Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Cleveland Browns Buying Guide

With the preseason nearing, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Cleveland Browns…

It will be peculiar to see such a staggering collection of skill-position talent in Cleveland Browns uniforms this fall. Fans of the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals are already pining for the good ol’ days of Charlie Frye, William Green, Joe Jurevicius and Steve Heiden.

These new Browns? They’re loaded, man.

It appears that Baker Mayfield is a far better first overall draft pick than was Tim Couch 19 years earlier – though in fairness, Couch’s demise was largely injury-related. Mayfield threw a rookie-record 27 TD passes in 14 games. He ranked as the fantasy QB11 after becoming Cleveland’s starter in Week 4 and was the QB9 after Freddie Kitchens was named the Browns’ head coach. Kitchens now has the gig full-time, and the Browns have added one of the best wide receivers in the league.

Mayfield is the Johnny Rotten of the NFL – and that’s meant with respect. As the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, Rotten – real name: John Lydon – was at the forefront of the punk movement in the late ’70s. The sneering Lydon did not suffer fools gladly and wore his grudges on his sleeve. Mayfield, too is at the forefront of something that promises to become big. He’s charismatic but edgy, all too eager to express his disdain for ex-Browns head coach Hue Jackson or carry on a petty feud with agent provocateur Colin Cowherd. Mayfield seems to buy into Lydon’s mantra that “anger is an energy” and is willing to tap into it.

It’s easy to understand the enthusiasm for Mayfield among fantasy owners. Rarely do rookie quarterbacks thrive so quickly, and now he has arguably the best set of pass catchers in the league. I’m a believer, ranking Mayfield QB5, but probably won’t own him in many leagues because I won’t be in any rush to draft a quarterback after the top four – Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck – come off the board. If Mayfield is taken less than a full round after the last of those four has been taken, he’s being overdrafted.

Odell Beckham Jr. may indeed be a brittle diva, but good lord, the man is an incredible football player. As noted by Evan Silva (@evansilva) and Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) on Twitter recently, only 13 players have accumulated more receiving yardage over the first five years of their career since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger than Beckham. OBJ has played 59 games over his first five years. Of the 13 receivers ahead of him on that list, all played at least 76 games over their first five except for Julio Jones, who played 65. That speaks to both Beckham’s frailty and his awesomeness. Compare those 14 receivers in yardage per game over their first five seasons and it’s Julio No. 1, Odell No. 2.

OBJ is going to be giddy about playing with Mayfield after years of being tethered to late-career Eli Manning. Mayfield is far more willing to challenge defenses downfield than Manning is, and Mayfield is also much more accurate when he does. Watching Eli try to connect with Beckham last year was agonizing at times. I haven’t been so horrified by poor aim since my son’s potty-training sessions. Beckham was a top-five fantasy receiver in each of his first three years, and he should be a mortal lock to crack the top five again if he can manage to play 16 games for just the second time in his career.

Beckham’s ADP is WR5, which is perfectly fair. It’s hard to sort out the top six wide receivers, and you could make a reasonable case for any of them being No. 1. I’d feel good about Drafting Beckham as early as the first-round/second-round turn.

The trade that took Beckham to Cleveland meant a reunion with his former LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry. The two became besties and roommates in Baton Rouge, and now they’ll be menacing NFL defenses together.

After averaging 100 catches over his four years in Miami, Landry had 81 receptions for 976 yards and four TDs in his first season with the Browns, which worked out to a WR18 finish in half-point PPR leagues. Landry was targeted 149 times last season, and Beckham’s presence will take a hatchet to that total, but maybe OBJ’s arrival won’t be completely ruinous to Landry’s fantasy value. Landry seemed miscast as an alpha receiver last year but could potentially thrive in a supporting role, especially with Landry sure to be presented with some matchups he can exploit.

Landry probably isn’t going to be a top-20 receiver this year, but a top-30 finish is within reason, and he can be a useful WR3 for fantasy teams.

Antonio Callaway got to play quite a bit as a rookie last year and had 43 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns. A burner with 4.4 speed, Callaway had eight receptions covering 20 or more yards (including a 71-yarder and a 59-yarder), but he also had a few egregious drops. The former Florida Gator has immense potential but fell to the fourth round of last year’s draft because of numerous indiscretions in Gainesville. He’s a good guy to have on a dynasty league roster, but he probably won’t provide much help in redraft leagues this year unless someone gets hurt.

Tight end David Njoku has such an impressive physique that Greek statues feel self-conscious when Njoku visits the museum. The 6-4, 246-pound Njoku has impressive speed for a big man and the wingspan of an Andean condor. At the 2017 Scouting Combine, he finished first among the tight ends in the vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill. The dude is a freak.

Njoku posted a stat line of 32-386-4 as a rookie, then went 56-639-4 in 2018. He has the talent to be a monster, but again, OBJ is going to take up a lot of oxygen in this passing game. It’s possible that Njoku’s fantasy owners will have to settle for numbers that look a lot like last year’s. That insane athletic profile offers hope for more. Njoku’s ADP is TE10. The probability of a relatively modest target count suggests that he’s no bargain at that price, but I’m happy to gamble on unique talent even if it’s hard to concoct a favorable usage narrative.

Oh, and by the way, if anything were to happen to Njoku, Demetrius Harris would become an attractive waiver play. A product of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee basketball program (UWM doesn’t have a football team), the 6-7, 235-pound Harris is even faster than Njoku and nearly as springy a jumper.

One of the most frustrating moves of the offseason was the Browns’ signing of Kareem Hunt, who was released by the Chiefs last November after being caught on camera shoving a woman in a Cleveland hotel. The Browns signed Hunt in February even though he’ll be suspended for the first eight games of the season.

What’s so frustrating is that Nick Chubb was positioned to be one of the NFL’s few remaining workhorse backs, and the Hunt signing introduces an element of uncertainty for anyone trying to decide whether to draft Chubb. Damn you, (Browns GM) John Dorsey.

After the Browns traded away Carlos Hyde in mid-October of last year, Chubb ran for 823 yards and scored eight touchdowns over Cleveland’s last 10 games. He had 18 or more carries in seven of those outings. Chubb averaged 5.2 yards per carry and wasn’t bad in the passing game, catching 22 balls for 149 yards. Pro Football Focus awarded Chubb the highest grade of any running back last year.

The Hunt signing is nettlesome, but with Chubb, seeing is believing. He’s also going to play in what should be a terrific overall offense – which ultimately matters more than the addition of Hunt. I’ll happily take Chubb if he falls to me in the middle of the second round in a 12-team draft.

As for Hunt himself … meh.

Oh, sure, Hunt was marvelous for the Chiefs over the last two seasons. But he won’t be able to return until Week 9, the Browns will probably work him into the offense slowly in Weeks 10-11, and then he’ll lose another game to a bye in Week 12. So, what – you’re  going to draft Hunt for your playoff run? Presumably, Chubb is still going to be the Browns’ lead back by the time Hunt is full-go. The way most leagues are structured, it’s crazy to tie up a roster spot for that long. Don’t bother with Hunt this year; let one of the simpletons in your league squander a draft pick.

The other back worth mentioning here is disgruntled passing-down back Duke Johnson, who wants to be traded. He had career lows in carries (40) and receptions (47) last year and doesn’t appear to be a key appliance in Freddie Kitchens’ kitchen – more of a fondue set, really.

Johnson has been a terrific pass catcher, with 235 career receptions in four NFL seasons and a career average of 9.2 yards per catch. He’s been used sparingly in the running game – presumably because he’s 5-9 and 210 pounds – but it would be fun to see him play a bigger role for someone, if not the Browns. Johnson isn’t a bad speculative play in the late rounds, if only for the possibility that he’s dealt to a team that could really use RB help, like the Buccaneers.

Baker Mayfield QB5 QB5 QB5 Don’t reach
Nick Chubb RB10 RB11 RB12 2ndrounder
Duke Johnson RB46 RB50 RB57 Speculate
Kareem Hunt RB65 RB51 RB39 C’mon, why?
Odell Beckham Jr. WR4 WR4 WR5 Gimme some
Jarvis Landry WR30 WR29 WR26 Possibly
David Njoku TE8 TE9 TE9 Upside play


ADP = Average Draft Position  ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)