Cleveland Browns: 2014 Outlook
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Cleveland Browns

By Rob Warner, Tuesday, July 8, 2014

RISKY BUSINESS: The Browns haven't had much success selecting quarterbacks in the first round, but they rolled the dice on Johnny Football with the No. 22 overall pick. They're hoping Manziel works out better than previous No. 22 overall picks they've used on quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden in 2012 and Brady Quinn in 2007). They also whiffed with the Tim Couch selection in 1999 (first overall). While Manziel's running ability gets a lot of attention, 2013 showed his passing skills are improved as the redshirt sophomore completed 70-percent of his passes for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He added 923 rushing yards (759 net) with nine touchdowns on the ground. In 2012, the redshirt freshman won the Heisman after he completed 68-percent of his passes for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In that first collegiate season, he rushed for an eye popping 1,571 yards (1,410 net) with 21 touchdowns. Johnny Football will be hard-pressed to produce QB1 numbers even if he wins the starting job as the Browns' receiving corps (without Josh Gordon) will likely rank among the bottom five in the NFL. Whichever QB wins the starting nod will benefit from playing behind an offensive line ranked No. 12 overall by Pro Football Focus (18th in run-blocking and 6th in pass-blocking).

Editor's note: Love him or hate him, Manziel keeps making headlines. Putting on the pads and seeing if he is for real can't come soon enough. The Browns could have a fantasy gem on their hands or a monumental train wreck waiting to happen. Easily the most divisive player to come into the NFL since Tim Tebow.

The 28-year-old impressed in two starts last season before he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 against Buffalo. Hoyer completed 60-percent of his passes over Weeks 3 and 4 (wins over Minnesota and Cincinnati), while averaging 295 yards per game. He tossed five touchdowns and three interceptions over those two contests and will have every chance to beat out Johnny Football in training camp. Hoyer is entering a contract year, so motivation won't be a concern, but he will likely have one of the more pedestrian receiving groups when Josh Gordon is suspended. The Browns also have the worst fantasy schedule for QBs with 10 games against defenses that were stout against the pass and just three favorable match ups (Jax - Week 7, TB - Week 9 and ATL - Week 12). With his job security and receivers lingering as major questions, a very difficult schedule, and the Browns expected to employ a run-heavy approach -- Hoyer remains unlikely to produce fantasy numbers even if he wins the starting job.

Editor's note: Hoyer is the man to beat for the starting job; however, does he really offer that much to the team? We saw very brief glimpses of his talent and it was up in smoke almost immediately due to injury. If Manziel is the real deal, there's no reason he should sit behind Hoyer for even one game.

Tate signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract to be the lead back for the Browns. In 2013, Cleveland's ground game was anemic. Their 86 rushing yards per game ranked sixth-worst. The 25-year-old Auburn alum spent the first three years of his career backing up Arian Foster in Houston. He has missed eight games over the past three seasons. In Cleveland, Tate will run behind one of the league's better offensive lines, which ranked 12th overall by Pro Football Focus (18th in run blocking). Over his brief career, Tate has averaged 140 carries for 664 yards (48 YPG) with an impressive 4.7 YPC. He lacks game-breaking speed, yet possesses sufficient size (5-foot-11, 215 lbs.) to handle 15 to 20 carries per game. In his 11 career games with at least 15 carries, he averaged 12 FPPG. The Browns added Terrance West in the 2014 NFL Draft, so Tate is unlikely to dominate touches; however, Cleveland is expected to employ a run-focused attack under Kyle Shanahan (especially with Josh Gordon's lengthy suspension expected). Tate had 34 catches in 2013, yet West is expected to dominate third-down touches which will limit Tate's upside in PPR leagues. Tate makes for a solid RB2 worth targeting in Round 6 because of his 66.24 ADP.

ROOKIE IMPACT: The Browns had an underwhelming rushing offense last season and used the offseason to upgrade their backfield by signing Ben Tate and drafting West in the third round. The former Towson back had 802 carries in college for 4,849 yards (6.1 YPC) and 84 touchdowns. He saved the best for last by posting a monster 2013 with 2,509 yards and 42 touchdowns, which resulted in West being named Offensive Player of the Year in both the Colonial Athletic Association and all of FCS. West (5-foot-9, 225 lbs.) had an impressive combine (4.54 40-yd dash) and runs with power and balance. This gives him a chance to carve out his own niche in the Browns' run oriented attack. Questions remain regarding his pass-catching ability, as he had just 36 career catches in college (only 10 receptions between 2011 and 2012). Tate has battled injuries throughout his career, making West one of the better rookie backs to target in redraft leagues.

In 2011, Crowell (a five-star prep recruit) started for Georgia as a true freshman and finished with 185 carries for 850 yards and five touchdowns. An arrest on weapons charges resulted in him being kicked off the team. He ended up at Alabama State, rushing for 842 and 15 touchdowns in 2012 and 1,121 yards (6.59 YPC) and 15 touchdowns last season. Despite the character concerns, Crowell has a skill-set that could pay dividends at the next level. The 5-foot-11, 224-pounder is a powerful runner with adequate speed. He also displayed decent pass protection skills in college, which should help him make an impact in the short-term. He is worth a late-round flier in dynasty leagues with rookie Terrance West and Ben Tate listed above him on the depth chart.

The 28-year-old Texas alum proved to be more than just a solid Scrabble word. He gained some PPR relevance in 2013 (had at least five catches over five games). Ogbannaya was limited to 49 carries for 239 yards, yet set a career high with 47 receptions for 334 yards and two scores. Ogbannaya has no fantasy value without a string of injuries occurring ahead of him on the depth chart.

Hawkins signed a four-year, $13.6 million contract this offseason after spending his first three seasons with the Bengals. In that time, the Toledo product totaled just 995 receiving yards (86 catches) and four touchdowns over 35 games. He is an undersized (5-foot-7, 180 lbs.) 28-year-old wideout, but could surprise with limited talent ahead of him on the depth chart. Hawkins' injury history is concerning as he has missed 13 games over his brief career. He has been starring in OTAs and that just might translate to success on Sunday. His ADP (177.10) limits him to being a late-round flier.

Austin signed a one-year, $2 million contract after a difficult season in Dallas. Austin battled hamstring injuries that cost him 11 games over the past three seasons. In 2013, he collected 24 catches for 244 yards. In 2012, the Monmouth alum had 66 catches for 943 yards and six touchdowns. He remains a potential PPR option since he will be a likely starter in Cleveland with Josh Gordon facing suspension. Austin is a better option in the slot with his diminishing speed and 65 catches in three of the past five seasons. Austin would be a solid addition to your fantasy bench, although he has a very low ceiling given the Browns' unreliable QB situation.

Editor's note: It's difficult to know what to expect from Austin. Even when he has played over the last few seasons, the former Monmouth alum was always dinged up or recovering from some past injury. What he can do as a No. 1 receiver again is a total mystery. What we do know is he is likely the best receiver on the roster and considering his ADP (192.67), taking a chance on him isn't that risky.

Burleson signed a one-year contract with Cleveland after spending four mediocre years in Detroit. Burleson enters his 12th NFL season and has topped 1,000 yards just once (back in 2004 with Minnesota). The former 2003 third-round pick out of Nevada has 457 catches for 5,630 yards and 43 touchdowns over 135 career regular season games (Minnesota, Seattle and Detroit). He'll be 33 years old when the 2014 season begins and has missed 17 games over the past two seasons. Burleson fractured his left arm in early May (the same arm he broke in a car accident last season while trying to save a pizza from sliding off of his front seat). Despite the open competition for receptions in Cleveland, Hawkins and Austin are better fantasy options.

One of the frontrunners for the knucklehead of the year award, Gordon is likely facing a full year suspension after testing positive for marijuana this offseason as well as a DWI arrest. As a stage three offender, it is widely assumed that Gordon will be sidelined for the entire 2014 season, but his suspension hearing is set for late July. The supplemental pick from Baylor had a season for the ages in 2013 as he finished the No. 1 fantasy receiver despite missing the first two games of the year on suspension (sense a pattern here?). Over just 14 games, he amassed a league-high 1,646 yards on 87 catches and nine touchdowns (nearly doubling his rookie year production when he had 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns over a full 16 game season). He's one of the true game-breakers at his position as evidenced by his career 17.9 yards per catch average. Occupying the "X" receiver role in first-year OC Kyle Shanahan's offense would have paid major dividends for Gordon as his dynasty league owners are left to think what could have been. Shanny was Houston's OC for two seasons (2008-2009) when Andre Johnson averaged 108 catches for 1,572 yards with 8.5 touchdowns. Last season in Washington, Shanahan's offense helped Pierre Garçon lead the NFL in both catches (113) and targets (184). Gordon's fantasy value will be officially nil once it becomes official he is out for the year.

Editor's note: We're working under the assumption Gordon doesn't play at all this year.

This USC alum had a true breakout during his third NFL season, finishing with 80 catches for 917 yards (61 YPG) and seven touchdowns. Over his first two seasons, Cameron totaled only 26 catches for 259 yards with one touchdown. He benefited greatly from the first year of the TE friendly Rob Chudzinski & Norv Turner regime (unfortunately they are no longer in Cleveland). With Josh Gordon likely in street clothes for the 2014 season, Cameron will be given tons of targets to lead the team in receiving, providing a solid chance for him to crack the Top 5 fantasy tight ends for the second straight year (finished fifth in 2013). With a monster workload on the horizon, Cameron's 50.53 ADP could present a great value due to expectations that haven't quite caught up to the benefits of his situation.

Editor's note: One small concern is that Cameron started out low in 2013 and coasted for the majority of the season. Five of his seven TDs came in the first month of the season. He also only eclipsed 100 receiving yards once after that first month. There's a lot to like about Cameron if you can find the right value during your draft.

The Browns' kicker only had 26 field goal attempts in 2013 and struggled from distance (made just two of five from 50 yards and beyond). He made 81-percent of his kicks last season and has just 76-percent accuracy over his 10-year career. Cleveland's offense just has little chance to score enough points to make Cundiff a viable fantasy option.

Rex Ryan disciple Mike Pettine enters his first season as the Browns' head coach with the talent to succeed. Offseason additions at middle linebacker (Karlos Dansby), safety (Donte Whitner) and cornerback (first-round pick Justin Gilbert) will bolster an emerging defense led by CB Joe Haden. In 2013, the Browns had the eighth-best pass defense and a middle of the pack run defense (111 YPG). Cleveland allowed 25 points per game last season, a number that is sure to decline under Pettine. Cleveland had the 16th-best fantasy DST last season, as they managed to score five TDs. With the addition of a few playmakers this offseason, they could be worth considering when the matchups are favorable and possible sleeper to add if your defense underachieves early.


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