Juggernaut Index, No. 32: The Cleveland Browns

Juggernaut Index, No. 32: The Cleveland Browns

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we concern ourselves with a franchise's likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we're focused on yards and points. As always, we're beginning with the league's least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.

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We can't yet say who will get the starting nod at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in the season opener, but we absolutely know — firmly and without doubt, as deeply as it is possible to know anything in the NFL — that this team's starting QB will be pretty bad. For that reason, as well as the general lack of draft-worthy skill players on Cleveland's roster, this team was an easy choice for dead-last in the 2016 Juggernaut Index.

But before we discuss the various things that are wrong/regrettable with the Browns from a fantasy perspective, I'd like to mention that Cleveland had an offseason that should seriously encourage the team's fans. From the hiring of head coach Hue Jackson back in January to the hoarding of draft assets in April, this franchise has made several splashy and sensible moves, fully understanding that a multi-year rebuild is ahead. Cleveland traded its way into a whopping 14 draft picks in 2016, plus the team owns two first-round and two second-round selections in 2017. Well done, Browns. Next year's rookie QB class looks a whole lot better at the top than this year's group, at least to me, and Cleveland will be well-positioned to land, say, Deshaun Watson (or Kaaya or Kelly or whoever we're buzzing about in ten months). Without question, things are looking up long-term.

Robert Griffin III (AP Photo/David Dermer)
Robert Griffin III (AP Photo/David Dermer)

As for the short-term, um ... well, it's not great. Here's a look at Cleveland's updated quarterback depth chart for 2016:

1. Robert Griffin III
2. Profound despair
3. Josh McCown
4. Deep misery
5. A coldness like death
6. Cody Kessler

So there are no terrific options on this roster. Griffin was of course a massively productive QB back in 2012, his rookie season, when playing in an offense tailored to his skills and limitations. In the years that followed, post-injury, he really hasn't been at all impressive, struggling with turnovers and inefficiency. He ran for 815 yards and seven scores as a rookie, but just 665 and one spike over his next 22 games.

Jackson seemed happy enough with RG3's performance during OTAs...

"He's made tremendous strides,'' Jackson said. "He's getting better and growing each and every day. I'm very proud of the work he's put in. It hasn't been perfect all the time, but it's been really good, and I see glimpses of it being extremely good and that's what we're chasing and that's at every position.''

...but not so happy that he was willing to officially and irrevocably name Griffin the starter. That's very likely where this mess is headed, however. It helps that Griffin will have Joe Thomas, an upper-tier left tackle, protecting his blind side. Still, RG3 has thrown 20 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions since his rookie season, averaging just 7.31 yards per attempt. Meh. He's not a draftable player in fantasy, except in two-quarterback leagues — and even there, he's not an ideal starter.

Corey Coleman, post-pick. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Corey Coleman, post-pick. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Cleveland's receiving corps is headlined by last year's Biletnikoff winner, Corey Coleman, a Steve Smith-ish wideout who was utterly unstoppable at Baylor. Coleman was deservedly the No. 15 overall pick in the draft after catching 74 balls for 1363 yards and 20 scores for the Bears. He's special, a play-maker. He has 4.37 speed and a 40.5-inch vertical, which is just silly. In dynasty leagues, you absolutely want Coleman. But in redraft leagues, it's complicated. He's tied to a low-yield offense and a sketchy passer, so his path to a top-25 fantasy finish at his position involves extreme volume. Draft him anticipating something like, say, 70 catches for 975 yards and five scores.

The supporting wideouts in Cleveland aren't particularly interesting, fantasy-wise — and yeah, I'm assuming that the Josh Gordon era has ended. (Gordon's decision to hang with Manziel was really not a great look. He can reapply for reinstatement on August 1, so we wait. He hasn't played in the NFL since 2014 and hasn't played well since 2013. When you read Coach Jackson's comments on Gordon, it hardly seems he's making plans with Josh in mind.) The Browns selected four wide receivers in the draft — Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, Rashard Higgins — further suggesting the team isn't banking on a Gordon return. Andrew Hawkins and Terrelle Pryor remain in the team picture for Cleveland, but this passing offense doesn't seem capable of serving up multiple roster-worthy fantasy receivers. Consider Coleman in the mid-rounds and ignore the rest.

Gary Barnidge had your classic eighth-year, age-30 breakout in 2015, hauling in 79 balls for 1023 yards and nine touchdowns — totals that represent most of his career production. He was peppered with targets last season (125), and the stats naturally followed, along with a few ridiculous highlight catches. Barnidge ranked top-5 at his position in every meaningful receiving category, and his employer rewarded him with a four-year, $13.5 million deal. He was a gift from the waiver wire last season, and it's great that he got paid. Would I draft him as a no-doubt fantasy starter next season? Nope, I would not. He certainly remains in the fantasy conversation, but he's a holdover in an offense full of new pieces — new coaches, new QB, new receiving weapons. If he can simply deliver a 60-750-5 line in this offense, that would seem heroic. Don't draft him in a spot that demands more. Fourth-round rookie Seth DeValve should be the team's tight end of the future, but he's not on the radar in year one.

Isaiah Crowell (AP Photo/David Richard)
Isaiah Crowell (AP Photo/David Richard)

Cleveland's ground game will again be led by Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, a pair that produced 1801 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns last season. This team's O-line didn't grade out as a dominant run-blocking unit last year, and neither back managed to average even 4.0 YPC. Crowell should open the season as the team's primary early-down runner, with Johnson again serving as the featured backfield receiving threat. These guys won't cost you much at the draft table, so they're going to favorites of the ZeroRB community, I'm fairly sure. Crowell has a reasonable shot at 900 rushing yards and 6-8 TDs, assuming good health, and Johnson should again be good for 60-plus receptions and 800-1000 total yards. Your preferred Browns RB should have everything to do with your league's scoring system (Crowell in standard, Duke in PPR). Basically, these two are like a lower-calorie, less-satisfying version of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard (which of course sounds unappealing). I would suggest limiting yourself to no more than one Cleveland running back.

Only one member of the Yahoo fantasy crew ranked the Browns' DST as a top-20 unit, so you can ignore that group on draft day. All things considered, there's really not a lot to love about this squad in 2016. It's a team that only a deep dynasty drafter can appreciate. But when Deshaun Watson is flinging darts to Corey Coleman in a couple years, perhaps we'll all feel better about the Browns.


2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 17.4 (30)
Pass YPG – 236.4 (21)
Rush YPG – 95.6 (22)
Yards per play – 5.1 (29)
Plays per game – 65.1 (14)