all 66 games for the Browns over the last four seasons. The best part of his game continues to be his pass blocking, which reached a higher level in 2020. His run blocking was the best of his career last year.
RG Wyatt Teller
In his second season in Cleveland, Tretter missed six games with a calf issue and ankle injury. The Browns ran the ball well up the middle, leading to his run blocking ranking near the top of the league for his position, despite being a liability over his first two years. Late in the season, defenses forced him into more pressure, possibly tied to the health of his ankle.
RT Jack Conklin
After playing well over four seasons for the Titans, Conklin proved to be worth the investment by the Browns in 2020. He made 18 starts while playing at a high level in the run game. A better supporting cast on the offensive line also led to him playing at his highest level in pass protection. Conklin made an entire season of starts for the second straight year (fourth in five seasons).
Cleveland has four top players on their offensive line with an excellent balance between run and pass blocking. There is something to be said for chemistry built by being on the field for every game. The right guard position isn’t on par with the rest of the line, but Teller did show growth last year. The Browns will run the ball well again this year, thanks to a pair of explosive runners and one of the best lines in the league. If Baker Mayfield needs to throw, Cleveland has the talent on the offensive line to extend his passing window.
Winning games led to Cleveland finishing with a balanced offense. They ran the ball 49.7 percent of the time while still being productive in pass yards (3,712/27). The additions in the offseason on defense point to another successful year, with the running game shining through again. If Odell Beckham could ever regain his early-career form, the passing game will be dangerous as well.
After underperforming in 2019, Mayfield cut down his mistakes (eight interceptions) last year while developing into an upside game manager. His completion rate (62.8) is below the top quarterbacks in the league. Some of that weakness is not using his running backs in the passing game often enough (60/483/5 on 79 targets).
He finished as the 18th-highest scoring quarterback in four-point passing touchdowns leagues despite attempting only 30.4 passes per game. Mayfield posted three impact games (297/5, 339/4, and 366/3) while also passing for fewer than 200 yards in seven of his 18 starts (including the playoffs). His passing upside was lost by the injury to Odell Beckham (nine missed games) and a below-par year by Jarvis Landry (72/840/3).
Fantasy Outlook: This offense will run the ball early and often. Even with a ball-control feel, the Browns did have seven games in 2020 where they scored over 30 points, which leaves plenty of room for Mayfield to push higher in the quarterback rankings. He even turned into an opportunistic runner (54/165/1), adding a couple of ticks to his fantasy value. His next step should be averaging 250 passing yards per game with 30 passing touchdowns. He ranks 17th in the early quarterback rankings. Mayfield's downside will be fantasy owners having a tough time timing a good matchup play. I view him as insurance only while possibly working as a bye week cover. In the end, Beckham is the player that determines his ceiling.
Other Options: Case Keenum, Kyle Lauletta
The change in coaching staff in Cleveland in 2002 led to a sharp decline in the running back usage in the passing game (60/483/5 on 79 targets – 91/726/1 on 117 targets), which ultimately hurt the value of Kareem Hunt in the fantasy market.
On the positive side, the Browns’ running backs attempted 81 more runs, leading 2,209 rushing yards with 19 scores. They gained a combined 2,692 combined yards with 24 touchdowns and 60 catches, which came to 29.58 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues.
Four missed games with a knee issue led to Chubb sliding to 11th in running back scoring (208.70) in PPR leagues. When on the field, he averaged 17.93 FPPG compared to 16.14 in 2019. He set a career-high in yards per rush (5.6) while delivering 12 runs over 20 yards. In his career, Chubb has 11 carries over 40 yards.
His best value came in five games (26.30, 24.00, 26.60, 24.30, 24.50 fantasy points) while gaining over 100 rushing yards in six contests (20/165/3, 20/122/2, 20/131, 20/116, 21/106/1, 15/106, and 17/127/1). The Browns barely used him in the passing (16/150) after making strides in 2019 in pass-catching (36/278). Over 44 career games, Chubb scored 30 touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: In PPR leagues, Chubb has a more steady feel due to his role in the passing game. Last he was on pace for 1,623 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and 20 catches or 278.3 fantasy points. His early ADP (12) in the 12-team high-stakes market ranks him as the ninth running back drafted. Chubb has the talent to rush for 2,000-plus yards with a run at 20 touchdowns if the Browns’ offense becomes more dynamic.
In his first full seasons with the Browns, Hunt gained 1,145 combined yards with 11 scores and 38 catches. He outscored Nick Chubb by 9.80 fantasy points in PPR leagues, which placed him at RB10. Even with success, Hunt still fell short of potential when adding in that he made four starts.
He looked sensational in a rotational role off the bench over the first four games (317 combined yards with five touchdowns and eight catches on 58 touches). Over this span, Hunt gained 5.5 yards per carry. Over his four weeks as the starter, he struggled to get into space (3.9 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per catch), leading to 315 combined yards with two touchdowns and 10 catches on 18.75 touches per game.
When Chubb returned to the field, his role/opportunity settled into 12.9 chances per week for 503 combined yards with four scores and 20 catches. A good portion of his production came in Week 10 (132 combined yards and three catches) and Week 14 (110 combined yards with two touchdowns and six catches).
Fantasy Outlook: This season, Hunt will be the Browns’ third-down back while playing the spoiler at the goal line. He should see one-third of the running back opportunity as his floor while also working as the closer in blowout wins for Cleveland. If the Browns want a more round passing game, Hunt should push over 50 catches. His ADP (51) paints him as a back RB2 in PPR leagues, which is much too low. If Chubb went down with an injury, Hunt has the potential to be a top-five running back. I would buy the floor of 1,000 combined yards and 40 catches, knowing that Hunt will find a way to score enough to reach over 200 fantasy points. Think safe but explosive.
Over the past two seasons at UCLA, Felton worked in a split role between running back and wide receiver. He flashed more explosiveness at receiver in 2019 (55/594/4) and running back in 2020 (132/668/5). This year, he’ll provide pass-catching insurance at running back while Felton develops his skill set in all areas.
Other Options: D’Ernest Johnson, John Kelly, Tre Harbison
The wide receiver production lost about 6.3 and 7.0 percent of the overall completion by the Browns and percentage of passing yards. Baker Mayfield looked at his wideouts 248 times (334 in 2018 and 327 in 2019), but he finished with growth in his completion rate (65.7). This loss of Odell Beckham was a significant part of this regression.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham lost the bounce in his step over his last 39 games, which came after an explosive start to his career over three seasons for the Giants (288/4,122/35 on 457 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 40 yards or more and 35 touchdowns compared to nine catches over 40 yards and 16 scored over his last 39 games.
In 2020, Beckham (23/319/3 over six games) was on pace for the worst season (61/851/8) of his career. His only impact game (5/81/2) came in Week 4 (5/81/2). A torn ACL in his left knee ended his year in Week 7.
Fantasy Outlook: With five seasons on his NFL resume with over 1,000 yards receiving plus catching 74 balls or more five times, Beckham brings value to the 2021 fantasy draft season. His ADP (79) priced him as WR3 as the 31st wide receiver off the table. He has plenty of time to recover from his injury while expecting to be ready for opening day. Place your bet on a 70/1,000/6 season with the hopes of him rekindling his career.
For the first time in his career, Landry underperformed expectations by a wide margin. He failed to score a touchdown over his first 10 games while picking up 38 catches for 471 yards on 57 targets. Over his final seven starts, including the postseason, Landry caught 46 passes for 481 yards and five touchdowns on 62 targets, which fell back in line with his previous resume.
Before 2020, he had a floor of 81 catches over his first six years with Miami and Cleveland. Over this span, he never finished with fewer than 975 yards receiving while scoring 34 touchdowns over 96 games.
Fantasy Outlook: I don’t expect impactful touchdowns, but Landry still has the tools to catch 80 passes for 1,000 yards. His ADP (106) looks out of line when considering he has been a top 18 wide receiver in PPR leagues multiple times in his career. From 2014 to 2019, Landry didn’t miss a game while averaging 5.9 catches for 64 yards and 0.35 touchdowns per game or 14.4 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues.
After Odell Beckham went down, Higgins gave the Browns come clutch catches and five meaningful games (6/110, 6/95/1, 6/68/1, 4/76, and 5/88). In 2018 (39/572/4) and 2020 (37/599/4), he posted strength in his catch rate (73.6 and 71.1). Last year 12 of his 37 catches gained 20 yards or more.
Fantasy Outlook: Higgins looks to be only a handcuff option for Beckham or Landry in season-long games. His opportunity becomes more valuable in chaser games when the Browns fall behind early.
In his rookie season, he caught 14 of his 20 targets for 304 yards and two touchdowns. His two highlight games came in Week 7 (3/56/1) and Week 13 (2/92/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Peoples-Jones will compete for the WR3 role for the Browns in 2021.
Other Options: KhaDarel Hodge, Anthony Schwartz, JoJo Natson
The drop-off in wide receiver chances in 2020 for Browns landed in the tight end production (90/897/9 on 139 targets). Since Baker Mayfield took over at quarterback, tight ends scored 25 times over 48 contests. Cleveland wants to run the ball in close, which sets up play-action scoring plays.
Hooper ended up being a fantasy bust in 2020 after coming off his best season (75/787/6) for the Falcons. His year started with three unplayable games (2/15, 2/22, and 3/25 on 10 combined targets) for showing a pulse over three weeks (5/34/1, 5/57, and 5/52).
He missed the next two weeks due to surgery on his appendix. Over the final nine games (including the postseason), Hooper gained only 8.8 yards per catch while securing 33 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: Even with two successful seasons in his career, Hooper remains a dull fantasy option. Cleveland will rotate in a second tight end, leading to an inconsistent opportunity. His ADP (168) now ranks with the have-nots at tight end. I only see a 55/550/5 player in this offense.
Bryant has experience at offensive tackle, which is a big win for his feel for blocking. Despite needing to add some bulk, he grades well as a blocker due to his career path and foundation skill set. His most significant issue in this area will come when faced with straight-on power rushers.
He caught 24 of his 38 targets for 238 yards and three touchdowns. His best showing came in Week 7 (4/56/2).
Other Options: David Njoku, Stephen Carlson, Kyle Markway
Parkey has bounced around the NFL for seven seasons while playing for five different franchises. His success rate (84.6) is respectable while showing enough leg from 50 yards or more (8-for-10). He has 12 missed extra-point tries in 209 chances, with weakness from 30 to 39 yards (40-for-47).
Last year the Browns cut their opening weekend kicker, creating a 15-game opportunity for Parkey.
Fantasy Outlook: Cleveland will have an open competition for the kicking job this year. They brought in Chase McLaughlin to push Parkey in training camp. Either way, I don’t like kickers on teams that run the ball in the red zone. I would avoid the winner unless the Browns' offense shows scoring growth.
Cleveland jumped to ninth in the league in rushing yards allowed (1,773) while allowing 16 touchdowns and six runs over 20 yards. Game score was part of their success as opponents attempted 25.75 runs per game.
They dropped to 22nd in passing yards allowed (3,962) with 31 passing touchdowns with 11 interceptions. The Browns had 38 sacks. Quarterbacks gained 7.2 yards per pass attempt.
DE Myles Garrett
Over his last 40 games, Garrett delivered 35.5 sacks while setting a career-high in tackles (48) in 2020. His run defense was about league average over the past two seasons while grading as one of the best pass rushers in the game. The Browns drafted Garrett with the first overall pick in 2017.
DE Jadeveon Clowney
A left knee injury that required surgery led to Clowney struggling in his only season with the Titans. When at his best, he plays well against the run with the talent to disrupt and create sacks in the passing game. In his final two seasons with the Texans (2017 and 2018), Clowney had 18.5 sacks with three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He only has three sacks over his last 21 starts.
DT Tommy Togiai
The interior of the Browns’ defensive line will be in flux this season. Togiai gets off the ball quickly, leading to pressure on the quarterback and disruption in the run game. His strength isn’t high enough while needing to add bulk to anchor against the run. At the very least, Togiai should work as a rotational player in his rookie season.
DT Jordan Elliott
Elliott will gain value by lining up next to DE Myles Garrett on the defensive line. He has a disrupter feel that improves 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. After getting drafted in the third round, he made 15 tackles with no sacks. Elliott made one start in 2020.
LB Anthony Walker
Over the previous three seasons with the Colts, Walker delivered 321 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He has a touchdown in three straight seasons while showing the ability to knock down some passes. Walker brings risk defending the run due to a high number of missed tackles.
LB Sione Takitaki
In his second year in the NFL, Takitaki made 67 tackles while working as a rotational player against the run. His pass coverage skill set held up while offering no help rushing the quarterback.
LB Jacob Phillips
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. He made 25 tackles with no sacks in 2020.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Owusu-Koramoah has a safety’s frame. With more bulk and strength, his game would improve when fading the bigger bodies close to the line of scrimmage. He’ll attack the quarterback and disrupt the run, which will get him on the field in his rookie season.
CB Denzel Ward
Ward continues to hold wide receivers to a low catch rate, but he did allow the most touchdowns of his career. At times, receivers can beat him for some long plays. His run defense barely has a pulse. Over the past three seasons, Ward has 143 tackles, seven interceptions, and 40 defended passes over 37 games. He missed four games in 2019 and 2020.
CB Greedy Williams
A shoulder injury cost him all of his sophomore season with the Browns. In 2019, he made 47 tackles with two defended passes.
CB Troy Hill
Hill had the best season of his career in 2020. He set career-highs in tackles (77), interceptions (3), defended passes, and touchdowns (3). His game projects better in slot coverage while bringing some risk in missed tackles.
S John Johnson
Johnson is a second Rams crossover to their defense. Over 54 games, he has 350 tackles, eight interceptions, and 32 defended passes. He projects well in run support and pass coverage. Earlier in his career, Johnson did struggle in coverage in the red zone.
S Grant Delpit
An Achilles injury led to Delpit missing all of 2020.
Cleveland needs him to add value to their run defense. He’ll attack with fire going forward with the feel to break up short passing plays at the line of scrimmage. His technique in coverage needs work.
Fantasy Defense Snapshot
Even with some excellent offseason upgrades, Cleveland’s defense does have multiple question marks at linebacker and on the interior of their defensive line. The Browns should get after the quarterback with coverage talent in their secondary. With an interior push and improvement against the run, this defense should offer playable fantasy value.
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