Fantasy Football Booms/Busts 2018: The Cleveland Browns

After an extended hiatus from football, a matured Josh Gordon caught back on quickly in a handful of games last year. What are his fantasy expectations in 2018? (AP Photo/David Richard)
After an extended hiatus from football, a matured Josh Gordon caught back on quickly in a handful of games last year. What are his fantasy expectations in 2018? (AP Photo/David Richard)

As the mercury rises and we inch closer to the open of training camps, our resident fantasy football sickos, Brad Evans and Liz Loza, will profile their favorite booms/busts of every NFL team. Today’s topic: The Fantasy Factory of Happiness.

Cleveland, once a punchline in the fantasy community, boasts several highly employable starter-level options. Based on current ADP data, what dog will pack the most bite (return on investment) this season?

Brad – JOSH GORDON. Accumulated rust be damned. Gordon, off a year-plus disappearance from professional football, showcased his world-class skills from the onset late last year. In five games, he enticed 26.4 percent of the target share, averaged a ridiculous 2.09 yards per route, 17.5 average depth of target (WR2) and chipped in 11.5 fantasy points per game. Extrapolate his 18-335-1 line over 16 games and he would’ve finished at 58-1072-4, nearly the same number of total fantasy points in .5 PPR as T.Y. Hilton. Again, that’s not too shabby considering the forced vacation and his horrendous quarterback play. Keep in mind, he finished WR86 in catchable targets percentage. Deshone Kizer, who would miss the Lake Erie from five yards out, overthrew him routinely.

Yes, Jarvis Landry is a volume receiver which will likely reduce Gordon’s workload, but they’re two very different weapons. Landry along with Duke Johnson and David Njoku’s presence in the short field could lead to more premium downfield looks. And don’t for a second believe Corey Coleman, a rumored trade chip, is a major threat. Consider him a fantasy #BurnerAccount.

More importantly, Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield are substantial upgrades at QB. Remember, Gordon tallied godlike numbers in 2013 with the likes of Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer under center.

Due to his superior talents, ideal size and prominent role, he’s a bargain at his 44.0 ADP (WR19). A WR1-level season in 12-team leagues is on the horizon.

Liz – TYROD TAYLOR. One year removed from top-ten production, Taylor is the Browns’ starting quarterback. And while the Baker Bandwagon is turnt, Jackson has been adamant about starting a vet under center. We may see Mayfield at some point in 2018 (more on that in a bit), but I firmly believe #TyGod will rise this fall, looking a lot like the 2017 version of Alex Smith.

Prior to last year, the two veteran QBs were very similar: mobile and reticent to sling the ball deep. Then Patrick Mahomes came to KC and pushed Smith, forcing his game to evolve. Tyrod now has a rookie nipping at his heels. And his career needs a resurrection, coming off of a frustrating season with the Bills.

In an offense that called the second fewest passing plays in the league, and with a rookie working as his No. 1 WR, Taylor still managed a true completion percentage of nearly 69 percent. He also completed over 38 percent of pressured throws (#12). Clearly, the 28-year-old is an efficient passer. He just needs weapons and opportunities. Luckily, he’ll get both in Cleveland.

But Taylor’s wheels are what really fuel his fantasy fire. A top-three rusher for three consecutive outings, the Virginia Tech alum has run for over 550 yards in two of his last three seasons and has scored at least 4 rushing TDs in every campaign since 2015. Operating behind an improved offensive line and with not one, but potentially three, studs in the backfield, there should be plenty of lanes to exploit. Which is also what value-minded fantasy fanatics will do when they nab a top-fifteen QB in the fourteenth round of twelve-team exercises.

Conversely, what Brown will fail to escape the pound this fall?

Liz – DUKE JOHNSON. Notice that when describing the Browns backfield above, I said “potentially” three studs. That’s because we’ve been waiting on Johnson’s “potential” since 2015. Sure, he’s got shimmy (top-five juke rate). Yes, he can catch (79.6% catch rate). But none of that matters if he isn’t used. The Browns told me exactly how they felt about Johnson when they added Jarvis Landry. Relegated to a change-of-pace role only, the former Hurricane is barely RB3 fodder.

Brad – CARLOS HYDE. Prior to Nick Chubb’s selection in Round 2 of the NFL Draft, I was firmly planted on the Hyde bandwagon. During a remarkably healthy 2017 campaign with the Niners, he finished RB11 in points per game and produced a strong showing in tackles avoided per attempt (RB13), total yards created (RB18) and number of breakaway runs (9, RB10). In the Browns’ boosted offense, he had all the makings of an RB2.

But Chubb’s arrival signals a dramatic value depreciation for Hyde. He, the rookie and Duke Johnson will enter into a strict platoon, where matchups will dictate employed formations and overall volume. Good luck attempting to decipher it on a week-to-week basis. At this time, it seems probable he tallies 45-50 percent of the opportunity share, which boils down to 220-240 total touches based on what Cleveland RBs mounted last year. And that could be a stretch.

In the end, it’s difficult stating the case for his services over Tarik Cohen, Lamar Miller or Royce Freeman at a similar cost (Hyde ADP: 62.3, RB28).

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Cleveland’s investment in Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft pegs Tyrod Taylor a bridge quarterback. OVER or UNDER Week 7.5 the sassy rookie supplants Tyrod? (OVER = Week 8 or later; UNDER = Week 7 or earlier)

Brad – UNDER. Without question Tyrod finds himself in the fantasy friendliest situation of his career. No longer chucking passes to wideouts who would struggle in the Sun Belt Conference, he is flush with talent around him.

However, you don’t spend the No. 1 overall pick on a player expected to ride the pine the entire season. Baker Mania has the Dawg Pound hungry and optimistic, understandably so. Last year with Oklahoma, he routinely threaded needles, setting the pace in almost every adjusted accuracy percentage category according to Pro Football Focus. Deep, underneath, outside the numbers, over-the-middle … Mayfield displayed incredible deftness. Any signs of Tyrod crumbling at the controls and the rookie leapfrogs him on the depth chart.

Prediction: Baker blasts off Week 6 against the Chargers.

Liz – OVER. I’m clearly sold on Tyrod. The starting gig is his to lose, and I don’t believe that – save the possibility of injury – he’s going to let it slip away. It will take three consecutive stinkers for him to get pulled.

Think about it… One bad game and fans stroke their chin. Two bad games and they bite their nails. Three flops and the whole of Cuyahoga County starts pounding the table. Admittedly, the Browns schedule isn’t easy, but it opens against with four of the teams six games at home. I like those odds for Tyrod setting the tone and staving off Baker.

Bring the blitz on Twitter. Follow Brad (@YahooNoise) and Liz (@LizLoza_FF).