2023 Cleveland Browns Fantasy Preview

Nick Chubb's 2023 fantasy outlook

Patrick Daugherty and Denny Carter discuss what fantasy managers should expect from Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb's in the 2023-24 season, explaining why his pass-catching outlook could significantly impact his outlook.

2022 Stats (Rank)

Points per game: 21.2 (18th)    
Total yards per game: 349.1 (14th)    
Plays per game: 65.6 (8th)    
Pass Attempts + Sacks per game: 34.4 (21st)    
Dropback EPA per play: 0.02 (17th)    
Rush attempts per game: 31.3 (5th)    
Rush EPA per play: 0 (5th) 

Coaching Staff

Kevin Stefanski didn't ask for his career to be a referendum on a trade for Deshaun Watson , but that is the hand he was dealt after Watson became available and owner Jimmy Haslam guaranteed Watson's entire contract to get him traded to the Browns. To Stefanski's credit, he is working most of the offense to accentuate Watson's strengths. The team had been put together to grind the clock with Baker Mayfield , but now the Browns have brought in a ton of depth at wideout and tight end and will likely be passing much more than they have. The coaching staff lost Drew Petzing to the Cardinals, but retained OC Alex Van Pelt . New DC Jim Schwartz has a long history of success in the league and figures to help rework the pass rush to be more aggressive than the deposed Joe Woods . As for the run defense, well, the Browns are hoping that they paid big money for Dalvin Tomlinson to put an end to them getting gashed on the ground -- they allowed 4.7 yards per attempt in 2022 without a real nose tackle. Cleveland's D/ST has some upside, but figure to have a rough schedule, especially if the Steelers can put it together as a pass offense.

Passing Game

QB: Deshaun Watson , Joshua Dobbs , Dorian Thompson-Robinson
WR: Amari Cooper , Marquise Goodwin , Anthony Schwartz
WR: Elijah Moore , David Bell , Jakeem Grant
WR: Donovan Peoples-Jones , Cedric Tillman , Michael Woods II
TE: David Njoku , Jordan Akins , Harrison Bryant

Watson's 2023 status frankly is not only a franchise flash-point, but also a fantasy question that could swing the entire season. He played well below his 2020 standards in his brief return in 2022, his sack rate jumped to 10.5%, he threw five interceptions in just 170 attempts, and his yards per attempt fell from a league-high 8.9 in 2020 to a career-worst 6.5. Do you believe the 54 games of work he did in Houston, or do you believe the six games he played for the Browns last season? The Browns have every reason to put the ball in the air and try to validate the cost of purchase with Watson, and he's generally going around the end of the QB1 tier (in the QB9-QB12 range) early this offseason in drafts. At that cost, I hate to say this, but he's a fantasy buy-low for me. You're getting a good price on someone who has already demonstrated for several years that he can do QB1 upside. The icky feeling of "actually drafting Deshaun Watson " is, admittedly, something that goes beyond the scope of rational analysis. There isn't a single reason for an impartial observer to want Watson to play well given the sexual assault and harassment allegations, as well as the reward he was given for that if you're a more vindictive type. But the job of this article isn't to tell you to draft feelings, and this offense has been loaded up to play to Watson's strengths on the field. I am a buyer on Watson's talent and Cleveland's desire and effort to showcase his talent coming together. 

The problem with breaking down Cleveland's wideout corps is twofold. One is that the team has been heavily linked to DeAndre Hopkins and that bringing him in would change literally everything. The other is that the team has enough depth that you can't reliably draft and believe that the lower-tier options on the chart will hold their roles. I liked Donovan Peoples-Jones a lot last season, and he evolved into a chain-moving third-down target. He had eight separate games of 60 or more yards and drew seven or more targets five times. But he's entering the final year of his rookie deal, and we've got rookie third-rounder Cedric Tillman , free-agent signing Marquise Goodwin , and possibly toolsy prospect Anthony Schwartz healthy enough to knock on the door of a full-time role. That's before you throw in the idea that Hopkins signing would probably be a direct attack on Peoples-Jones' role as an outside starter.

We can only really recommend the big three in this passing game at this moment: Amari Cooper , David Njoku , and Elijah Moore . Cooper suffered a core muscle injury that he had surgery on this offseason, so his recovery has been slow and he's been mostly absent at OTAs and minicamps. We don't expect that to change much for him unless the absence lingers on in to camp. Cooper rebounded from a down year in Dallas with pretty standard Cooper numbers: 78/1160/9. Over the last five seasons, Cooper has caught at least 75 balls, gone for over 1000 yards, and caught at least five touchdowns in all but his 2021 season, and only then because he played just 15 games. While we think highly of Cooper's consistency, and we're forecasting growth for Cleveland's passing game, I'd be a little surprised by Cooper taking a sudden step forward at 29. He is what he is to me, and that's a capable fantasy WR2.

Njoku is a little threatened by the addition of Jordan Akins , who may get some short red zone work and who worked in Tim Kelly 's weirdo TE-option offense at times in Houston. But I'm expecting continued growth from Njoku in the passing game. His end-of-season numbers are complicated by playing through a few injuries and missing three games -- and even then, his 58/628/4 were nearly career-highs across the board and he had the highest catch rate of his career at 72.5%. Njoku's the low-end TE1 I keep finding myself jumping the line for more than any other in drafts this summer because of the touchdown upside in what projects as a good passing game.

And then there's the question of what more looks like for Moore. His per-game stats are borderline irrelevant to me as they're anchored to Zach Wilson . Moore had six touchdowns in just 11 games in 2021 and I'm willing to chalk up 2022 as a lost season as he was frustrated with New York's offense. He fits very nicely into the upside WR4 tier to me, as someone who makes for an easy cut if the Browns sign Hopkins and/or the Watson train looks to be derailed fairly early.

Running Game

RB: Nick Chubb , Jerome Ford , Demetric Felton
OL (L-R): Jedrick Wills , Joel Bitonio , Ethan Pocic , Wyatt Teller , Jack Conklin

Suddenly lacking Kareem Hunt , Chubb enters the middle of the offseason as the No. 1 back for the Browns and has little real competition for the early-down snaps. Jerome Ford has been talked up as the No. 2 option, but has almost no playing time last year for us to project with. If you give all the passing-down reps that Hunt had to Ford, he's a decent RB4 who may get some starts during bye week season. As is, he's the backup back to a Chubb injury and has some value purely as a contingency hold. Felton is a RB/WR hybrid who has some juice but falls completely into the pass-down back role. Felton has just eight rushing attempts to 25 targets in his first few years. He's a threat to Ford snaps rather than Chubb snaps.

With the offense moving away from a pure ground-and-pound unit, Chubb suddenly looks likely to have as much fantasy value as ever somehow. For one, the Browns are now paying him franchise back money and he's entering the end of most running back prime years as he hits his age-28 season. For another, Chubb is actually a pretty good pass-catcher -- he's averaged 8.3 yards per reception and has four touchdowns as a receiver in his career on 158 targets. A healthy, in-prime Hunt was a better receiver, but that is no slight on Chubb. The Browns don't have a reason to not ride Chubb heavily as things stand. He very well could return top-five RB value this season and is, in my mind, an easy RB1 on the face of things. If the Browns suddenly find out Ford isn't ready, they don't have an obvious second back to platoon with Chubb on running downs. If Cleveland can't pass like they want to, Chubb retains value. Outside of injury concerns -- the kind that exist for every back -- it's hard to concoct downside scenarios for Chubb even in the event things go wrong here.

The offensive line starters from last season all return -- it's possible that Nick Harris could push for a starting spot at center after he was penciled in there during camp last year before suffering a ligament and muscle injury in his knee (not an ACL) in the preseason. The Browns also drafted Luke Wypler in the sixth round as a potential heir apparent to the position, but Ethan Pocic played well last year as a stopgap. Jack Conklin is a threat to get hurt as he's played just 21 games the last two seasons and is entering his age-29 season. Teller did not play at his 2020-2021 form last year after getting hurt in Week 6. He had PFF run grades of 93.6 and 88.4 in 2020 and 2021, and that fell to just 70.3 last year. We expect a healthy Teller will be able to stir the straw on this run game and make them a bit better than they were in 2022. Bitonio has been pumping out All-Pro caliber seasons since 1987. Jedrick Wills has not developed into a star, but has been capable on the left side.

Win Total

BetMGM has the Browns as -105 over nine wins and -115 under nine wins. I'm taking the over of those two options as I believe the Browns know that this is a playoffs or bust season -- I would not be surprised to see both the GM and head coach get fired if they can't get over the hump with a healthy Watson. The division is a tough road with an improved Ravens passing attack and the Burrow Bengals now fully established as a force, along with a Steelers team that just refuses to even consider having a losing year no matter how bad the OC is. I expect the most win-now trade deadline moves possible and a team that settles into the nine-to-eleven win range, likely in a dogfight for the AFC North title.