The Cleveland Browns have quietly put together a really good roster on paper that looks like it is ready to compete for a Super Bowl. The biggest question is whether they can translate that roster into consistent wins. They have made great strides in recent years, from a 0-16 season back in 2017 to 11-5 and coming very close to beating Kansas City for an AFC Championship berth in 2020. The biggest obstacle last season was their defense and they heavily focused on that unit in the draft with picks like Greg Newsome, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as well as in free agency with the big signing of Jadeveon Clowney.
On offense, the Browns looked like they really started hitting their stride late in the season. Baker looked more comfortable than ever, and they ran an uber-effective smash-mouth type of football with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. One can only imagine the return of Odell Beckham Jr. forecasts more good things to come for this offense, especially with the improvements in Baker’s game. If the offensive unit picks up where they left off last season and the defensive unit takes a step forward, the Cleveland Browns could be real contenders this season. Maybe a statement no one expected to be saying just a few short years ago.
2021 Fantasy Preview Cleveland Browns- Projected Depth Chart
- Nick Chubb: Despite missing 4.5 games in 2020, Chubb still finished as the RB11 in PPR leagues. He shows no signs of slowing down and in a run-first offense, managers can continue to rely on him to be a consistent RB1 option. Of course, he is not involved in the passing game with Hunt’s presence and that limits his overall upside to be a top 5 RB (barring a crazy touchdown season). Nevertheless, he is a great option for the 2021 season and has proven to be incredibly consistent.
- Baker Mayfield: If Mayfield can continue his performance at the end of last season, he can be a great contributor to fantasy teams. He was performing at a top 10 QB level from weeks 11-16. If he can consistently show the top 10 QB performances throughout the 2021 season, he will be more than valuable to redraft and dynasty rosters. If that happens, he could be making a case to be on the “Studs” list this time next year.
- Odell Beckham Jr.: OBJ was once considered the top non-QB pick in dynasty startups. Since 2017 he has been up and down and has struggled to stay healthy. We all know his potential, and he is still at an age that could be considered his prime (28). The upside is there for OBJ to thrive, but until he proves it once again, he is just a role player for fantasy teams that will hopefully provide a WR2 floor when healthy.
- Kareem Hunt: Even with Nick Chubb being the RB1 in Cleveland’s backfield, Hunt has consistently provided at least RB2 value. He honestly thrives when Chubb is also on the field, still posting an RB10 yearly finish with Chubb only missing 4.5 games. These two talented backs should continue to succeed in this run-first offense.
- Austin Hooper: In the most shallow position in fantasy leagues, a consistent TE is always valuable. Hooper may not be able to post the production that he did in his last 2 years in Atlanta, but he could still provide mid-tier TE1 numbers as long as he can stay healthy.
Keep an eye on
- Jarvis Landry: Was last year potentially the start of the end of the incredible consistency that we’ve seen from Landry over the past few years? In the 5 previous years, his worst finish was WR18, generally finishing as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2. But in 2020, he posted a WR33 finish, despite only missing one game. He saw career lows in Targets, Receptions, and Touchdowns as well as the second-lowest mark in yardage since his rookie year. It’s a good idea to monitor this situation before putting all your trust in Landry again.
- David Njoku: Njoku has been in the league for 4 years now and saw two potential replacements brought in by the Browns’ organization last season. He was an athletic TE that never lived up to the hype around him with only one fantasy usable season in 2018. That being said, it generally takes TEs longer to acclimate to the NFL and we could see Njoku in a new situation sooner rather than later. Someone to keep an eye on.
- Harrison Bryant: Bryant flashed in his minimal opportunity last season and the coaching staff seemed confident giving him said opportunity as a rookie. He looks to be the potential replacement for Austin Hooper in a Stefanski offense that likes to feature the TE position (think Kyle Rudolph for the Vikings). Hooper has an out in his contract following the 2022 season, and if he continues to be lackluster while Bryant improves we could see a switch sooner. Bryant could prove to be a fruitful investment if you can stash him for a bit longer in dynasty leagues.
- Donovan Peoples-Jones: The Michigan product, Donovan Peoples-Jones showed some deep play potential during his rookie campaign in 2020, averaging over 20 yards per catch. With no offseason, it is incredibly impressive these rookies were able to produce at all and grasp the playbook in such a limited time. We might be seeing the end of Landry’s consistency as well as coming up on the end of the OBJ experiment in Cleveland. Peoples-Jones could very well be the next man up in the system and could provide fantasy managers with a useful fantasy player in the next few years.
***Note: All projections and discussions are assuming full PPR formats.***
IDP Analysis With IDPIggy
Key additions: Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, Troy Hill, Takkarist McKinely, John Johnson, Anthony Walker Jr., Damion Square
Fantasy Football Starters
Myles Garrett (DL), Anthony Walker (LB), John Johnson (DB). Deeper Leagues Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB) and Jadeveon Clowney (DL)
The Cleveland Browns enjoyed a playoff win for the first time since 1994… the same playoffs as when Steve Young was a Super Bowl MVP. It had been a minute. The win would indicate this is a well-built team, managed by a great QB, and lead by a brilliant coach. It seems the answer to all three are yet to be decided.
The 2021 defensive addition of the Browns will cost more than $35,825,000 this year alone. That’s almost 20% of the 2021 NFL salary cap. Evidently, the ownership and general management of the Browns believe they are close to a Super Bowl appearance. DBs John Johnson and Troy Hill come from the LA Rams, and know what it takes to have a great defense. Johnson will be a day one starter and major contributor. Troy Hill is behind DB Denzel Ward on the depth chart, but will likely see several snaps, especially against division rivals; Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
DL Jadeveon Clowney will be a day 1 starter with high expectations. To his advantage he will be the 2nd (or possibly 3rd) best pass rusher on his team. This should allow for Clowney to take advantage of mismatches. DL Myles Garrett is without question the best DL on the team, if not the best player. DL Malik Jackson will be a starter and be asked to keep offensive lineman off the LBs.
LB Anthony Walker will be calling the plays, and will likely be the captain of the defense. Walker is a savvy veteran that is capable of leading this team in tackles, posting over 100 tackles is well within his reach. He will be mentoring and relying on rookie LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The former Notre Dame product will be asked to stop bruising RBs Dobbins, Harris, and Mixon just in his division.
2021 Fantasy Preview Cleveland Browns- Stat Projections
Odell Backham Jr.
***Note Player Projections are only fantasy relevant players. Team totals may not add up as we left out players that may not have a significant impact on the season. Projection provided by Rich King and is based on 16 games.***
Alex Van Pelt