Fantasy Football Target Practice: The 2020 Cleveland Browns
After 2019, most fantasy players are hesitant to buy into the Cleveland passing game again, and rightfully so. Hopes were high entering 2019, Baker Mayfield was coming off a record-breaking rookie season and the team added Odell Beckham Jr in the offseason. The result was far more disappointing than just about anyone could have figured. Mayfield was the QB20 on the year and Beckham was the WR25. Jarvis Landry was the lone bright spot in the passing game, finishing as the WR13.
2020 brings a new coach, a new offense, and new hope for the Browns…but how will that translate to their passing game. That is exactly what the Fantasy Football Target Practice series is here for. Let’s dig into Kevin Stefanski’s system, a system that threw the ball just 466 times last year in Minnesota, 3rd fewest in the league. We can use what we saw with the Vikings last year and what we know about Baker Mayfield to try to determine the target floors and ceilings for the major fantasy assets in Cleveland this year.
The Browns actually have the 5th fewest vacated targets heading into 2020 with just 64 targets available. Normally, we would dig into who lost these targets and where they might end up. With Cleveland, that may be a waste of time. The Browns threw the ball 539 times last year, 73 more times than Stefanki’s Vikings. It is likely that Stefanski will throw more in Cleveland, but he is not going to abandon the system that got him the job. For all intents and purposes, those targets aren’t just vacated, they are gone.
Odell Beckham Jr- Floor: 100 | Ceiling: 135
Earlier this offseason, Jeff Greenwood and I debated whether or we would draft OBJ in fantasy this year. A lot of that research is what led to the floor and ceiling you see here. In “The Case For Odell“, Jeff lays out an offense that throws as much as they did in 2019 and a fully recovered OBJ taking full advantage. Jeff believes that 150 targets are within his grasp, I think that is far too high. Despite his talent, I don’t see Baker or Stefanski targeting any player more than 25% of the time. A repeat of last year’s targets is his ceiling, but he may do much more with those targets. For his floor, in “The Case Against Odell“, I painted a scenario that the pass attempts go way down and we see similar WR target shares to what we saw in Minnesota in 2019, where no WR averaged more than 6 targets per game.
Jarvis Landry- Floor: 100 | Ceiling: 140
Similar to Thielen and Diggs, Landry and Odell basically have the same floor and ceiling. The best-case scenario is that we see what we saw last year, where Jarvis led the team in targets. The worst-case scenario is that he is a volume-dependent WR in a low pass-volume offense. The good news is that his ADP is WR33, so you’re buying him at his floor.
Austin Hooper– Floor: 55 | Ceiling: 90
Minnesota ran the 2nd most two-TE sets in football last year but only threw to the position 105 times, 12th fewest in the NFL. The Browns were far worse at targeting the TE, with just 70 attempts heading their way in 2019. The hype/hope around Hooper stems from what we saw in the much higher passing volume offense of Atlanta last year, where Hooper was targeted 97 times in just 13 games. The whole position may not see those targets in 2020. In 2018, Baker favored his TE1, targeting David Njoku 89 times. That feels like the ceiling for the new TE1. Looking at Minnesota, both TEs basically hit 50 targets, and a similar split may be in store for Cleveland this year.
David Njoku- Floor: 25| Ceiling: 55
For most teams, we wouldn’t even spend time talking about a TE2, especially one that has requested a trade this offseason, but this offense can be decent for the position. Irv Smith caught 36 balls as the TE2 in Minnesota last year. Njoku should see the field plenty, it is just a question of finding Baker’s eye. As mentioned, Mayfield targeted Njoku almost 90 times in 2018, but that was a different role on a very different offense. Njoku’s best hope is that we see the 50/50 split we saw from Stefanski last year, and he makes himself a streamer candidate occasionally during the season. On the other side of that coin, Austin Hooper establishes himself as the alpha and Njoku is a fantasy afterthought.
Nick Chubb– Floor: 35 | Ceiling: 55
Much has been made of the rushing upside of Nick Chubb and this entire offense, as well it should be, looking at what Dalvin Cook did last year, but there is meat on the bone of this passing potential too. The Vikings targeted their RBs 125 times last year and the Browns targeted the group 115 times. Chubb is not quite the pass-catcher that Dalvin Cook or Kareem Hunt is, so his ceiling isn’t quite as high. However, when you consider that he is just about a lock for 250+ carries, hitting 55 (FIFTY-FIVE!) targets would be the icing on the RB1 cake. The fact does remain that Hunt could completely own the passing game and push Chubb to the pace we saw in the last eight games of 2019, giving us his floor.
Kareem Hunt- Floor: 60| Ceiling: 90
There may not be a better RB2 on any team in the NFL. Drafting Kareem Hunt has just as much standalone value as it does insurance for a Chubb injury. In just eight games last year, he was targeted 44 times and that pace pretty much sets his ceiling for 2020. While he only scored one receiving TD last year, this is the same player that scored seven TDs on just 35 targets in 2018. In Minnesota last year, RBs not named Dalvin Cook were still targeted 63 times and Cleveland won’t be looking much past RB2 on their depth chart, giving Hunt a very safe floor.