Cleveland Browns 2020 Fantasy Outlook
QB: Baker Mayfield (3rd Season - 25 Years Old)
As a rookie in 2018, Mayfield set the record for TD passes (27) bettering P. Manning (26) in 1998. Mayfield also had half as many interceptions thrown as a rookie (14) compared to Peyton’s (28). Quite an impressive debut for the Heisman Trophy winner. The hype for Mayfield and the newly loaded Browns was real. Cleveland had just acquired OBJ from NYG and Kareem Hunt after he was cut by KC following his domestic violence incident. The Browns also had Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and David Njoku ready for another try with Mayfield in year two. Talks of CLE soaring to the playoffs and even the Super Bowl, in some circles, sky-rocketed all Browns players in draft day ADP, especially Baker’s. I picked Mayfield in the 17th round (!) of my League of Record (most competitive league) as a rookie, just in case he panned out as a keeper option for the following season. All of a sudden, he’s a 5th round pick in year two?!
My stance on early or late round Quarterback drafting is a topic for another time, but it’s been shown time and time again that drafting a QB in the first handful of rounds (5th or higher) usually ends in disappointment. Rarely does that player return value, let alone exceed expectations and win leagues. Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson were both chosen in the back half of drafts the past two seasons. I’ll be honest, I was drinking the Kool-Aid from the Dawg Pound bowls with many others and had Baker as my QB6 heading into last season. It all made sense. As long as OBJ stayed healthy, there was no way Mayfield or the Browns would disappoint. OBJ actually did stay healthy playing 16 games for just the second time in his career. However, Baker and the Browns wouldn't panned out.
His true completion % dropped 5% (69% to 64%) while his TDs fell by 5 (27 to 22) and his interceptable passes went up by 7 (22 to 29) from last year to this year. That’s with a healthy OBJ and weapons abound. Now, HC Freddie Kitchens was fired as soon as the season ended and it was clear Kitchens did not mesh with Baker and Co., so there’s a positive heading into 2020 with new HC Kevin Stefanski coming over from Minnesota. However, with many fantasy owners taking a 5th round gamble on Baker instead of securing a second or third RB/WR, he disappointed more often than not finishing as a high-end QB3 in PPG weekly and a low-end QB2 overall on the season. That’s unacceptable in single QB leagues when you’re needing that Top QB pick to be a set-it-and-forget-it position in your fantasy roster.
Like most of the Browns, I expect a solid season from Baker. While he won't be asked to sling it the way I think he wants to, he'll be more efficient in Stefanski's run-first scheme working off the play-action. In 2019, Kirk Cousins had 25 more fantasy points than Baker on 100+ less dropbacks and had ~10% higher completion percentage (69.1% to 59.4%). Cousins had 200 less passing yards, but his TD|INT ratio was far better than Mayfield's (26|6 for Kirk and 22|21 for Baker). Now, it's possible to say that Stefanski had little influence on the raw numbers, but if you're arguing that Kirk Cousins is flat-out better than Baker Mayfield, that's a discussion for another time. A healthy OBJ and Landry can duplicate what Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had done under Stefanski. Sign me up for another year of Baker Mania... at the right price.
RB: Nick Chubb (3rd Season - 24 Years Old)
One of the most debated topics in fantasy football this off season is that of Nick Chubb and the shadow that is Kareem Hunt. The question is, will Nick Chubb be who we know he can be -- a Top 5 fantasy back? Or, will he be vultured from arguably the league's best "backup"? There are valid arguments on both sides of this debate. Let's take a look at each.
The case for Nick Chubb:
1. He burst onto the scene as a rookie racking up 1,145 total yards and 10 touchdowns on 212 touches. After a 10th plus round pick coming into 2018, he catapulted himself to an early second round pick in 2019. He returned that value and then some as the RB6 overall and RB4 in PPR points per game (pprppg) over the first 10 games last year. He was on a Christian McCaffery-esque pace of 1,900+ total yards and 12 TDs. That would have paced him to RB2 on the season behind only... you guessed it, Christian McCaffrey.
2. Chubb finished 2019 second in the NFL with 1,494 rushing yards making the Pro Bowl.
3. Pro Football Focus ranked the Browns as the No. 1 improved offensive line coming into 2020 with the additions of OTs Jack Conklin (from TEN) and Jedrick Wills (R - ALA).
4. After a year of turmoil in Cleveland with Freddie Kitchens getting fired and the rest of the team having a season long identity crisis, Nick Chubb and the Browns get a fresh start with new HC Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski spent all of his first 14 seasons as an NFL coach in Minnesota with the Vikings. Most recently, he was the OC mainly responsible for Dalvin Cook ending the 2019 season as the RB6 overall in PPR (in just 14 games) and RB2 in pprppg behind only CMC. Below is a graph showing the rushing comparisons for the Minnesota Vikings under then OC Kevin Stefanski and the Cleveland Browns from 2019.
The case against Nick Chubb:
1. From Week 10 on (when Kareem Hunt joined the offense), Chubb was the RB15 (13 pprppg) while Hunt was the RB17 (12.7 pprppg). As you can see in the chart below, once Kareem joined the team after suspension, he carved out a significant roll that should continue and only increase with a full season in 2020. This is clearly more of a timeshare than Chubb owners would like, leaving as a high-end RB2 rather than the RB1 we all wish for.
Nick Chubb without Kareem Hunt Weeks 1-9 and with Kareem Hunt Weeks 10-17
2. With a new offense in store for CLE, perhaps Hunt will be a 1B to Chubb instead of just a passing-downs back.
3. Chubb won't return value on his late first round - early second round ADP with Kareem Hunt in the mix.
While I do believe Hunt will cut into Chubb's workload overall, I see Chubb once again being a front-runner in both NFL rushing stats and fantasy stats as a top fantasy option weekly and throughout the season. Does he have Top 5 upside with Hunt around, probably not, but could he be Top 10 with RB6 upside? I think so. Let's not forget that Dalvin Cook was RB2 in pprppg and RB6 overall in only 14 games under Chubb and Hunt's new HC Kevin Stefanski last year in MIN. That was with Alexander Mattison playing a true second fiddle to Cook who I believe is as capable as Kareem Hunt.
RB: Kareem Hunt (4th Season - 24 Years Old)
Kareem Hunt could be an NFL starting running back in his own right. Just three years ago as a rookie in Kansas City he exploded onto the scene even more so than Nick Chubb did leading the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards. Of course, year two in KC was cut short by suspension and he was on the sideline until Week 10 of 2019 finding himself as a backup for the Browns instead of a starter for the Chiefs. Therefore, we only have half a season in CLE to reflect on for Hunt, but those eight games were enough to raise the discussion of Chubb and / vs. Hunt in 2020.
Hunt caught on right away catching 13 passes on 17 targets over his first two games as a Brown. He averaged 4.6 receptions on 5.5 targets per game as well as 8.63 yards per reception over his eight games in 2019. I mentioned above that he was the RB17 in full PPR from the time he entered in Week 10, but can he improve on that in 2020? Again, I think so.
In 2019, the Minnesota Vikings were 8th in the NFL with 126 targets to the running back position. Dalvin Cook had 63 (12th overall), CJ Ham (who?) had 26 and Ameer Abdullah (remember him?) had 21. Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt was 6th in running back targets from the time he joined the Browns in Week 10. Hunt had 44 targets behind only CMC (90!), Kamara (58), Cohen (53), Fournette (49 -- what?!) and Ekeler (48). If Hunt paces out to 88 targets over a full season, that's going to a major boost to his value and bite into Chubb's.
I expect Hunt and Chubb to carve out their individual rolls in what should be a productive and efficient run-centric offense. Per Pro Football Reference, MIN was 8th in total points scored last year. CLE was 22nd. MIN was 16th in total yards last year. CLE was 22nd. You get the picture. Stefanski's offense should run through the ground game and work off of play-action. This helps all parties involved -- less pressure on Baker, more carries for Chubb, more dump offs for Hunt. And while I haven't gotten there yet, potentially more opportunity for OBJ, Landry and Hooper.
If anyone wants to somehow share the argument that MIN's offense was/is just simply that much better than CLE's could be in 2020, feel free to slide right into my DMs (@fantasyfootball_tckpod on IG // @tck_pod on TW) and we'll have that chat individually. I love Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen is fantastic when healthy, but to quote the great Mike Ditka, "c'mon man!"
WR: Odell Beckham Jr. (7th Season - 27 Years Old)
Odell Beckham Jr. has been and remains one of the most polarizing players in the league. On one hand, he's considered a Top 5 talent at the wide receiver position who has surpassed at least 1,000 receiving yards in five of his first six seasons including double digit touchdowns in each of his first three seasons while with the Giants. On the other hand, he's a classic show-boating diva receiver reminiscent of yesteryear's pioneers T.O., Ocho Cinco, AB, Keyshawn Johnson... the list goes on. Many feel OBJ has been riding the curtails of his (albeit very impressive) one-handed catch that put himself and the OBJ brand on the map. I have mixed feeling about this and how it pertains to year two in Cleveland.
OBJ had arguably the best first three seasons for a receiver entering the NFL all time. His 4,122 yards from 2014-2016 are more than both career totals thus far of Tyreek Hill (2016-2019) and Cole Beasley (2012-2019). He avg. 96 receptions and more than six touchdowns per season over those three years. OBJ's PPR fantasy finishes from 2014-2016 are as follows:
2014: WR7 overall in just 12 games and WR1 in pprppg with 24.6. For perspective, Michael Thomas had 23.4 pprppg last year during his dominant WR1 campaign.
2015: WR5 overall in 15 games and WR3 in pprppg
2016: WR4 overall and WR6 in pprppg
Odell was clearly one of the most exciting and accountable fantasy options to start his career, but that spark has faded and the last three years haven't had the same flare.
OBJ only played four games in 2017, so we'll throw that out for statistical purposes. In 2018, he played just 12 games and had career lows across the board in his final season with NYG. 2019 brought new hope when he was the talk of the off-season after joining the "bounce-back Browns" who were easily the most hyped team of last summer. That train derailed quickly as the Browns had a tough time catching their stride and OBJ fell through the cracks in year one with Baker Mayfield and a true target hog competition for the first time, his BFF Jarvis Landry. Odell's last three season's have left much to be desired for fantasy players.
2017: N/A -- only played four games, but WR3 in pprppg with 18.5
2018: WR15 overall in just 12 games and WR8 in pprppg
2019: WR25 overall, but WR33 in pprppg (yikes!)
Clearly his numbers have dropped since his injury plagued 2017, but last year's production in his first year with CLE gives me the most concern. OBJ played four more games in 2019 than he did in 2018, but somehow under performed his 2018 numbers across the board, which were already career lows. The talent hasn't gone anywhere and he's still hypothetically in his "prime", but with a run-first focused HC coach in Kevin Stefanski now in town, what shall we expect from OBJ in 2020?
Odell and Baker find their groove in year two now that they are familiar with each other and OBJ is fully recovered from sports hernia surgery. They improve on their 55% completion percentage and Odell gets more than six receptions in a game more than twice (as he did in 2019). They build on the final three weeks of the season where they connected 15 times on 25 targets for 191 yards and two scores. They take advantage of OBJ's 5th ranked total Air Yards and 8th ranked Air Yards per game from 2019. Odell turns back the clock and becomes "OBJ" again for 100+ receptions, 1,300+ yards, 8+ touchdowns and a Top 10 WR finish.
Odell and Baker fail to connect again and let their individual egos get the best of them. Odell suffers yet another injury which has stunted his stardom. He becomes Kevin Stefanski's new "Stefon Diggs" and has his ceiling capped with sub-100 targets and 260+ less Air Yards. Last year (without Adam Thielen for six games) Diggs had only seven Redzone targets and converted one reception for an 11 yard touchdown. We know Diggs has big play upside, right Saints fans? Be we also know, Diggs was terribly unpredictable in Stefanski's run-first offense working off of play-action and limiting deep targets and big play opportunity.
Odell Beckham is special and I do think he bounces back in a major way in 2020 -- certainly better than WR25; however, there are a lot of mouths to feed in CLE. One of those is our next feature; fellow LSU Tiger Alum, 5x Pro Bowler and the new "Adam Thielen".
WR: Jarvis Landry (7th Season - 27 Years Old)
Jarvis Landry's 564 career receptions are the most by a player through his first six seasons in NFL history. He has quietly been one of the most reliable fantasy receivers over his six seasons and annually outperforms his ADP. Perhaps most impressively, he's never missed a game in the NFL. Something his teammate OBJ can not say. Landry's fantasy finishes since 2014 compared to his ADP leading into each season are as follows:
2014: WR31 finish // ADP N/A
2015: WR9 finish // ADP WR17
2016: WR13 finish // ADP WR15
2017: WR5 finish // ADP WR29
2018: WR18 finish // ADP WR17
2019: WR12 finish // ADP WR28
With the exception of 2018 (barely), he's outperformed his ADP significantly. We know he's a PPR machine with at least 81 receptions in each of his six seasons, but there seems to be hesitation with Landry because he "doesn't score touchdowns". His 32 career touchdowns are tied with Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill. Now, he does have two more season under his belt than both of those players, but they're alpha receivers on high powered offenses. Landry has never been the alpha and has yet to be a part of a "high powered offense". He also has more career touchdowns than Stefon Diggs and Tyler Lockett. Again, similar comparison as was to Thomas and Hill. The point being that Jarvis does score and a baseline of five touchdowns a season to go with an 80 reception floor and 1,000 yards is quite the nice WR2, but you're generally able to get him as a WR3. He's Julian Edelman with more "Juice".
As I compared Odell to Diggs above as the WR1 for their respective teams, I'll compare Landry to Thielen's previous roll with Kevin Stefanski. Thielen had back-to-back Top 8 fantasy finishes in 2017 and 2018 before missing six games in 2019. Thielen also outpaced Diggs in 2016, 2017 and 2018 in PPR scoring formats. Most importantly, Thielen had nine Redzone targets and converted seven of those for five touchdowns. If Landry is actually "new Thielen" in Stefanski's offense, there's definitely a world where Jarvis Landry outscores Odell Beckham, again... as he did in 2019. If you're an "upside" player, draft OBJ in the Third Round, but don't be surprised if he disappoints. If you're looking for a "floor" player, take Landry in the SEVENTH Round -- current ADP at time of this writing. Even if Jarvis climbs into the Fifth Round which is more likely, he's still a value and steady WR2 or WR3 with upside.
Note: the only negative to Jarvis Landry this season is that he underwent labrum surgery on his hip in February. He's half-way through his expected recovery time and has reported that he's progressing well (as every player does this time of year), but a realistic return to the field in time for August activities leading into early September kickoff is still best case scenario. He's slated to be ready for Week 1 assuming the NFL season stays on schedule, but if he suffers any setbacks during recovery, he could miss a week or two... or more. I love Landry the player and think he'll be great once on the field, but this is definitely something to monitor come fantasy draft season (July-August).
TE: Donovan Peoples-Jones (Rookie Season - Rd. 6 Pick 187 Overall - 21 Years Old)
Donovan Peoples-Jones is strictly a dynasty stash right now unless one of Odell's or Jarvis' surgeries act up. That said, DPJ tested with a 97th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism at the NFL Combine. He also scored in the 99th percentile Burst Score per Player Profiler (above) with a 145.2 -- anything over 130 is considered extraordinary. Burst Score is calculated by the sum of the player's Vertical Jump and Broad Jump distances to measure explosiveness. Basically, if he were playing basketball, they'd say "he can jump out of the gym". He was a Five-Star recruit by Michigan out of high school, but his overall collegiate career was somewhat underwhelming, hence the 6th Round selection. Again, he's third fiddle to OBJ and Landry (and the running backs and tight ends), but worth a mention.
TE: Austin Hooper (5th Season - 25 Years Old)
Austin Hooper became the highest paid Tight End this off-season when Cleveland signed him from Atlanta for 4-years / $44 million dollars with $23 million dollars guaranteed. Now, while that is fun to say and give him props for, George Kittle should surpass that mark shortly after this article drops. That being said, for now, Hooper is the top dawg and one of three capable Tight Ends for the Dawg Pound.
Hooper has been the TE6 each of the last two seasons while with the Falcons. He has also increased all of his numbers across the board since he came into the league in 2016. He's been a reliable target for Matt Ryan and now will be for Baker Mayfield giving another weapon in this Browns offensive attack. Although Hooper has gotten quite a bit of hype since coming to Cleveland I think it's important to temper expectations in year one with the Browns.
As I've mentioned numerous times in this article with all of the other CLE players, a new system with Stefanski (and in Hooper's case a new QB) opens the door for variables which we do not like in fantasy football. We know Hooper is a beast and can be a Top 6 TE (literally), but David Njoku is still there and they drafted arguably the top Tight End of this year's draft class in Harrison Bryant. Hooper's average of 8.1 yards per target since 2016 ranks 21st among 86 TEs (minimum 50 targets). He's been a nice weapon in ATL, but that's with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley (and I guess Devonta Freeman) to compete with. Now he's got a new run-first HC, Kareem Hunt, OBJ, Landry, two other TE's to mix in and a new system and QB to connect with -- all during a limited off-season due to COVID-19. I like Hooper as a player, but I think his production in ATL was more a result of opportunity than him shining individually, enough to shine through the challenges I just put forth above.
Now, to lend some optimism for Hooper, Baker Mayfield has thrown 1/3 of his NFL TDs to Tight Ends. He also threw seven (2015), seven (2016) and eight (2017) touchdowns to Mark Andrews during their time together in college at Oklahoma. Also, MIN (under now CLE HC Kevin Stefanski) ran 550 plays (56.7% of all plays) with two-tight ends in the formation. That was second in the NFL behind only Philadelphia. Again, good news for Hooper in that Stefanski likes the big fellas out there, but not good in that there are two other capable Tight Ends on the roster. As a fantasy player, you're hoping Hooper is the "pass catching tight end" and someone else is saddled with blocking duties. Considering Hooper's been graded as an average run blocker by Pro Football Focus throughout his career, that bodes well for him being called on to catch passes vs. protect Baker Mayfield.
If Hooper's current ADP of Round 10 stays firm into August I'll grab some shares, but if he's in the middle rounds, I'll just wait another few rounds and grab some high upside fliers at Tight End. I don't think Hooper will return another TE6 performance in 2020 and with Minnesota ranking 29th in team pass play call percentage in 2019, there may not be enough to go around anyway. I'll bite on OBJ for upside and Landry for floor and of course the backs at the right prices, but Hooper is the odd man out in this offense for me. I just don't think the Dawg bowl is big enough for five appetites and Hooper takes a step back come feeding time in my opinion.
TE: David Njoku (4th Season - 23 Years Old)
After a solid rookie campaign and impressive sophomore season Njoku was a decent late round flier in 2019, but he only played four games and now finds himself as the second fiddle to newly acquired Austin Hooper. I've made plenty of Vikings and Browns comparisons in this article, but are you ready for another?
Last year in MIN, Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. had nearly identical looks with 48 and 47 targets respectively. That could easily be Hooper and Njoku which would be great for the Browns, but terrible for fantasy players. I would have written Njoku off with the signing of Hooper, but he's only 24 (when the season starts) and CLE did exercise his fifth-year option to retain him. I think Njoku is extremely talented and has already had over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in his first 2.25 seasons, so I think he's got real nice and free dynasty value right now, but I'll pass in redraft. That said, with CLE drafting Harrison Bryant and bringing in Austin Hooper, there's certainly a chance Njoku gets traded and finds a new gig elsewhere in 2020 or heading into 2021. If that happens, assuming it's the right fit, I'm all in! Scoop Njoku in deeper leagues as a "wait and see" or as a dynasty stash. I believe in him.
TE: Harrison Bryant (Rookie Season - Rd. 4 Pick 115 Overall - 22 Years Old)
It's not often we talk about rookie Tight Ends, but I wanted to drop Harrison Bryant at the end here to put some shine on the FAU product. He's a dynasty pick only right now, but as we've seen with many tight ends, once they catch up with NFL assignments, lingo, blocking responsibilities, rout-trees and overall big boy football, they come around in year three or four. I see this happening with Bryant for sure as I'm expecting Njoku to be gone soon and Hooper in a few years.
Bryant (6’5/243) was a beast at Florida Atlantic and won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end last year. In 2019, he led college tight ends in first downs (47), receptions (65), receiving yards (1,005), and yards per route run from the slot (3.53). Again, he's an afterthought most likely as a rookie in 2020, but keep an eye on him in dynasty formats.