2022 Cleveland Browns Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
The future of the Cleveland Browns' offense now lies in the hand of DeShaun Watson, but it did come with a price. They signed him to a five-year deal worth $230 million. Their future cost came in three first-round draft picks (2022, 2023, and 2024), one third-round selection (2023), and two choices in the fourth round (2020 and 2024). The next question for Cleveland will be the punishment by the NFL for Watson. The Browns continue to have strength at running back with the combination of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D'Ernest Johnson. In the fantasy market, the biggest hurdle appears to be rating the value of Cleveland's receiving corps – Amari Cooper, Donovan People-Jones, and David Bell after the change at quarterback.
Last year Cleveland underachieved passing the ball due to Baker Mayfield battling injuries and accuracy. In addition, Jarvis Landry struggled through the year with a lingering knee issue. The Browns ran the ball 47.5 % of the time, slightly down from 2020 (49.7). An upgrade at quarterback should lead to more passing chances and better success winning games in the fourth quarter.
The Browns running backs gained an impressive 5.3 yards per carry last year despite their top two running backs missing 12 games. Their back scored 47 touchdowns over the past two years. In 2021, they finished with 2,933 combined yards with 23 touchdowns and 82 catches (30.19 FPPG). This season, Deshaun Watson will steal a higher percentage of the rushing opportunity, but he will also help this offense extend drives with improved scoring chances.
The wide receiver opportunity in Cleveland last year was insanely low. They ranked last in catches (145), 31st in receiving yards (1,900), and 31st in touchdowns (6). The Browns' wideout finished with 44.1 % of their completions with a poor catch rate (56.0).
Cleveland used their tight ends well in 2021, leading to 31 % of their team's completions. They ranked 5th in catches (102), 4th in receiving yards (4th), 3rd in touchdowns (10), and sixth in targets (148). The Browns should throw the ball more to their wideouts this year, plus they lost Austin Hooper in the offseason.
Cleveland brought in Kevin Stefanski to take over as the head coach in 2020. He seized the most of his opportunity by going 11-5, giving Browns fans their first playoff experience since 2002. Unfortunately, poor quarterback play and an injury to Baker Mayfield led to an 8-9 season. Over the previous 14 seasons, Stefanski worked in the Vikings' system with various coaching jobs. In 2019, he ran Minnesota's offense for the first time, leading to his promotion to the Browns.
The Browns fell to 20th in points scored (349), 59 points lower than 2020. In addition, they finished 18th in yards gained. Since 1988, Cleveland ranked in the top 10 in scoring only once (2007 – 8th).
Alex Van Pelt returns for his third year as Cleveland's offensive coordinator after spending the previous six seasons as the quarterbacks' coach for the Packers and the Bengals. He's been a coach in the NFL since 2006. Van Pelt now has three years of experience as an offensive coordinator.
Cleveland jumped to 5th in yards allowed. They gave up 371 points (13th), an improvement of 58 points from 2020 (419).
Joe Woods gets his third chance as the Browns' defensive coordinator. In 2019, he held the defensive back coach and passing game coordinator jobs for the 49ers after running the Broncos' defense in 2017 and 2018. Woods worked in the Vikings' system from 2006 to 2013.
The Browns had minimal additions and losses this offseason in free agency. They decided to move on from DE Jadeveon Clowney (FA) and DE Takkarist McKinley (FA), leading to a trade with New England for LB Chase Winovich. Cleveland added Jacoby Brissett for quarterback depth and C Ethan Pocic to compete for backup snaps on their offensive line. WR Rashard Higgins signed with the Panthers.
Cleveland added nine players to their team despite not having a first or a second round pick in this year's draft. Three of their first four picks came on the defensive side of the ball – CB Martin Emerson (3.4), DE Alex Wright (3.14), and DT Perrion Winfrey (4.3). WR David Bell (3.35), RB Jerome Ford (5.13), and WR Mike Woods (6.24) were the top skill players added to their offense. In addition, the Browns upgraded their kicker position (Cade York – 4.19) plus investing in DE Isaiah Thomas (7.22) and C Dawson Deaton (7.25).
The Browns dropped one notch to 4th in rushing yards (2,471) while scoring 20 rushing touchdowns and averaging 28.5 rushes per game. Their ball carriers gained 5.1 yards per rush with 18 rushes of 20 yards or more.
The offensive line allowed 49 sacks (6th most total in the league). The Browns finished 27th in pass yards (3,619) with 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
T Jedrick Wills missed four games with some regression in his pass blocking. Cleveland drafted him 10th overall in 2020, inviting a much higher ceiling. Their other tackle (Jack Conklin) projects as an edge, but he missed 10 games last season. Both of the Browns' guards ranked highly in run blocking while starting 17 games.
This offensive line should be much better this year, especially in sacks allowed. Deshaun Watson paired with a top rushing attack should create a winning combination for Cleveland's deep passing game.
Cleveland slipped to 12th in the league in rushing yards allowed (1,857) while allowing 13 touchdowns and nine runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers gained 4.2 yards per carry while averaging 25.7 rushes.
The Browns' defense rose to 5th against the pass (3,439 yards), but they allowed 29 touchdowns while securing 13 interceptions and 43 sacks. Quarterbacks gained only 6.4 yards per pass attempt with only five completions of 40 yards or more (third-lowest).
DE Myles Garrett remains their impact defender. He finished last year with a career-high in tackles (51) and sacks (16) with league average success vs. the run. However, the rest of the defensive line has questions up the middle defending running backs with questionable value in sacks. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah projects as Cleveland's best player at the second level of their defense. His next area of growth is improving his pass rush. The secondary has talent and upside across the board, but they need their defense to produce a short passing window.
Cleveland's defense ranks 19th in the early draft season, but they should offer multiple games with matchup fantasy value.
QB Deshaun Watson, CLE - Gamble (high risk)
Over his last three seasons with the Texans, Watson went 25-22 with two winning years (11-5 and 10-5). His completion rate (68.7) and yards per pass attempt (8.3) were exceptional, but he ranked below the league average in pass attempts per game (32.9). Watson had his best fantasy season in 2020 (led the NFL in passing yards – 4,823) while delivering 36 combined touchdowns. He was active in the run game from 2018 to 2020 (99/551/5, 82/413/7, and 90/44/3). His most significant obstacle to success came via sacks (62, 44, and 49) over his last three seasons.
The Browns ranked poorly in passing attempts (539 – 19th, 501 – 28th, and 520 – 28th) and passing yards (3,847 – 22nd, 3,701 – 27th, and 3,619 – 27th) over the past three seasons.
The uncertainty of the number of games expected to play Watson depresses his early fantasy draft ranking (15th quarterback in the National Fantasy Football Championship). When at his best in 2020, he finished fifth in fantasy scoring (427.55) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. Watson makes the players around him better, and he excels in the deep passing game. The Browns' offensive line allowed 49 sacks last season while being much better in this area in 2020 (27).
Fantasy outlook: There is no doubt Watson makes this offense better. He has a history of relying on one elite wide receiver, which should excite the Amari Cooper naysayers. If Watson plays an entire season, I expect him to finish as a top-eight quarterback. However, his ceiling looks restricted by the run structure of the Browns' offense and Cleveland's questionable depth at wide receiver.
Other Options: Joshua Dobbs, Felix Harper
QB Jacoby Brissett, WAS - Low Potential
There is much uncertainty with the Browns. It's looking like Jacoby Brissett is slated to start the majority of the club's games and that's a major downgrade for the entire offense. Brissett can be a credible passer but has never faired well over a multiple-game stretch. He'll be a below-average passer with some plus rushing upside but not a reliable NFL or fantasy option.
Fantasy Outlook: If Brissett were slated to make all 17 starts for the Browns, he'd be about our QB20-25. Although he can run a little bit and is fairly careful with the ball, Brissett is very limited as a downfield passer and is a significant downgrade from Deshaun Watson in all facets. He should only be drafted as a below-average fantasy QB2 in Superflex formats.
RB Nick Chubb, CLE - Solid/Safe Pick
Over four seasons with the Browns, Chubb has been a phenomenal running back based on his yards per rush (5.2, 5.0, 5.6, and 5.5). He looked like a workhorse back in 2019 (334 touches), leading to 1,772 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 36 catches. Chubb missed seven games over the past two seasons while also losing touches to a second rotational back. He averaged 17.7 touches in 2021 (17.2 in 2020) while ranking him 13th in running back scoring (216.30) in PPR formats. Surprisingly, Chubb was a much better player on the road (810 combined yards with six touchdowns and 11 catches over seven games). He gained over 100 yards rushing in five matchups (once at home).
Fantasy outlook: There is a lot to like about Chubb, but he is easy to misprice in the fantasy market due to his rotational opportunity. The Brown will use another back a minimum of one-third of the time in 2022, and Deshaun Watson will be much more active running the ball than Baker Mayfield. As a result, I will set his bar at 275 combined touches for 1,500 yards with 10 scores and 25 catches or about 240 fantasy points in PPR leagues. In the early draft season in the NFFC, Chubb has an ADP of 21 as the 12th running back drafted.
RB D'Ernest Johnson, JAX - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
When given starting snap last season, Johnson was up to the task, leading to three strong games (168 combined yards with one score and two catches, 157 combined yards with seven catches, and 133 combined yards with one touchdown and one catch). Over his other 14 games, the Browns only gave him 47 touches with 213 yards, one touchdown, and nine catches. Johnson gained 5.3 yards per carry over his three seasons with Cleveland (49 rushes).
Fantasy outlook: Johnson is a player to keep an eye on again this year, as any injury to a Browns' running back will create a potential starting fantasy opportunity. His ADP (206) in the NFFC makes him only a low-volume handcuff for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Speaking of Hunt, if his trade wishes come to fruition, Johnson has the chance to develop into a really solid weekly option which warrants late-round sleeper attention.
RB Demetric Felton, --- - Not Draft Worthy
Over the past two seasons at UCLA, Felton worked in a split role between running back and wide receiver. He flashed more explosiveness at receiver in 2019 (55/594/4) and running back in 2020 (132/668/5). This year, he'll provide pass-catching insurance at running back while Felton develops his skill set in all areas.
He had a minimal run opportunity (7/24) in his rookie season with some flashes in the passing game (18/181/2).
Other Options: Jerome Ford, John Kelly
RB Kareem Hunt, CLE - Quality Backup
In his first full season with the Browns in 2020, Hunt finished as the 10th highest scoring running back (218.50) in PPR leagues, just ahead of Nick Chubb (208.70 fantasy points). Over his eight games last year, he gained 560 combined yards with five touchdowns and 22 catches, putting on a pace for 1,190 yards with 11 touchdowns and 47 catches over 17 games (232.00 fantasy points). The Browns have Hunt 14.8 touches per game over their first six matchups. He missed nine games with calf and ankle issues.
Fantasy outlook: Hunt will start the year at age 27 with relatively low mileage on his legs over the past four seasons. Over his last 24 games, he gained 1,705 yards with 16 scores and 60 catches, making him a viable cheat RB2 in PPR formats (13.60 FPPG). However, his ADP (92) in the high-stakes market in mid-May is lower than his previous two years due to the cloudiness of his health and some belief that D'Ernest Johnson will get in his way this season. I like what Hunt brings to the table, and he does offer RB1 upside if Nick Chubb has an injury. However, I'm lowering his expect output to 900 combined yards with seven scores and about 35 catches, making him a borderline backend RB2.