Which Cleveland Browns Pass Catchers Should You Target in Fantasy Football?
The Cleveland Browns have been the bottom feeders of the NFL for a long time now, averaging only 4.7 wins per year over the last 20 seasons.
Under current head coach Hue Jackson, the Browns are an especially poor 1-31. He has seen better success jumping into Lake Erie than in the product he has put out on the field.
There is a surprising amount of optimism surrounding the Browns heading into the 2018 season, and we are seeing some national buzz for them to be a surprise playoff team.
Cleveland currently has a 5.5 projected win total, with the juice heavily on the over at -155 on the MyBookie Sportsbook. They have only topped that mark once in the last ten seasons.
With the addition of Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson's play calling duties have been removed, which should be a rejuvenation to the Browns passing attack. Haley has a history of producing some solid fantasy outputs with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals.
With the recent trade of wide receiver Corey Coleman to the Bills, the passing attack should become a bit more concentrated than it was last season. Cleveland now has 205 available wide receiver targets from 2017, as well as 2,695 available air yards.
Todd Haley will be working with the newly-acquired Jarvis Landry, as well as a couple established receiving weapons in Josh Gordon and Duke Johnson, leaving the Browns' aerial attack looking poised for a breakout.
Either way, both quarterbacks will provide Todd Haley with a new challenge, as he has never worked full-time with a rushing quarterback. The most rush attempts a quarterback has notched under Haley was 50, while Taylor has no fewer than 84 since becoming a starter, and Mayfield averaged 105.3 attempts per season in his three years at Oklahoma. The three games Michael Vick started in 2015 are the most similar situation he has dealt with.
The quarterbacks will have a wide array of weapons around them, and the assortment of players all offer different styles of play, filling differing roles.
Below is the current average draft position (ADP) in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues for the Browns' primary receiving weapons, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
|Player||PPR ADP||Postion Rank|
Each one of these players are currently coming in at solid prices, we just need to understand what types of players excel in Todd Haley's offensive system and are compatible with Tyrod and Baker's skill set.
Wide Receiver Outlook
With Corey Coleman shown the door and off-field issues surrounding both Josh Gordon and Antonio Callaway, the Browns are facing some challenges early in camp at the wide receiver position.
On a positive note, all reports tend to be positive around Gordon, as he is expected to join the team in the coming days.
If Gordon can get on the field, and join newly acquired Jarvis Landry, that should erase any worries at the position, and these two figure combine for the majority of the team targets in 2018.
Currently, numberFire projections have Gordon at 146.7 and Landry at 140.7 targets. That would put Gordon at his highest target total since his breakout season in 2013, and put Landry right around his four year average (142.5) while in Miami.
Callaway and Jeff Janis should split the third receiver duties, and while there maybe certain weeks where one of them pops off, it hard to see either of them handle enough volume to be a season-long asset, barring injury for one of the top wideouts or more off-field issues for Gordon.
Todd Haley has been an offensive play caller in the NFL for 11 years now, and his teams have been in the top half of the league in pass attempts in eight of those seasons.
His system has always heavily favored the number one receiver on the team. Some of that has been because of the luxury of having future Hall of Famers Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Brown in his system, but he was also able to get high-end production out of Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City.
Below are the numbers that the top receiver under Haley have put up.
|WR1 Target Share||WR1 TD Rate||WR1 Yards per Game|
These are impressive numbers over the 11 play calling years for Haley, now we just have to decipher who that guy might be in Cleveland this season.
One key metric when deciding between Browns receivers is the fact that Haley's system has historically benefited wide receivers running deep routes, as TJ Hernandaz of 4for4 outlined:
Then there's Todd Haley. Going back to 2009 Haley's offenses have averaged a 20.6% deep ball rate, the highest of any active play caller. None of his offenses have thrown deep less than 18% of the time. League average was ~17% last season
â€” TJ Hernandez (@TJHernandez) July 27, 2018
When taking this information and applying it to Gordon and Landry, it brings us to the chart below showing their career yardage metrics on a per target and per reception basis.
|Browns Wide Reciever||Yards Per Reception||Average Depth of Target (aDOT)|
Flash Gordon stands to benefit the most by being inserted into Haley's aggressive offensive system simply from the types of routes he typically runs.
To take it one step further, Tyrod Taylor will be the one tossing the ball around to these guys, and over his career 28 of his 51 (54.9%) touchdowns have been from at least 15 yards out.
Gordon could become a league winner thanks to his elite ceiling, but at the same time the risk is always there for him to be out of the league if any more off-field issues arise.
If you prefer to play it safe, Landry is all but locked into a massive volume role as the slot security blanket for either Taylor or Mayfield.
According to Football Outsiders, in 2017 Landry ran 75.5% of his routes in the slot which was the 20th among receivers, which is a trend that we will likely see continue in Haley's offense.
We have seen slot receivers succeed in the touchdown department under Haley:
Landry has produced three consecutive top-15 wide receiver fantasy finishes, and secure volume and the potential for some big touchdown scoring makes him a good bet to do it again.
Overall, Gordon and Landry both project to see heavy workloads, and Landry brings one of the higher floors from a wide receiver perspective, and Gordon brings one of the highest ceilings.
Preference between the two could depend on the fantasy league scoring as Gordon seems like a better value in standard and half point per reception leagues, while Landry seems like his price tops out in PPR formats.
Duke Johnson has carved out a niche role in Cleveland as the primary receiving back, and due to the Browns trailing so often, his snap rate last season (53%) was higher than starting running back Isaiah Crowell.
Johnson continues to be criminally undervalued in PPR fantasy formats, as shown by his current ADP of RB39, and his PPR finishes throughout his career below:
Over those three seasons, Duke Johnson has paced the running back position in total targets (241), averaging 80.3 per season.
His role shouldn't change much in 2018, and with lack of depth behind the big two receivers as well as Haley's history with Le'Veon Bell, Johnson's role could even increase. On a per game basis, Bell averaged 6.4 targets under Haley from 2012-2017.
While the Browns project to make some improvements this season, they still are expected to be one of the bottom ten teams in the league, which should allow for plenty of times where the Browns are trailing and Duke's name is called in those situations.
At his current price in PPR leagues, Johnson seems like a steal.
Every fantasy owner wants to be that guy who discovers that next breakout tight end candidate, and some are planting the flag on David Njoku to take that leap forward this season.
A breakout for Njoku would require some big changes though, as we saw him get out-snapped by Seth DeValve (who is still on the roster), when Njoku was a rookie in 2017, partially due to his inability to pass protect.
The area where he excelled most last season was in the red zone, where he hit pay dirt four times, and had 19.1% share of the team's targets.
The problem Njoku faces in 2018 is his offensive coordinator has a horrible history with TE production. Over the 11 seasons Haley has called plays, his number one tight end has averaged just 60.4 targets, 430.4 receiving yards and 2.5 touchdowns.
Another damper on his outlook, is the lack of success that Tyrod had with Charles Clay as documented by Clay's fantasy finishes below.
|Year||Standard Finish||PPR Finish|
While Njoku looks the part at the tight end position, the historical data suggest that this might not be the time to buy him.
Putting it All Together
While we may not see the Browns turn things around and immediately find themselves in playoff contention, the influx in offensive weapons and Todd Haley taking over running the offense should be a huge boon to their passing game.
The weapons in that passing attack are being drafted with fairly aggressive price-tags, but thanks to the low number of viable targets in the unit, a concentration of volume leaves multiple players offering big fantasy value this year.
Josh Gordon's big-play ability gives him the most appealing upside in the group, but high-volume roles should also leave Jarvis Landry and Duke Johnson offering solid returns on your investment, particularly in PPR leagues.