Rapid React: Cleveland not a complete fantasy wasteland sans Gordon

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For months the fantasy community has waited on pins and needles for the NFL’s decision on the No. 1 ranked fantasy wide receiver from a season ago (in per game), Josh Gordon. Speculating he could receive a reduced or no suspension at all, riverboat gamblers throughout August rolled the dice and picked the troubled wideout in the later rounds hoping the football gods would reward their huevos.

Sadly, those who invested in his services were struck down by lightning Wednesday.

The NFL officially upheld Gordon’s year-long suspension, a crippling blow to the virtual game and the unlucky Cleveland Browns.

The news certainly stung, but the games must go on. Here’s a quick spin on how Gordon’s absence impacts the fantasy value of those wearing orange position-by-position:

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Quarterbacks: Just when things couldn’t get any worse for Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, it did. Losing Gordon, a dynamic, field-stretching talent who’s capable of turning a simple post into a long touchdown, is nothing short of devastating. Hoyer, still firmly planted on the hot seat, will need to lean on Jordan Cameron and safety valve Andrew Hawkins if he has any hope of staying in the driver’s seat. If the Browns start the season 0-3, however, he’s likely to get the hook. Assuming that happens, Manziel, because of his rushing abilities, is capable of a top-15 line. Yes, he couldn’t hit Paul Bunyan from 10 yards out in preseason play, but his scrambling instincts and prior success with the read-option, shouldn’t be overlooked. Remember, Terrelle Pryor, as horrendous of a passer as he was a season ago with the Raiders, was a top-16 fantasy asset as a starter. Why? Rush stats. Manziel, and not Hoyer, is the better long-term fit for Kyle Shanahan’s run-first system and is worth a bench stash in 14-team and deeper leagues. 

Running Backs: Ben Tate and Terrance West better load up on the protein shakes, ice baths and massage sessions. The duo will be worked overtime this fall. As Mike Pettine and Shanahan have stressed all summer, this year’s Browns team will mime the Jets’ ground-and-pound scheme. The offensive line, which will almost exclusively feature zone-blocking, will be leaned upon heavily to create lanes for Tate and West to cut through. Last season under Norv Turner, Cleveland ran the ball a mere 21.8 times per game. Under the new regime and given the circumstances, that number should easily push over 30. Finding holes behind Joe Thomas and three other returning starters, Tate and West could become a lucrative tandem by volume alone. At this point, it’s safe to assume the former, provided he holds up physically, will net roughly 15-18 touches per game with the rookie chipping in 10-13 touches per game. For now, Tate has more RB2 appeal, but the outstanding youngster, who rolled up 2,500 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns at Towson last year, is one knee tweak away from blockbuster numbers. Overloaded boxes are a concern, but understand the Browns’ defense is no pushover. Ball control and clock management will be the backbone of this team.

Wide Receivers:  Similar to the Jets last year, the Browns receiving corps could be the least productive group in Fantasyland. Miles Austin, who would pull a hammy walking to the mailbox, is an injury-prone, past-his-prime target. He’s shown occasionally flashes of his old self this summer, but his low ceiling doesn’t inspire much confidence. At best, he’s a WR6 option in a 14-team or deeper leagues. Andrew Hawkins, meanwhile, is a player to watch. He’s quick, slippery and highly reliable in the short-field. With defenses keying on Cameron, he’s sure to log abundant targets underneath. Touchdowns will be a rarity, but it’s no stretch to think he catches 70-plus balls this year, landing him squarely on the PPR radar.  If available in your league, toss him a line. Against a pliable Steelers defense Week 1, he’s an attractive FLEX option in challenging formats.

Tight End: When game-planning for Cleveland, defensive coordinators will throw everything at Cameron. Though Hawkins has upside, the oversized weapon is the only dependable option Hoyer currently has. Off a 117-80-917-7 campaign, he could conceivably garner 130-plus targets this season and net a modest uptick in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Behind Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkwoski, there may not be a more valuable tight end in fantasy this year.

Bottom line: The Gordon news was yet another driven nail in the Factory of Sadness. Still, with Cameron, Tate/West, Hawkins and, down the road, Manziel, in advantageous positions, Cleveland isn’t completely devoid of fantasy production. 

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise. Also check out 'The Noise' along with colleagues Andy Behrens and Brandon Funston for another season of 'Fantasy Football Live' every Tuesday-Thursday at 6 PM ET on NBC Sports Network


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