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Andy Behrens

Juggernaut Index No. 31: The Cleveland Browns

Andy Behrens
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The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're not predicting wins and losses here. In fact, we don't care about such things. Instead, we're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.

The Browns provided the fantasy community with exactly one useful player last year, but that guy could find himself on the short end of a platoon this season. Jerome Harrison(notes) was the top-scoring fantasy running back over the final three weeks of 2009, thanks to an obscene workload (35.3 carries per game) and a friendly schedule (at KC, OAK, JAC). He's not guaranteed a thing in 2010, however.

Rookie Montario Hardesty(notes), a second-round draft pick, has made an excellent initial impression on Cleveland's coaching staff. He gained 1,345 yards on 282 carries in his final season at Tennessee, and he was a strong performer at the NFL combine (4.49 speed, first at his position in the vertical and broad jumps). Hardesty has actually been drafted ahead of Harrison in several early industry mocks, based presumably on his upside — and Jerome put a 286-yard rushing performance on the resumé last year during the fantasy playoffs.

There's really no loyalty in our imaginary game.

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Ultimately, these two backs could form a respectable committee. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, Hardesty certainly looks the part of an every-down back — he has a size advantage over the 5-9 Harrison — but the rookie also has a worrisome injury history. He's had multiple knee surgeries, ankle issues, and a stress fracture in the recent past. It seems likely that both backs will get touches for Cleveland, and they'll run behind a credible offensive line that features Pro Bowl LT Joe Thomas(notes). Right now, RBs Chris Jennings(notes) and James Davis are just names on the depth chart, as is fullback Peyton Hillis(notes).

We definitely know the Browns will run the football, almost without regard to game situation. Check out last season's run/pass split above. Hardesty and Harrison will divide a serious workload, although they'll of course face a brutal AFC North schedule, and it's clear that Cleveland will again have a low-yield offense. When the Browns signed quarterback Jake Delhomme(notes) to a deal in March, the franchise basically guaranteed itself another season of single-digit point totals and game-changing turnovers.

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Seriously: If a team wants to deliver a groin-kick to its fan base, the best way to do so is to acquire Delhomme. He's turned the ball over 27 times in his last 12 games, dating back to his catastrophic playoff performance against Arizona. Jake threw 18 interceptions in 11 appearances last season.

At this stage in the 35-year-old's career, he's simply not someone you want at the controls of an offense — not in real-life, not in fantasy. Delhomme was a mess in Carolina when he had Steve Smith at his disposal; there's no reason to expect better results with the Browns' receiving corps.

Here's a partial list of the wideouts who will be targeted on Delhomme INTs this season, in order of projected fantasy relevance: Mohamed Massaquoi(notes), Joshua Cribbs(notes), Brian Robiskie(notes), Chansi Stuckey(notes), and rookie Carlton Mitchell(notes). Massaquoi is a legit talent who delivered a pair of 100-yard performances last year (vs. CIN, at DET), and coaches claim that Robiskie "made a huge jump" during the offseason. But again, this crew is burdened by Delhomme, and Plan B is Seneca Wallace(notes). (Don't expect to see Colt McCoy(notes) in his first NFL season; the team doesn't necessarily view him as a future starter. Right now, he's merely a project). Cribbs gets bonus points for Wildcattery, and he's clearly a must-draft player in return-yardage formats, but he's not a starter in leagues of standard size. There's no obvious upside with any Browns receiver, really.

Cleveland's defense was among the NFL's worst last year, finishing 29th against the pass (244.7 YPG) and 28th against the run (144.6). The Browns didn't create many turnovers (10 picks, eight fumbles), although they did manage 40 sacks, the eighth-highest total in the NFL. So that's something. But Cleveland's D-line did not rate well in Jason Cole's review of the league. If you're assembling an IDP roster, you'll want to consider linebacker D'Qwell Jackson(notes) for sure — in 2008, he led the NFL in tackles with 154 — but there are no other high-end options on the Browns' defense. Linebacker Scott Fujita(notes) and safety Abram Elam(notes) can be rostered, but you'll drop 'em in Week 8, when Cleveland has a bye.

And that's all that needs to be said about the Big Brown Machine. The passing attack appears to be hopeless. You can invest in the team's running game if you like, as long as you don't pay a significant price — start thinking Hardesty/Harrison in Round 6. With the Bucs and Chiefs both on the schedule in September, there's a good chance that someone will deliver a decent fantasy line early in the year. But the Browns close against Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in Weeks 15-17, so don't expect another end-of-season rushing binge.

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