2024 Cleveland Browns Fantasy Preview

2023 Stats (Rank)

Points per game: 23.3 (10th)
Total yards per game: 335.9 (16th)
Plays per game: 69.8 (1st)
Pass Attempts + Sacks per game: 39.4 (4th)
Dropback EPA per play: -0.13 (28th)
Rush attempts per game: 30.5 (4th)
Rush EPA per play: -0.12 (21st)

Coaching Staff

The Browns’ staff is in an awkward spot heading into the 2024 season. Kevin Stefanski struggled to make much of Deshaun Watson when he was available before pulling Joe Flacco off the couch and into an elite offense in the second half of the season. Stefanski did so much with so little after Watson went down that he earned the Coach of the Year award. On the other hand, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was fired at the end of the season as the scapegoat for Watson’s failure. Watson’s fully guaranteed contract carries catastrophic dead cap figures until 2026. The job security of Cleveland’s staff is anchored to his success and Van Pelt won’t be the only coach on a new team if Watson doesn’t turn things around.

Former Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was tabbed for the same role in Cleveland. He was fired after the Bills’ embarrassing Week 10 loss to the Broncos last year. The Bills were a fast, pass-heavy offense under Dorsey. They ranked top-10 in pass rate over expected and neutral game-script pace through 10 games. If Watson does regain his form, Dorsey will let him loose.

Passing Game

QB: Deshaun Watson, Jameis Winston
WR: Amari Cooper, Cedric Tillman
WR: Jerry Jeudy, Jamari Thrash
WR: Elijah Moore, David Bell
TE: David Njoku, Jordan Akins

The Browns were a high-flying passing attack once Flacco took over, but the Comeback Player of the Year is gone and the team is back to square one with Watson. He ranked 27th in EPA per play and 24th in completion percent over expected (min. 200 dropbacks) in his six starts before being shelved with a season-ending shoulder injury. Pro Football Focus charted him as the No. 26 passer with at least 200 dropbacks. Watson has one game with more than two passing touchdowns and no 300-yard outings in a dozen appearances with the Browns.

Watson needs to play far better for the offense to turn around, but Dorsey’s scheme should also make things easier for the former Texan. Josh Allen ranked third in the league pass attempts on RPO plays through 10 weeks of the 2023 season and was fourth in the previous year. Before joining the Browns, Watson had an eight percent touchdown rate and a 41 percent first down rate on RPO attempts. Watson is now averaging one RPO throw per game in Cleveland. Dorsey also dialed up deep throws for Allen early and often. He ranked third in deep attempts and 10th in deep throw rate before Dorsey was canned. PFF graded Watson as a top-10 deep thrower in his final two seasons with Houston. If you squint, put on those glasses they give you to watch a solar eclipse, and use a little imagination, you can see Watson turning things around under Dorsey.

Amari Cooper got to show his superstar potential with Flacco under center. He averaged 24 PPR points per game in four weeks with the grizzled gunslinger and recorded a franchise-record 265 yards in one week. That will obviously skew his with-Flacco stats to look even better than we’d expect over a full season, but it’s still absurdly impressive. To his credit, Cooper was solid with Watson as his quarterback, averaging 15.4 PPR points per game. That would have kept him as the WR17 on the season. Even before Flacco took over, Cooper posted a target share of 24 percent and accounted for 41 percent of the team’s air yards. Cooper will survive as a mid-range WR2 if Watson remains an inefficient passer. If he approaches even league-average play, Cooper will be a smash at his WR29 ADP.

When Watson and the non-Flacco backups were under center, the Browns were forced to use David Njoku exclusively as a check-down option. Njoku ranked dead last in aDOT (3.7) among tight ends through a dozen games. He topped 60 yards once over that stretch. Njoku’s aDOT jumped to 6.7 when the Browns were able to run a functional passing attack. His yards per route run also went from 1.4 to 2.4. Like Cooper, Njoku got by with Watson as his quarterback and displayed elite upside under Flacco.

The Browns took their second shot on a highly drafted receiver via the trade market this offseason. Last year it was Elijah Moore. This time around it’s Jerry Jeudy. Moore struggled in his first season with the Browns. He caught 59 balls for 640 yards. The biggest indictment of his season was the fact that his fantasy production hardly moved when the team installed Flacco under center. Moore may not even be locked into the No. 3 role on the offense. The Athletic’s Zac Jackson believes Jeudy will play the slot and Cedric Tillman will play on the outside. The Browns could even use David Bell as a part-time player.

The ambiguity around Cleveland’s WR3 gig bodes well for Jeudy’s outlook. He is coming off an underwhelming season with the Broncos, but the Browns were sold on his talent regardless. They signed him to a three-year, $52.5 million extension after trading for him. Looking back at Jeudy’s 2022 data, there’s potential for him to take the next step. He ranked 12th in YPRR and 11th in ESPN’s Open Score before regressing in 2023. In 2021, a year that saw the Broncos trot out Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, Jeudy ranked 10th in Open Score and 25th in YPPR. Like the rest of his new team, Jeudy’s fantasy outlook is a bunch of if statements stacked on top of each other. If he returns to his 2022 form. If Watson improves. If Dorsey moves Cleveland away from a run-heavy approach. If all of these factors break favorably, the Browns could be an exciting offense.

Running Game

RB: Nick Chubb, Jerome Ford, D’Onta Foreman
OL (L-R): Jedrick Wills, Joel Bitonio, Ethan Pocic, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin

Nick Chubb’s status for the 2024 season is currently up in the air. He tore his ACL and MCL in a gruesome Week 2 injury last year. The injury required multiple surgeries to fix. The Browns then reworked his contract in the offseason before adding D’Onta Foreman as a stopgap option. Given the severity of the injury, fantasy managers should assume Chubb will begin the season on the PUP list. Chubb was poised for another elite season as a runner before going down with the injury. He was averaging over four yards after contact per carry through two games and was even on pace for a career-high in yards per route run.

Chubb is coming off the board at RB43. That price is already baking in plenty of missed time. The bigger concern will be his effectiveness when he returns. Chubb is one of the most explosive runners in the league at his peak but is now coming off a catastrophic knee injury and will turn 29 before the end of the year. It’s also not his first devastating knee injury. Chubb was one of the worst picks on the board when early best ball drafts first started. Fantasy managers have since let him fall to a point where nearly all of the risk is baked in. He only needs to show up for a few big games at the end of the season at his current cost. That sounds more than manageable for the star running back.

Foreman is joining Jerome Ford to split Cleveland’s backfield until Chubb is healthy. Ford struggled in most of the advanced metrics last year, ranking outside the top 25 backs in yards after contact per carry, PFF rushing grade, Next Gen’s rush yards over expected per carry, and success rate. He did, however, break more than his fair share of chunk runs. He ranked 23rd in carries and 13th in attempts that gained 10+ yards. Ford should get the first crack at the starting job and will play on passing downs, giving him some FLEX value early in the year.

Foreman will handle the dirty work for the backfield. He has been extremely consistent as a runner in recent years, ranking seventh and first in Next Gen’s success rate. His high-floor style has allowed him to fall into large workloads on three different teams over the past three seasons. Foreman has the ninth-most games with 20 or more carries over that stretch despite never opening the year as his team’s starter. Don’t be surprised to see him add to that total in September.

Both backs should get the benefit of running behind an improved offensive line. The Browns have one of the most talented trenches in the league but were plagued by injuries last year. They lost both starting tackles to season-ending injuries and didn’t have a single player start all 17 games along the line. Per PFF, Cleveland ranked 24th in yards before contact per attempt and 30th in stuff rate (attempts that did not gain a yard) on running back carries. With tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin likely healthy for the season, things should be much easier for all Cleveland backs.

Win Total

DraftKings Over/Under: 8.5

Pick: Under

Watson is the lynchpin to the Browns’ season. Any bet made on the team is primarily a bet on what he will look like this year. He has been mostly dreadful for two partial seasons in Cleveland and didn’t play in 2021. That means the last time we saw him play at a level that would make you bet the over was in 2020. DraftKings is giving us +115 to bet against that version of Watson reappearing. Given the uncertainty around his abilities, I’ll take the longer odds and back the under.

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top