2021 Franchise Focus: Cleveland Browns

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2021 Franchise Focus: Cleveland Browns

Life comes at you fast… unless you’re a Browns fan who had seen the team relocate and then come back again more recently than you had seen the team win a playoff game… until 2020.

The Browns and coach Kevin Stefanski got over a 26-year hump, taking the Browns’ first postseason win since Bill Belichick helmed the team during the 1994 season, and they did it against hated Pittsburgh, perhaps signaling a changing of the guard in a very competitive AFC North.

Now, all of a sudden, Baker Mayfield and the boys are one of the AFC’s betting favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, while Cleveland remains a tricky team to handicap for fantasy because there are just so many weapons here.

Cincinnati Bengals Franchise Focus Companion Podcast

The Basics

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)10.5 (+100/-122)
AFC North+145
Playoffs (Y/N)-225/+180
AFC Championship+750
Super Bowl+1600

Season Prop Movement

  • Win Total: 9.5 (-150) in late March to 10.5 (+100)

  • Super Bowl: +2200 in early February to +1600

Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.

Key Offseason Moves

AdditionsDraftDepartures
John Johnson (S)Greg Newsome (CB)Sheldon Richardson (DT, Min)
Troy Hill (CB)Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB)Adrian Clayborn (DE)
Takk McKinley (DE)Anthony Schwartz (WR)Olivier Vernon (DE)
Malik Jackson (DT)James Hudson (OT)Larry Ogunjobi (DT, Cin)
Anthony Walker (LB)Tommy Togiai (DT)Kevin Johnson (CB, Ten)
Jadeveon Clowney (DE)Tony Fields (LB)Karl Joseph (S, LV)
Damion Square (DT)Richard LeCounte (S)Andrew Sendejo (S)
Demetric Felton (RB)Kendall Lamm (OT, Ten)
Vincent Taylor (DT, Hou)
Terrance Mitchell (CB, Hou)

Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 8th-toughest (-0.31)

Running Back: 3rd-easiest (+1.11)

Wide Receivers: 3rd-toughest (-1.25)

Tight Ends: 3rd-toughest (-0.67)

Pace and Tendencies

Pace (seconds in between plays): 28.3 (23rd)

Plays per game: 63.3 (20th)

When the game is within a score — Pass: 52.5% (28th) | Run: 47.5% (5th)

When the team is ahead — Pass: 43.3% (26th) | Run: 56.7% (7th)

When the team is behind — Pass: 60.8% (29th) | Run: 39.2% (4th)

The Browns were among the most run-heavy offenses in the league in HC Kevin Stefanski’s first season, ranking top-8 in run rate in all three key game situations. Their run-first tendencies culminated in a whopping 432 carries for their running backs, which tied the Vikings for second-most. The Titans (463 RB carries) led the league. With all five starters back along the offensive linemen and the best duo of runners in the league, Cleveland is set up to run it back as one of the top-3 teams in rushing volume in 2021. An improved defense holding their opponents back on the scoreboard should also lend itself to even more run-heavy gamescripts. Last year, the Browns called a run on 61% of their plays when they were ahead on the scoreboard by 3 or more points. That tied with the Ravens for the seventh-highest rate. Nick Chubb might not catch many passes and has to split carries with Kareem Hunt, but the combination of his talent and the team’s run-first philosophy will continue to make him an outlier for fantasy.

Key Statistics

  • If we remove the game in which he got hurt and left early, Nick Chubb averaged 18.4 fantasy points per game across his 13 healthy contests (includes playoffs). For reference, the RB6 Aaron Jones put up 18.5 FPG.

  • Chubb led all RBs in missed tackles forced (0.30) and yards after contact (4.0).

  • Chubb outscored Kareem Hunt in 10-of-13 full games by an average margin of 4.9 fantasy points per game.

  • Interestingly, Hunt and Chubb split passing down snaps fairly closely once Chubb returned from his knee injury. From Week 10 on, Hunt ran 17.1 routes per game while Chubb ran 15.5 per game.

  • Hunt averaged 16.3 carries per game in the four games Chubb missed and 10.5 per game when Chubb was healthy.

  • Was Baker Mayfield better without Odell Beckham on the field? Per SIS, Mayfield averaged 0.14 EPA/attempt, completed 64% of his passes, and averaged 7.7 YPA when OBJ wasn’t on the field. With OBJ, Mayfield averaged 0.05 EPA/attempt, completed 62% of his throws, and averaged 7.1 YPA.

  • Mayfield has finished as a QB1 (top-12) in just 28% of his starts over the past two combined years.

  • When he was with the Giants, Odell Beckham averaged 20.5 fantasy points per game, he finished as a WR2 or better (top-24) in 75% of his games, and had 18 games where he scored 25+ points.

  • Over the last two years with the Browns, OBJ has put up just 12.6 FPG, he’s finished in the top-24 in 26% of his starts, and has scored 25 or more points just twice.

  • Jarvis Landry averaged 14.4 fantasy points per game in the games that OBJ missed and just 9.4 FPG with OBJ healthy.

Huber’s Scheme Notes

Offensive

There is so much to like about the Browns’ ground game. And there's so much left to be desired about their passing game. For the rushing attack, you simply cannot go wrong with your RBs being led by a top overall O-line, and by a wide margin. The duo of Joel Bitonio and J.C. Tretter provides Cleveland with an outstanding core within their primes, and Greg Robinson made outstanding strides last season. The fact that the O-line is able to block for the talents of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt only allows their work to shine even more. The Browns mix a top-five rate of outside zone and pulling linemen concepts, handing the ball off at the fourth-highest rate last season.

When Baker Mayfield was selected first overall in the 2018 draft, the expectations surrounding his play were, understandably, through the roof. Unfortunately, the results that have followed have fallen a bit below those lofty expectations. However, Mayfield caught fire over the final eight games last season. In six of those eight games, Cleveland was opposed by defenses featuring a top-14 rate of Cover 1. It just so happens that, over his first three seasons in the NFL, Mayfield has averaged 0.48 FPs/dropback when opposed by Cover 1 (eighth-best among all QBs). That’s an extremely useful quality, especially for DFS purposes. Let’s dig deeper. When facing man coverage schemes, Mayfield threw 13 TDs to one INT last season. Against Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4, and Cover 6 combined? Four TDs to seven INTs. It also certainly doesn’t hurt Mayfield that his O-line excels as the league’s premiere unit in pass protection. The limiting factor for both Mayfield and OC Alex Van Pelt has been the WR room. And those issues were even greater prior to Odell Beckham Jr.’s season-ending injury. The Browns added Austin Hooper, David Njoku was still on the roster, and they also drafted Harrison Bryant. But Mayfield just hasn’t yet figured out how to properly utilize Hooper, or any TE for that matter. And it’s all the more frustrating that it’s a season after Hooper worked with Matt Ryan to prove just how dangerous he can be.

After stunning the Steelers in the Wild Card round — albeit facing a reeling Pittsburgh offense — and nearly upsetting the Chiefs, expectations have never been higher. However, GM Andrew Berry apparently feels the healthy return of OBJ will be enough for the passing attack to compete since every single free agent signing was geared toward improving the defense. The singular impact move to improve the skill positions was the drafting of Anthony Schwartz. Will it be enough? Extremely unlikely if the expectation is bringing home a title. Even with a very impressive collection of defenders, the top O-line in the game, and a pair of outstanding RBs, the passing offense is a glaring hole in the immediate future for the Browns. Reducing what positivity remains surrounding the passing attack even further, Van Pelt’s offense is restricted within a pro style approach.

Defensive

Everyone should be extremely impressed with the moves made to bolster the Cleveland defense. How well the defense performed last season despite the absence of Greedy Williams was already impressive. It understandably took the secondary considerable time to come together, time will tell if Williams will return to form from the nerve damage in his shoulder. But the Browns provided themselves with one hell of a backup plan by drafting Greg Newsome. They added Newsome to the free agent acquisitions of FS John Johnson, and nickel CB Troy Hill, so second-year DC Joe Woods will pack along a vastly improved secondary. A zone defense that featured top-10 rates of Cover 2, Cover 4, and Cover 6 last season grew in ferocity, seemingly overnight.

The LB unit will return the exceptional cover skills of Malcolm Smith. Cleveland is hoping that the addition of Anthony Walker will strengthen their run defense. But they also added Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Tony Fields through the draft. The defensive line is truly stacked, featuring Myles Garrett, Andrew Billings, free agent signings Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, Takk McKinley, and drafting Tommy Togiai. The most significant issue for this defense will be keeping everyone out of the training room. At full health, the Browns can easily be expected to field a top-10 defense.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Baker Mayfield (Proj: QB15 | ADP: 138 | Pos ADP: QB18)

Baker is looking to lock up a long-term contract and a strong performance with a loaded cast of weapons in 2021 will certainly do the job. The Browns have huge expectations entering this season, but Mayfield is still more of a distributor with a great running game, which is reflected in his current ADP. Mayfield completed 305/486 passes (62.8%) for 3563 yards (7.3 YPA), 26 TDs, and eight INTs while adding 165/1 rushing to finish as the QB25 with 16.3 FPG. His play did significantly pick up at the end of the season after a rough, three-game stretch with nasty weather in Cleveland in Weeks 8-11. He threw for 15 TDs and just two INTs while averaging 272.5 passing yards per game and 7.5 YPA in his final eight games (playoffs included). Mayfield is a rhythm passer and he clearly got more comfortable in Kevin Stefanski’s structured offensive environment late in the season despite playing without his top WR, Odell Beckham, for the final three months of the season. He’s looking like a strong, if boring, QB2 at an affordable ADP.

Nick Chubb (Proj: RB11 | ADP: 12 | Pos ADP: RB10)

Chubb has established himself as the league’s second-best pure runner behind Derrick Henry and, like Henry, he’s the focal point of his run-heavy offense under HC Kevin Stefanski. Chubb owns a career 5.2 YPC average and he’s averaging 89.1 rushing yards per game with 26 rushing TDs in 38 games since he became a full-time player halfway through his rookie season in 2018. He posted 190/1067/12 rushing and 16/150/0 receiving on 18 targets to finish as the RB7 with 17.4 FPG in 12 games last season — he missed four contests to a sprained MCL. Chubb’s lack of involvement in the passing attack is the only thing holding him back from being an elite fantasy option with Kareem Hunt mostly handling those duties. That did change a bit at the end of last season with Stefanski going out of his way to get Chubb more involved as a receiver. He had 19 catches in his final eight games (playoffs included) after he caught a measly three passes in his first seven games. Chubb has one of the league’s best offensive lines in front of him, which will help him maintain his high level of play in his fourth season. The Browns also have one of the friendliest schedules in the league, which should lead to plenty of positive game scripts for Chubb this season. He’s positioned the best to give the back-to-back rushing champion Henry a run for his money as he goes for his third straight rushing title after he nudged Chubb out two years ago in the final game of the season. Chubb is firmly in the mix as a late first-round pick in PPR formats and he should be off the board by the mid-first round in non-PPR formats.

Kareem Hunt (Proj: RB26 | ADP: 56 | Pos ADP: RB24)

Hunt will once again be the best #2 option in any NFL backfield this season, and he gives HC Kevin Stefanski a well above average starting-caliber back behind stud Nick Chubb. Hunt posted 198/841/6 rushing (4.2 YPC) and 38/304/5 receiving on 51 targets to finish as the RB20 with 13.7 FPG while playing 52% of the snaps in 16 games last season. He’s an intriguing fantasy option since he has standalone appeal as a low-end RB2 next to Chubb, and he has RB1 potential in weeks that Chubb misses action. Hunt averaged 18.8 touches and 81.0 scrimmage yards per game with two scores for 13.6 FPG in four games (Weeks 5-8) without Chubb last season. Hunt actually averaged slightly more FPG (13.7) with Chubb in the lineup thanks to nine TDs, but he saw his touches (13.4) and scrimmage yards (68.3) dip. One concern for Hunt is that Chubb outpaced him as a receiver in the final eight games of last season (playoffs included). Stefanski went out of his way to get Chubb more involved with 19/206/0 receiving in that stretch while Hunt managed just 18/168/1 receiving in the same period. Still, the Browns have their sights set on a deep run this season and Stefanski is going to liberally mix Hunt in behind Chubb to keep both of his backs fresh. Hunt isn’t cheap with his fifth-round ADP but he sees enough touches in a good offense to hang around in the low-end RB2 range while also being the best handcuff in the league.

Odell Beckham (Proj: WR38 | ADP: 69 | Pos ADP: WR28)

OBJ is looking to get his once promising career back on track at 28 years old after he played in just seven games before an ACL injury ended his 2020 early. Odell has received rave reviews for his recovery this off-season and he practiced without a knee brace in minicamp so he appears to be on track for Week 1. He was easily off to the worst start of his career last season with 23/319/3 receiving on 42 targets in his six full games, which is a pace of 61/851/8 receiving over 16 full games. To be fair, the Browns’ offense struggled in the early going last season as they learned Kevin Stefanski’s offense before they took off in the second late in the year. The big question this season is can Baker Mayfield and company replicate their late-season passing success with a healthy OBJ back in the mix since he’s been prone to force-feed OBJ targets — he’s seen 8.3 targets per game in his 21 healthy contests with the Browns. OBJ is entering his fifth season removed from his torrid three-year stretch to start his career in 2014-16, and his ADP is reflecting his current standing in the game as a WR3. He certainly has the talent to outpace his ADP but it shouldn’t be expected since he’s coming off yet another major injury in an offense with limited targets to go around after Mayfield attempted just 30.3 passes per game a year ago in this run-heavy attack.

Jarvis Landry (Proj: WR39 | ADP: 103 | Pos ADP: WR43)

Landry is coming off a career-worst campaign, which speaks to his consistency through his first seven seasons. He’s coming off career-lows in touchdowns (3), catches per game (4.8), and targets per game (6.7) even with Odell Beckham essentially missing the final 10 games of last season. Landry still posted a respectable 72/840/3 receiving (11.9 YPR) to finish as the WR37 with 12.5 FPG in 15 games, and he has a chance to have a small bounce-back campaign in 2021. It took the Browns a little time to transition to HC Kevin Stefanski’s more run-heavy approach last season, and Landry’s overall numbers were crushed when he posted just 9/104/0 receiving in three consecutive miserable weather games in the middle of 2020. Landry crushed it in the final seven games of the season (playoffs included) when he averaged 6.6/68.7/.7 receiving per game for a healthy 17.8 FPG in that stretch. Landry has been the definition of a WR3 option during his time in Cleveland and nothing has changed much heading into this season. He’ll be a safe pick to fill in the back end of your starting lineup but expecting anything more than that would be foolish at this stage of his career.

Rashard Higgins (Proj: WR82 | ADP: 346 | Pos ADP: WR123)

Higgins once again excelled when he got the chance to run significant routes for the second time in three seasons. Odell Beckham’s season-ending ACL injury in Week 7 opened the door for Higgins to see significant time to end last season. Higgins posted 32/546/2 receiving on 46 targets for 11.0 FPG in nine games with OBJ out of the lineup — he finished with 37/599/4 on 52 targets in 13 games overall. Baker Mayfield and the Browns passers owned an excellent 119.2 quarterback rating when targeting Higgins last season. He averaged 16.2 YPR and 2.04 yards per route run last season despite his lack of size (6’1”, 198 pounds) and speed (4.64 40-time) as a perimeter receiver. It made a lot of sense for the Browns to continue their relationship with Higgins — he was a free agent this off-season — since they didn’t want to take OBJ’s health for granted despite a successful rehab so far. Higgins also clearly has a strong connection with Mayfield, which he’s been able to demonstrate in 2018 and 2020. Higgins is deserving of a #3 WR role and he’s shown he can fill in as the team’s #2 WR if OBJ has any hiccups in his recovery. Higgins should start the year on the waiver wire as he looks to hold off Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz for the #3 WR role this season.

Demetric Felton (Proj: WR111 | ADP: 375 | Pos ADP: RB98)

The Browns drafted Felton in the sixth round to be a weapon on offense and as a returner on special teams. He’s officially listed on the Browns’ roster as a running back, which is where he primarily lined up at UCLA, but he worked at both running back and wide receiver during minicamps this off-season. Felton posted 218/999/6 rushing and 77/753/7 in his final two seasons at UCLA while adding 506 kickoff return yards with a touchdown on 21 returns. The Browns could look to develop Felton as a slot receiver or he could be deployed as a passing back in a James White type of role. Either way, he’s most likely to make his biggest impact as a returner during his rookie season, and he could eventually be used as a gadget player in this loaded offense. He’s completely off the radar in every format except for dynasty leagues.

Anthony Schwartz (Proj: WR118 | ADP: 357 | Pos ADP: WR128)

Schwartz will bring world-class speed to the Browns’ offense as a third-round pick out of Auburn. He set a world youth record in the 100-meter dash (10.15 seconds) in 2017 and he was named the 2018 Gatorade national boys’ track and field athlete of the year. He blazed a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, and HC Kevin Stefanski will primarily ask him to be a field stretcher for Cleveland’s offense as a rookie. Schwartz has a long way to go to become a complete receiver and he underwhelmed in a bad Auburn offense with 117/1433/6 receiving with an additional 42/323/7 rushing in three seasons. He’s likely to open the season behind Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones for the team’s #3 WR role, but his unique speed could earn him more playing time as the season goes along. He’s a dynasty stash at this point to see if he can develop into one of the league’s premier deep threats.

Austin Hooper (Proj: TE23 | ADP: 190 | Pos ADP: TE24)

The Browns gave Hooper a generous four-year, $42 million contract with $23 million guaranteed last off-season, and he continued to play his solid, unimpressive brand of football. Hooper ended his first season in Cleveland with 46/435/4 receiving on 70 targets while playing 64% of the snaps in 13 games to finish as the TE19 with 8.7 FPG. He built some momentum with Baker Mayfield late in their first season together when he had a run of 14+ FP in four straight games (Week 15-Wild Card) before the Chiefs stifled Hooper and the Browns’ passing attack in the Divisional Round. Hooper owns a career 10.3 YPR average and he’s scored just 17 TDs since he became a full-time player back in 2017. He needs to see an uptick in volume if he has any hope to get back to his TE1 status from 2018-19. He went from averaging 6.4 targets per game with the Falcons in 2018-19 to averaging 5.4 targets per game last season. An uptick in volume seems unlikely with Harrison Bryant and David Njoku competing for targets behind him and with Odell Beckham rejoining the lineup off his ACL tear. Hooper is a safe but uninspiring mid- to low-end TE2 option in all formats.

Harrison Bryant (Proj: TE37 | ADP: 464 | Pos ADP: TE69)

Bryant was one of our favorite prospects in a relatively weak TE class last year, but he landed in a tough spot to make a significant impact early in his career. Bryant still played a bigger than expected role as a fourth-round pick even with Austin Hooper and David Njoku on the roster. Bryant finished with 24/238/3 receiving on 38 targets while playing a healthy 56% of the snaps in 15 games. His most memorable game came in Week 7 when he won plenty of DFS tournaments with his 4/56/2 receiving performance at the minimum salary with Hooper out of the lineup. The Browns will continue to be near the top of the league in two-TE sets this season and Bryant will look to hold off Njoku for snaps in the #2 TE role. Bryant should be held in dynasty formats with Njoku likely to be gone after next season, and he’ll start the season on the waiver wire in all but deep, TE-premium formats. He could be a TE streamer like he was in Week 7 last season if Hooper were to miss some action this season.

David Njoku (Proj: TE39 | ADP: 404 | Pos ADP: TE56)

Njoku has seemingly been on the outs with the Browns’ organization for the last two seasons, and it’s a bit of a mild upset that he’s even reached the fifth-year of his rookie contract. The 2017 first-round pick has certainly been a disappointment up to this point, but he’ll be just 25 years old this season and he’s still loaded with talent. The problem is he’s stuck behind Austin Hooper and he’ll be battling with Harrison Bryant for playing time in 12 personnel sets after he posted just 19/213/2 receiving on 29 targets in 13 games last season. Cleveland could use Njoku more as an X-iso receiver this season like what the Raiders do with Darren Waller, but he’s not guaranteed to have a massive role in this offensive loaded with options. Njoku is off the radar in most formats except in deep, TE-premium leagues and he’s a dynasty hold with his departure from Cleveland finally looming after this season.

Hansen’s Final Points

QBs like Baker Mayfield, in run-heavy offenses, do tend to drive me nuts, since the best indicator of fantasy success is volume, and Baker doesn’t get as much of that compared to most of his contemporaries. He also doesn’t run much, which hurts his chances of hanging with the cheat code QBs for fantasy. But entering year four in the NFL, and year two with their outstanding HC, OL, and running game, Mayfield could climb into the low-end QB1 range if he continues his efficient play from the end of last season with OBJ on the field. He’s also a “safe” pick as a QB2 if you opt to take a shot with a guy like Joe Burrow as your starter. At worst, he’ll continue to be a little unpredictable and TD-dependent, but the final numbers should be close to his impressive 2017 levels when he had 27 TD passes in only 13 starts. Compared to his inexpensive ADP of 140, there is actually some upside to Baker if they improve offensively and basically start to do whatever they want on that side of the ball due to their good OL, running game, and Baker’s talent and moxie.

It’s established that Nick Chubb is a stud, so the only questions relate to his timeshare with Kareem Hunt. Most encouragingly, Chubb had 19 catches in his final eight games (playoffs included) after he caught only three passes in his first seven games. I felt at the time this was done to be less predictable, and it worked. We have him with only 23 catches and under 280 touches, but Chubb, if healthy, could easily log 300+ touches with 275 or more carries and at least 25 catches, with double-digit TDs likely in an offense that could be a well-oiled machine. In non-PPR leagues, we have Chubb at 6 overall, which is a ringing endorsement. The only issue we have with him in PPR leagues is the fact he’s tough to proactively draft in the first round. But since we have him at 13 overall as of mid-July, we’re certainly willing to buy Chubb the second Round 1 is in the books.

I loved Kareem Hunt as a fifth round pick last year, but even though he ended up starting four games and carrying the load, I was left a little underwhelmed. Hunt is still the best RB2 in the league, and he still has standalone value as a low-end RB2, but it was still weird how he averaged slightly more FPG (13.7) with Chubb in the lineup than without. That was all about TDs, which are never a lock. Another concern is how Chubb actually had more production in the passing game than Hunt the final eight games of last season. Hunt’s role in terms of the passing game work and goal line carries isn’t exactly clear, but it’s clear he’ll have a healthy role, and we do have him with a solid 190 touches this year, so over 10 per game. The main issue I have with Hunt is his cost at RB25 in the 55-60 overall range. I’d prefer to have two quality backs before the fifth round, for one, and if I’m looking for an RB2 in Round 5, I may not look to Hunt. He is “safe” and all that, but I can’t say taking Hunt in the fifth round is optimal in terms of value.

If Odell Beckham is ever going to have a bounce-back season, this has to be the year, entering his age 29 season. But it’s been half a decade already since the OBJ production matched the hype and the name, and he’s coming off an ACL, so I’m not optimistic. The reports have been good on his recovery, which is nice, and everyone should improve in the second year of the offense. They could be an offensive juggernaut, but they could be that without Beckham, as they showed late last year. OBJ’s price has been adjusted due to his mediocre production the last four years, but I’m not convinced his cost has been downgraded enough. He’s clearly a WR3 only, which is very fair, and he’s not expensive per se as the WR38 off the board around 70 overall. But no one on staff is targeting him in that range, so he will have to slip another 1-2 rounds for us to feel confident enough to draft him.

With an ADP about 30 spots lower than Odell Beckham, I will argue that Jarvis Landry is a better pick than OBJ. Landry’s numbers were down across the board last year, but he was also coming off hip surgery, and he was less effective on tape early in the season compared to late. Landry’s numbers were also down due to the measly 9/104/0 receiving he put up in three straight bad weather games. However, Landry was back in business in the final seven games of the season, averaging 6.6/68.7/.7 per game, good for a healthy 17.8 FPG in that stretch. Unlike OBJ, Landry actually clicks well with Baker Mayfield, so if healthy all season, he’s a good bet to hit 80+ catches again. He’s still a little boring, but 80+ grabs is nothing to sneeze at for those in PPR leagues.

It’s nice for Baker Mayfield how the team brought Rashard Higgins back this year, since Baker clicks with him well, as evidenced by the excellent 119.2 quarterback rating when targeting Higgins last season. Higgins is good enough for their #3 WR role, but the Browns also have the speedier Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz in the mix, so it’s hard to get excited about Higgins, who is not being drafted near the top-200 overall. Once again, he’s a guy to look at if (when?) OBJ gets hurt and misses time.

The Browns are looking to be a little more explosive and “gadgety” in 2021, so they

drafted Demetric Felton in the sixth round to be a “weapon,” which includes the return game. He is listed and can play RB, but he’s typically a WR on fantasy sites. He’s actually an intriguing addition to the Browns, and his addition to the roster may tangibly help their offense this year. But it will be a challenge to get him even five touches a game, so he’s off the radar for redraft leagues this summer.

The Browns used a valuable third round pick on the speedy Anthony Schwartz, who is intriguing, but he has to earn snaps and targets this year, and that won’t be easy. They are looking to stretch the field in Cleveland’s offense this year, and Schwartz can get vertical from the slot. But he will have to compete for snaps with the rock solid Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has good straight line speed and size. Plus, even Demetric Felton could take away some snaps. So Scwartz is only a wait-and-see guy for redraft leagues.

I did not like Austin Hooper for fantasy heading into last year, and he was generally a buzzkill. He did show some chemistry with Mayfield later in the season, once Odell Beckham was long gone, putting up 14+ FP in four straight games Weeks 15-18 (including the Wild Card game). Hooper had an uptick in volume late in the season, but that’s hard to count on with OBJ back, some other weapons added, and with second-year man Harrison Bryant a year older and wiser. Easily, the best thing about Hooper is his cost, which is almost free 190+ picks into a draft. He’s the TE26 ADP-wise and we do have him as TE23 as of July, but that’s still not particularly inspiring unless it’s a TE-premium or very deep league.

We loved Harrison Bryant last year in a relatively weak TE class, and despite some tough competition for targets, he did flash while playing a healthy 56% of the snaps in 15 games. He’ll surely be a guy to look at if Austin Hooper is out (4/56/2 receiving in Week 7 with Hooper out), and I do think he’s their top TE in a year or two, but he’s not being drafted in the top-300 this year, so there’s no compelling reason to select him in redraft league, especially with David Njoku still around.

Why the Browns picked up the fifth year option for David Njoku I’ll never know, since I’ve been very disappointed in the talented former first-round pick. He is just 25 years old and capable of lining up outside, but he’s guaranteed nothing on this roster and he’s completely off the radar. We’ll keep an eye out for anything that could improve his outlook, though, because he is physically gifted and a potential matchup problem.

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