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How Do the Browns Stack Up in 2014?

Offseason Acquisitions – WR Miles Austin, WR Nate Burleson, WR Earl Bennett, RB Ben Tate

No Longer on the Roster – Expected suspension for WR Josh Gordon

Coaching Changes – Entirely new regime including Head Coach Mike Pettine, Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil

At first glance, it might appear as though the Cleveland Browns are a team to completely avoid as far as the 2014 fantasy season. The biggest concern lies with wide receiver Josh Gordon who is waiting to hear just how long he’ll be suspended for. Most reports indicate a minimum of eight games for Gordon, but it's just as likely that he misses the whole year, so we’re going to operate under that premise for now. Between Gordon’s suspension, a new coaching staff, a rookie-versus-incumbent quarterback controversy and an unexpected conflict brewing at running back, it’s looking like a rough 2014 for the Browns. That said, I do believe there is some fantasy value to be had if you pick your spots carefully.



Johnny Manziel in Kyle Field CC BY-SA 3.0 Shutterbug459 - Own workRookie quarterbacks are always a hot topic in today’s NFL. With so many first-year players getting the opportunity to start right away, the assumption immediately following the draft was that Johnny Manziel would be under center for the Browns in Week One. Unfortunately for Johnny Football, head coach Mike Pettine is claiming the starter will be Brian Hoyer. Hoyer filled in for injured starter Brandon Weeden last year, but Hoyer himself ended up sustaining a season-ending knee injury after starting just three games. The competition between Hoyer and Manziel will certainly drag throughout camp and it’s likely to bleed into the preseason. As far as fantasy is concerned, Manziel would certainly be the more intriguing name, given his athleticism and ability to rush out of the pocket. That said, even if Manziel is named the starter in advance of your draft, how much can you really trust a rookie as your starter in fantasy? If you end up feeling like you’re already loaded at running back and wide receiver, then sure, take a chance on Johnny Manziel as your backup. Beyond that, there’s just no way to justify selecting Manziel in the middle of your draft, especially when proven veterans like Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger will be floating around. If Hoyer ends up the starter than this whole situation is even easier to ignore. No disrespect to Brian Hoyer as an NFL player, but his fantasy value is pretty much moot. And we haven’t even mentioned their current batch of wide receivers yet…


Wide Receivers

So we know 2013’s leader in receiving yards Josh Gordon will be suspended, but what about the rest of the receivers on the roster? Well, news of Gordon’s looming suspension actually came during the draft weekend, so many assumed the Browns would target a big-name receiver. They ended up opting to stick to their board and sign a few free agent veterans instead. The three new additions are Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Earl Bennett. If your first reaction to reading those names was “yikes,” I assure you you’re not alone. This batch of receivers is one of the reasons why quarterback Brian Hoyer will be easy to ignore if he ends up the starter. At least Johnny Manziel could get you fantasy points with his legs. Hoyer would simply have no true star receiver to throw to. On top of not having a big name to catch passes, the Browns are expected to be a very run-heavy offense, and with good reason. When you don’t have anyone to throw to, your best bet is to run the ball early and often. That doesn’t mean if you’re sitting there in the 14th or 15th round and are looking for a fifth wide receiver that you shouldn’t at least consider Austin or Burleson. Miles Austin was serviceable in Dallas when he was able to stay healthy and Burleson put up decent numbers in his time in Detroit. Unfortunately for both guys, health has always been an issue and a run-heavy offense won’t help either of their cases.


Running Backs

Here’s where things get a lot more interesting for Cleveland. Not only did the Browns sign longtime Houston Texans backup Ben Tate but, they also drafted rookie running back Terrance West out of Towson. Initially it was assumed that Tate would receive the bulk of the carries, given his history of being productive when filling in for Arian Foster. Recent reports, however, suggest that West is actually challenging Tate for his spot as the number one back. This news, in conjunction with Tate’s own history of health problems, creates a potential debate about who should be starting for the Browns. As it stands, Tate is ranked toward the back half of the top twenty at running back, whereas West slots in around the fifties. Between their respective rankings and an offense that will surely be dominated by the run, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that both guys could be valuable for fantasy if the team uses a running back by committee approach. It’s still a little early to jump on the Terrance West bandwagon, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as the offseason rolls along. For now, Ben Tate is still the guy you want, and his ranking is fair given the nature of the running back position these days.



As mentioned above, quarterback Johnny Manziel could be worth a stash if they commit to him as a starter, but not much more than that. Running back Terrance West should be on your radar but it’s too early to advocate drafting him. Hopefully there will be more clarity as the season approaches.


Tight End

Erik Drost - Flickr: Jordon CameronFinally we’ve reached the point where we can say something that is purely positive about the Browns offense. Jordan Cameron was one of the biggest breakout stars of the 2013 fantasy season, thanks to his seven touchdowns, 80 receptions and 917 yards. Cameron’s numbers didn’t really fluctuate much between the games started by Weeden and those where Hoyer was under center. Cameron actually had the most trouble with Jason Campbell, but that won’t be a factor at all this season since Campbell is no longer with the team. If you were reading the wide receiver section wondering “well SOMEONE has to catch the ball in Cleveland,” then Jordan Cameron is the answer. He’s a talented player who should end up with solid numbers, living up to his expectations as a top-five tight end. Hoyer already has a rapport with him after last year, and Manziel is no dummy-- he’d quickly realize who his most talented target is.

So it’s not all bleak for the Browns fantasy hopes. Look elsewhere at quarterback and wide receiver, but there is value to be had at running back and tight end. Both Manziel and West are worth grabbing in a keeper or dynasty league, but don’t get too crazy outside of those parameters. Each may be worth a stash on your bench as long as you don’t overpay.  Jordan Cameron is definitely the most fantasy-relevant Brown to be had, so he’s the guy you should focus on. Hopefully next year Josh Gordon has his head on straight and is able to contribute both on the field and in our weekly fantasy box scores.