Best Ball Value Stacks: Cleveland Browns (Fantasy Football)
About a month ago, I wrote up my top overvalued and undervalued best ball stacks according to Vegas implied point totals. In that article, I highlighted why I believe the Cleveland Browns are a team to target in best-ball, especially if looking for a value stack. Definitely give that article a read before proceeding below, but here are some of the main highlights:
- Cleveland has an average weekly implied point total of 25.2, 8th best in football
- Last year, Cleveland games played to the over on the Vegas total 53% of the time
- The Browns’ 25.5 points per game last year ranked 14th in the NFL
A Run First Offense by Choice? Or…Forced to Run First?
The perception regarding the Cleveland Browns‘ offense is that this is a run-first offense that wants to establish the run. Granted, the Browns did run at a 48% clip, 4th highest in football, so the perception may be warranted. The issue with looking at this statistic is that this takes into account the entire 2020 season, from Weeks 1-17. With that said, let’s rewind the clock a little bit and take a look at a few select games in which Cleveland was forced to run the ball.
Week 8 vs. Las Vegas
Scenario: Temperature 41-47 degrees, Rain + 26-28 mph winds
Result: LV won 16-6
Baker Mayfield stat line: 12/25, 122 yards, 0 TD
Week 10 vs. Houston
Scenario: Temperature 55-59 degrees, 16-22 mph winds
Result: CLE won 10-7
Baker Mayfield stat line: 12 /20, 132 yards, 0 TD
Week 11 vs. Philadelphia
Scenario: Temperature 37-39 degrees, Rain from kickoff to conclusion of game
Result: CLE won 22-17
Baker Mayfield stat line 12/22, 204 yards, 0 TD.
Week 16 @ New York Jets
Scenario: Odell Beckham OUT with Torn ACL, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Khadarel Hodge all OUT due to Covid-19 Protocols
Result: CLE lost 23-16
Baker Mayfield stat line: 28/53, 285 yards, 0 TD
The four games help to highlight that Cleveland’s end-of-season production via the passing game is skewed in a negative way. The Browns played three consecutive games in bad weather then in Week 16, Baker Mayfield played with practice squad wide receivers after their top 5 (!!!) wide receivers were all out due to injury or the Covid-19 protocols. Prior to that game, Kevin Stefanski reportedly ran a walk-through in a parking lot near the team’s hotel to get some of the new players up to speed on the game plan.
If you exclude those three bad weather games in which Mayfield completed a total of 36 passes for an average of 152.7 yards, the Browns were a prolific passing offense beyond what the numbers show. If you exclude those three bad weather games from last year, Mayfield averaged 34.9 pass attempts per game. On a 16 game pace, this would have totaled 559 pass attempts, which would have ranked 7th most in football, tied with Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
I’m not saying the Browns are going to abandon the run – they’re not. But, there is optimism that Mayfield will throw more in 2021 in his second year with Stefanski with a heavy play-action game plan where we can continue to expect efficiency with higher scoring games.
The Browns Wide Receivers Are More Healthy in 2021
By now, we all know that Odell Beckham tore his ACL in Week 7 last year. Every report right now out of Browns’ training camp is glowing for their WR1, so I fully expect him back and ready for Week 1 of the 2021 season. I wrote about his recovery in more detail in the Injury Report section of the Ultimate Draft Kit.
Say what you want about Beckham and his statistics since joining Cleveland. I’m not here to argue – they’re not great. The last time OBJ cleared 100 receiving yards was Week 6 of the 2019 season. At this point, I don’t think we really know what Beckham is in Cleveland’s offense, but assuming he can bounce back this year, he’ll add value to Baker Mayfield stacks in best ball.
Speaking of value, Jarvis Landry fits the bill every single year.
2020 was the worst fantasy performance of Jarvis Landry‘s career, and he still finished as a top 36 WR. In best ball, he’ll give you useable weeks and crack the optimal starting lineup at a clip that’s worth his current WR47 ADP. Is his 2020 an outlier in a negative way? Based on his career snapshot from the UDK, it’s certainly possible, but these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Recall that Jarvis Landry had offseason hip surgery in 2020 and was limited in training camp as well as early in the season. Prior to 2020, Landry’s career snap rate average from 2015-2019 was 90%. In 2020, Jarvis played just 66% of Cleveland’s snaps while setting career lows in targets, receptions, yards and TD. But even though the superficial numbers aren’t compelling, Jarvis remained efficient ranking 17th among 84 qualified wide receivers in yards per route run (2.11) and averaging 8.3 yards per target. In his second year removed from his hip scope, I’m betting on Jarvis to be much more healthy in 2021.
Red Zone, Red Zone, Red Zone
Cleveland owns the Red Zone, or in this case, the Green Zone because they’re scoring a ton of TD.
*Screenshot above from Cleveland Browns team page
In 2020, Cleveland averaged 10.5 red zone plays per game, 12th most in the league, which is good, but no elite. However, they’re putting themselves in a position to score at an elevated rate given their ability to get the ball inside the 10-yard line and the 5-yard line. Their 5.8 10-zone plays per game and their 3.4 plays per game from inside the 5-yard line were both ranked 6th best in the NFL last year.
Okay so they’re getting in close often, but are they actually scoring when they get close to the goal line? Yes, yes they are. The Browns ranked 4th in the red-zone TD scoring rate last year. I want to be high on an offense that projects to score a lot of touchdowns, especially in best-ball where we’re shooting for massive upside. Even better, we’re getting exposure to Browns stacks at depressed ADP.
Strength of Schedule
Based on 2021 Vegas win totals, the Cleveland Browns have the third easiest strength of schedule according to Warren Sharp. The obvious beneficiary here is Nick Chubb, who once again projects to lead the Browns in rushing this year and is an every year bet to win the NFL’s rushing crown. The Browns should be playing in positive game scripts, so it might make sense to fade the Browns wide receivers and Baker Mayfield while honing in on Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but that’s not necessarily true.
There’s a common misconception in fantasy football that we’re good at projecting game script and that we want wide receivers to be playing from behind a lot. My fellow writer, Matt DiSorbo, wrote about why this is incorrect here. In general, we want to be targeting offenses in fantasy football that can put up points. There’s a stronger correlation between Vegas implied total (a.k.a the favored team) and fantasy production than there is with the game script, and it’s not just for running backs. As Matt pointed out there’s positive correlation for favorites across every position, including the QB and his pass-catchers.
The bottom line? Cleveland is going to be favored in many of their contests this year, and as a result, we can project Cleveland’s fantasy production to spike as a result. Worth noting, in Browns wins vs. losses, Baker Mayfield‘s completion percentage spikes 13.3 percentage points, and his TD rate skyrockets from 2.2% to 7.2%. If the Browns roll this year, the entire team will roll this year, notable as the Browns host a 10.5 win total according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Vegas is telling us this team is going to score points and based on their 2020 season, there’s no reason to think they won’t, yet all of their main guys are values. Taking Baker Mayfield as your QB2 in best ball at QB21 ADP to pair him with Jarvis Landry (WR47), Odell Beckham Jr. (WR28), Kareem Hunt (RB26), or Austin Hooper (TE24) makes a ton of sense.
I also don’t mind taking shots on the third WR for Cleveland in the 18th round to complete a Browns’ stack. Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR104) and Rashard Higgins (WR102) both posted useable weeks last year with Beckham out of the lineup. Should anything happen to OBJ or Landry this year, these late-round fliers could return value on a good team. This projects to be an offense that scores a ton of points, and the ADP for Browns players doesn’t align.