2020 Cleveland Browns Outlook
The forward momentum of the Cleveland Browns ended at one season. Freddie Kitchens looked overmatched as the head coach in 2019 while failing to make significant growth on either side of the ball. Cleveland brought in Kevin Stefanski to take over as the head coach. Over the previous 14 seasons, he worked in the Vikings' system with various coaching jobs. Last year he ran Minnesota's offense for the first time.
The Browns slipped to 22nd in points scored (335) while having the same finish in yards gained. Since 1988, Cleveland ranks in the top ten in scoring only once (2007 – 8th).
Alex Van Pelt spent the last six seasons as the quarterbacks' coach for the Packers and the Bengals. He's been a coach in the NFL since 2006. Van Pelt has one season of experience as an offensive coordinator.
Cleveland improved to 22nd in yards allowed. They allowed 393 points (22nd), which was one point more than they allowed in 2018.
Joe Woods takes over as the defensive coordinator. Last year he held the defensive back coach and passing game coordinator for the 49ers after running the Broncos' defense in 2017 and 2018. Woods worked in the Vikings' system from 2006 to 2013.
Their top two signings in the offseason were T Jack Conklin and TE Austin Hooper.
The Titans drafted Conklin in the first round in 2016. He signed a multi-year deal in March with over 30 million in guarantees. Conklin should be an edge in run blocking while only being league average in pass protection.
Hooper signed a four-year contract for this spring worth over $40 million. His game improved each year in the NFL while setting career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787), TDs (6), and targets (97). His opportunity won't be as high for the Browns, but Hooper should add another dimension to the passing game.
Cleveland lost LB Joe Schobert, S Damarious Randall, CB Eric Murray, S Juston Burris, S Morgan Burnett, CB T.J. Carrie, and LB Christian Kirksey from their defense.
Schobert was the only player of value lost off the defense. He had risk vs. the run while regressing in the pass rush.
They brought in Case Keenum to back up the quarterback position.
The Browns added S Karl Joseph, DT Andrew Billings, CB Kevin Johnson, and S Andrew Sendejo, DE Adrian Clayborn, and LB B.J. Goodson to the defensive side of the ball. All players signed minor deals. Joseph and Goodson have a chance to start.
The first player added in this year's draft was T Jedrick Wills. He should solve their left tackle spot that was a disaster last year. Wills had an attacking style in the run game with the quickness to make plays in space. His hands grade well, but he doesn't engage long enough at times. Wills plays with power and manhandles his opponent when pass blocking.
Over the next three rounds, Cleveland invested in S Grant Delpit, DT Jordan Elliott, and LB Jacob Phillips for their defense.
Delpit struggled last year due to a high ankle sprain. His play grades well vs. the run while offering fire and fight. He fared better in coverage earlier in his career. Delpit loses value when put in chase mode in coverage. His tackling skills need work.
Elliott would gain value if he lined up next to DE Myles Garrett on the defensive line. He has a disrupter feel, which increases his impact when faced with a single blocker. His hands grade well with a winning base in his technique. Elliott needs more power to add follow through to his pass rush.
Phillips does his job while needing a free run at the quarterback or the oncoming ball carrier to make big plays. He lacks size (6'3" and 230 lbs.) with no edge in speed and quickness. His thinking style puts him a tick behind on some plays. Phillips won't be a difference-maker in coverage.
TE Harrison Bryant was the choice in the fourth round. He has experience at offensive tackle, which is a big win for his feel for blocking. Despite needing to add some bulk, Bryant grades well as a blocking option due to his career path and foundation skill set. His most significant issue in this area will come when faced with a straight on power rushers.
In college, his team ran a spread offense, which led to him getting a free release outside the hash marks on many plays. He showed a feel for soft zones and the ability to beat his man downfield, especially with no help over the top. At the next level, Bryant will need to work harder to get open while facing much better talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Over the final two rounds, the Browns drafted C Nick Harris and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Harris flashes an attacking feel at center, but his lack of power and base lead to a limited upside. His hands need improvement with a question rhythm with his snaps. Harris plays well on the move with the vision to land strikes in the open field.
Peoples-Jones underperformed his expected upside in college. His route running isn't where it needs to be, and he lacks the wheels to be a deep threat on the outside. People-Jones should gain value vs. zone coverage while lacking the release or quickness to win against press coverage. I expect his hands to shine. Look for him to make plays with his legs after the catch.
The Browns finished 12th in rushing yards (1,901), but they did gain 4.8 yards per rush with 15 rushing TDs. If Cleveland played more games from the league, their rushing attempts (24.6 in 2019) would rank much higher. The offensive line allowed 41 sacks and 67 QB hits leading to a 22nd place ranking in passing yards (3,847) with 22 TDs and a league-high 21 Ints.
LT Jedrick Wills
The Browns hope Wills hits the ground running in his rookie season. He has to be an upgrade over Greg Robinson as run blocker while also owning the talent to add length to QB Baker Mayfield's passing window.
LG Joel Bitonio
Bitonio ranked highly for his position in pass protection in five of his six years in the NFL. His best play as a run blocker came over his first three seasons in the league from 2014 to 2016. With a better option at left tackle, he should help him in this area.
C J.C. Tretter
Tretter started all 48 games for the Browns over the last three seasons. The best part of his game continues to be his pass blocking. With Green Bay in 2015 and 2016, he did show more success as a run blocker as a part-time player. Tretter is trending to the league average in the run game.
RG Wyatt Teller
Last year Teller moved into the starting lineup over the nine games. Over two years in the NFL, he allowed minimal sacks while grading as a league-average player in pass protection. Teller remains a liability in run blocking. Not a lock to keep the job all year, and he may not be in the starting lineup in Week 1.
RT Jack Conklin
Conklin solves the Browns' weakness on the right side of the line in run blocking. Even with reasonable success in pass protection, he'll allow some sacks and pressure.
Offensive Line Outlook
Cleveland has an offensive line that has the potential to be much improved in 2020. I expect the run game to be improved while lowering the overall sack total.
QB Baker Mayfield, CAR - Quality Backup
Equifax issued a fraud alert on Mayfield after his step back in play his sophomore season. He threw an interception in 13 of his 16 games with five of those contests resulting in two or more Ints (13 combined). His first game with two passing TDs didn't come under the 9th game in the second week of November. Mayfield had a completion rate below 55 percent in six games. He passed for over 300 yards in two games (342/1 and 327/3).
The Browns added an upgrade at TE (Austin Hooper), but the jury seems hung on the new ceiling of Odell Beckham. Overall, Cleveland has talent at RB, which will temper the overall chances in the passing game for Mayfield. His accuracy (68.5 percent) was elite in college, which will need to be corrected to be considered a top 12 QB in the NFL or the fantasy world.
The gambler in me gives him a chance at beating his rookie season in TDs with over 4,200 passing yards. His conservative projections are 4,176 combined yards with about 28 TDs and 15 Ints.
RB Nick Chubb, CLE - Stud (low risk)
Chubb finished second in the NFL in rushing yards after faltering over his final two games (15/45 and 13/41). Over his first eight games, he gained 964 yards (121 per game) with six TDs and 25 catches. After RB Kareem Hunt returned to the field, Chubb gained 808 yards with two TDs and only provided 11 catches. In essence, he lost over half of his role in the passing game. Due to his failure in rushing TDs. his value took a hit with more responsibility falling on the team's playmaking when at the goal-line.
Overall, Chubb had 334 touches (20.9 per game) with strength in his yards per rush (5.0) and runs over 20 yards (11). This season with Hunt in the mix all year, Chubb won't make any progress in the passing game, and Hunt will undoubtedly steal some rushing TDs on passing downs in close.
Talented player, but I have to lower his projections to 1,457 combined yards with 11 TDs and 28 catches.
RB Kareem Hunt, CLE - Solid/Safe Pick
After missing eight games due to his suspension, Hunt worked as a high volume passing catcher for the Browns down the stretch. Cleveland gave him ten touches per game while scoring between 11.8 and 17.5 fantasy points in seven contests in PPR leagues. His path over a full season projected him to score over 200 fantasy points, which would have ranked 18th at the running back position last year.
Viable flex option or a cheat RB2 for an owner that wants to be WR strong. If given a starting opportunity, Hunt would instantly become a top ten back. Almost a must-handcuff for RB Nick Chubb at all costs.
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, CLE - Dynasty Only
Over three seasons at Michigan, Peoples-Jones caught 103 passes for 1,327 yards and 14 TDs on 181 targets. His best season (47/612/8) came in 2018 as a sophomore. In his career, he doesn't have a game with over 90 yards receiving. Peoples-Jones will make some plays and score touchdowns, but his opportunity will be minimal early so he's best held only in dynasty.
WR Rashard Higgins, CAR - Deep-league Only
After trending forward in 2017 (27/312/2) and 2018 (39/572/4), Higgins posted on four catches for 55 yards and one TD last year over ten games. He caught two of his three targets for 46 yards in Week 1, but he missed the next five games with knee and ankle issues. Once Higgins returned to the field, he was the odd man out in the Browns' wide receiver rotation.
With Cleveland added a top pass-catching tight end in the offseason, the third wide receiver in this offense has minimal value without an injury to Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry. Higgins works as only a low-value insurance policy that will be found in the free-agent pool in all leagues.
WR Jarvis Landry, NO - Solid/Safe Pick
Landry continues to be an overlooked asset in the fantasy world. He has over 80 catches in all six seasons in the NFL while setting a career-high in receiving yards (1,174) in 2019. Over his previous five seasons, Landry averaged 96 catches for 1,086 yards and five TDs or 234.6 fantasy points in PPR leagues.
Last year he led the Browns in catches (83) and receiving yards (1,174) while ranking 13th in WR scoring (18.84 FPPG). Almost a lay-up for fantasy owners and has the talent to be a slam dunk if QB Baker Mayfield finds his accuracy in 2020.
In 2017, Landry ranked fourth in WR scoring (262.70) in PPR leagues, followed by an 18th place finish in 2018 (218.75 fantasy points). This year I have him projected for 85 catches for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns.