Chin up, kid. Things can only get better. Unless they continue to stay really bad (Getty Images)
The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care about yards and points, not wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I. If instead a team features nothing but fantasy drek, you’ll find ‘em near the bottom. Make sense? Great. Really, the J.I. is just a gimmick, a way to deliver team-by-team fantasy spin.
Cleveland enters 2013 with yet another new head coach (Rob Chudzinski) — the team's sixth in the past 10 years — as well as a new general manager (Michael Lombardi), new offensive coordinator (Norv Turner), and a new owner (Jimmy Haslam). New management doesn't guarantee different results, however. In nine of the past 10 seasons, the Browns have posted double-digit losses. During that same period, Cleveland has ranked 25th or worse in total offense nine times.
In a nutshell, this franchise has been reliably bad over an extended period of time — except in that one season when Derek Anderson was briefly not Derek Anderson, and Braylon Edwards was not Braylon Edwards.
Still, the 2013 version of the Cleveland Browns will undoubtedly cough up a few fantasy assets. This guy will be the first of them selected in your draft...
Salute right back atcha, Trent Richardson (Getty)
Trent Richardson accounted for a huge percentage of his team's offensive touchdowns last season (12 of 28), a fact that allowed him to finish the year as a top-10 fantasy running back, despite his miserable per-touch production. He gained just 3.55 yards per carry as a rookie — not exactly what you like to see from an offensive centerpiece.
But Richardson also played with pain for most of the year after suffering a rib injury in Week 6. This is a talented back who runs behind a quality line, and he won't be forced to share the backfield touches in the year ahead. He caught 51 balls on 70 targets last season, so he's fully PPR-approved. It would be nice if Richardson could maybe learn when runs are over, so as to avoid unnecessary piling-on by tacklers. That's a worry. He's been dinged a few times in his very young NFL career. (He's currently dealing with a lower-leg issue, but it isn't expected to impact his availability for camp. No need to panic.)
In early drafts and mocks, I've seen Richardson go as early as the mid-first round and as late as mid-second. Given his less-than-ideal team context, I'm generally not eying him until the turn picks, just ahead of his current Yahoo! ADP (13.9). Again, there's no reason to sweat his touches; we all know Norv has a nice history with full-workload running backs. Montario Hardesty remains the handcuff in Cleveland, with Dion Lewis No. 3 on the depth chart.
The guy handing off to Richardson will again be Brandon Weeden, a second-year QB who turns 30 in October. He gets a shot to prove himself to the new coaching staff, and he'll find himself in an offense that should better suit his skill-set and his tendencies. Expect more shotgun looks from Cleveland under Chudzinski and Turner, and more vertical strikes. Fantasy owners won't need to mess with Weeden on draft day, of course — unless you're playing in a two-quarterback league — but he's not entirely hopeless. Yes, there are always 3-4 head-scratching throws per game with Weeden, but when he gets this dude back from suspension in Week 3...
Josh Gordon breaks the plane (Getty)
...then he'll have at least one dangerous receiving threat at his disposal.
Josh Gordon was a revelation as a rookie in 2012, hauling in 50 balls for 805 yards and five scores, emerging as a tough downfield cover. He has the necessary size (6-3, 225) and wheels to be a star. Gordon's ceiling is plenty high.
Unfortunately, Gordon himself is occasionally plenty high. The league has suspended him for the first two games of the 2013 season for violations of the substance-abuse policy, and he may have already in Stage 3 of the program. If that's the case, he could face a full calendar-year suspension with another violation. His offseason partying choices aren't making him many friends in Cleveland, and he cannot afford another failed test.
Fantasy-wise, Gordon clearly offers more reward than risk, because his draft day price is dirt cheap (Yahoo! ADP 111.0). I'll stash him everywhere, if he's available in the mid-to-late rounds. His suspension is an inconvenience, sure, but your league's championship probably is not decided in Weeks 1-2. He's worth holding, no question.
The rest of this team's receiving corps is kind of a big bowl of ordinary, from Greg Little to David Nelson to Davone Bess to Travis Benjamin. Perhaps Little deserves final-round fantasy consideration; maybe Bess merits a look in deep PPR formats. But really, there are no obvious must-draft pieces in the Browns' collection of wide receivers, aside from Gordon.
Tight end Jordan Cameron, however, is an obvious breakout candidate. This is a sleeper movement I can get behind. Cameron is an athletic 6-foot-5 pass-catcher, now tied to a system that should feed his position early and often. Chudzinski is a known TE fetishist, most recently Greg Olsen's OC in Carolina. And of course Turner had a halfway decent history with the position in San Diego. Cameron has the talent to get deep himself for Cleveland, or take advantage of the underneath opportunities presented by a field-stretching offensive attack. I'm in. There's a lot to like about Cameron's situation, his skills and his draft price (135.3).
The Browns defense was a middle-of-the-pack unit in most areas last season, though they did a nice job prying the ball away from opponents (17 INTs, 16 forced fumbles). This is not a D/ST that you'll need to hold all season, start to finish, but the schedule may offer a few streaming opportunities (Miami, Buffalo, Jacksonville, NYJ). The IDP to know and target is LB D'Qwell Jackson, a guy with a pair of 150-tackle seasons to his credit. SS TJ Ward and CB Joe Haden belong on your IDP cheat sheets, too.
And that's that. If you'd like to file protests regarding Cleveland's placement in this scientifically formulated, rigorously tested fantasy index, please do so now in comments, after the feel-good image...
Cavs fever! Woooo! WOOOOO! (Getty)
2012 team stats: 18.9 points per game (24), 229.3 passing yards per game (20), 99.6 rushing yards per game (24)
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• 49ers' Ahmad Brooks could face charges after alleged assault
• Aaron Hernandez described as a 'loner' off the field
• Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger: Knee feels 'great'
• Raiders pay JaMarcus Russell another $3 million
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Rob Chudzinski