Ask any Cleveland Browns fan about the upcoming NFL season, and they’ll guarantee a Superbowl appearance. Now that’s not a slight on Browns fans, who deserve to be optimistic about one of the most talented rosters entering the 2019 NFL season. They stayed faithful to their team despite cumulating a miserable three wins over the course of 40 games under coach Jackson. Thousands of fans “celebrated” a winless 2017 season by marching in a parade outside in single digit temperatures. But things are finally looking up under head coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield, who broke the record for rookie passing touchdowns (27) last season. It also helps that they added several exciting pieces this offseason, including arguably the most valuable wide receiver in football (Odell Beckham Jr.) and a super talented running back (Kareem Hunt). #BelieveLand
The Browns have become America’s darling, but what does that mean for fantasy football? Well, the short answer is that it’s tough to say. They have two work-horse running backs with top-20 talent in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (although Hunt faces an eight-game suspension). They also have two wide receivers with top-20 talent in former college teammates Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Oh, don’t forget about pass-catching specialist Duke Johnson and sophomore Antonio Callaway. Then there’s tight end David Njoku, the Brown’s first-round tight end from a few years ago. The problem? There’s only one ball to go around and a lot of mouths to feed. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Baker won’t throw for 70 touchdowns and 10,000 yards, so some players are going to underwhelm from a fantasy perspective. That said, the Browns should produce a handful of exciting fantasy football players this season.
David Njoku: 2019 Outcomes
Out of all the fantasy relevant Browns, David Njoku is arguably the most difficult player to stat out. I believe his range of outcomes falls somewhere between TE5 and TE20 for the 2019 season (barring injuries). Let’s explore the best case and worst case scenarios for David Njoku in the upcoming season. Keep in mind that every writer (like myself) will use statistics that build the case for the narrative they want to play out. Stats can be deceiving.
The Optimist’s Narrative
David Njoku is an exciting, young tight end for the Cleveland Browns. He is entering his third season, which is often the year that tight end studs see a major step forward. He’s 22 years old, which is nearly three years younger than George Kittle. Njoku was 7th in TE targets in 2018 despite both quarterback and coaching changes mid-season last year. He ranked 13th in catch percentage out of the top-15 fantasy tight ends in 2018, which should certainly go up now that his offense has more stability and he is more experienced.
Fortunately for Njoku, his production is directly linked to Baker Mayfield, one of the most electric young quarterbacks in the league. Let’s dive into Baker’s rookie season trend to see what we should expect entering 2019.
|Time Period||TD / Game||Passing Yards / Game||Completion % / Game||Avg QBR|
|Weeks 1 - 9||1.1||196||48||65|
|Weeks 10 - 17||2.4||280||71||112|
Baker Mayfield took a major leap forward in Week 10 and never looked back. Give me the biggest (6’4) pass catcher on an offense that throws two-and-a-half touchdowns per game. All. Day. Long.
The case for Njoku: He is a reigning top-9 tight end on a high-powered offense who has every opportunity to take a step forward in 2019. Still, he’s currently being drafted as the TE10. Njoku has as much upside as any tight end not named Kelce, Ertz, or Kittle. His value would rise even higher if a fellow pass catcher missed any time on the field…and some of his teammates have injury histories.
The Pessimist’s Narrative
Njoku is a talented NFL player, but he has gaps as a fantasy producer. He was ranked 16th in fantasy points per game among 2018 tight ends, behind players like Jack Doyle, Will Dissly, and Tyler Eifert. He’s also never scored more than four touchdowns in a season. With the recent offseason additions at wide receiver and running back, he’ll have even more competition for targets in 2019…regression is likely.
Baker Mayfield spreads the ball around and has too many skilled pass catchers for Njoku to take a step forward in fantasy. Mayfield averaged 34.7 pass attempts per game last season, almost identical to the 34.8 average pass attempts among the top-16 fantasy QBs. If Jarvis Landry, OBJ, Nick Chubb, Antonio Callaway, and Duke Johnson command the same average target share that they’ve seen since 2015, only 3.4 targets per game would be left for Njoku. While Njoku may have tremendous upside on another football team, the skilled receivers and running backs around him limit his potential.
As a relatively unproven player, why are we handing him the keys to a top-10 positional value?
2019 Draft Value
As you could have guessed, my true opinion about Njoku lies somewhere in the middle of the above narratives. Before we get to it, I think it’s important to see how Njoku’s production aligned with Baker’s week 10 outbreak. The table below compares Njoku’s full-season pace from Weeks 1-9 versus Weeks 10-17 (Bakermania).
|Time Period||Receptions||Receiving Yards||TD||Fantasy Pts|
|Full Season Pace (Weeks 1 - 9)||48||661||5||117|
|Full Season Pace (Weeks 10 - 17)||62||622||4||115|
Interestingly, Njoku’s usage was very different Weeks 1-9 versus 10-17. However, his production was nearly identical in 0.5-point leagues. I believe this is a (small) indicator that the Browns will continue to work Njoku into offensive strategies. Despite all the changes last year, he was always a part of the plan.
Fantasy value is all about cost versus production. His average draft position (ADP) has fallen from pick 7.01 to 7.11 in the past month, and I expect this trend to continue. David Njoku represents the end of a tier break to me. I think he’s fair value in the 7th round, and I will absolutely take him in the 8th round if he continues to slip.
As fantasy football fans, it’s important to think about players from an NFL perspective. Njoku is a talented player on a high powered offense. I’ll take a share of the Browns offense in the 8th round. I also think his dip in value (due to OBJ) presents an opportunity to acquire him in dynasty leagues.