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Fantasy Football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks - Cleveland Browns 2022 Outlook

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Welcome to our fantasy football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks, a series on RotoBaller where our writers look at three key players on each NFL team.

Today, we're talking about the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland made a lot of noise this offseason with trades to acquire Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper, but long-suffering Browns fans might not even get to see them playing together.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best NFL Series, MLB Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Cleveland Browns Breakout: David Njoku

David Njoku has looked like an above-average tight end his past two seasons. After being drafted #29 by the Browns in 2017, he took the position of number one tight end in 2018 and was targeted 88 times. With 639 yards, he ranked as the #8 TE in standard scoring (#9 in full and half PPR). In 2019, he suffered multiple injuries and only played in four games. Then the Browns brought in Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant in 2020.

Although Njoku has produced top-12 efficiency numbers, with yards per route run of 1.40 and 1.52 in 2020 and 2021, he has not received enough targets to be a viable starting fantasy option. In 2021, he only averaged 30 yards per game and was the #19 TE in standard (#22 in full PPR).

Now, Hooper has left for Tennessee, and many of the team’s top wide receiving targets, including Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, have left too. Amari Cooper came via trade, and David Bell came in Round 3 of the Draft. But the Browns' offense under Kevin Stefanski utilizes tight ends more than almost any other team.

The Browns used 1-3 personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs) for 17% their plays, more than twice as much as the next highest team. They used two tight ends in about 45% of their alignments, 15 percentage points more than the NFL average. In all, the Browns QBs targeted tight ends 142 times in 2021.

If those targets all went to one person, he would be the third-most targeted tight end in the NFL. Njoku won’t be getting every single target. Harrison Bryant is still on the team. He was used less infrequently but was dependable when targeted. Still, it is predictable that Njoku will get the lion’s share of the work given that the Browns signaled their trust in him with a four-year, $56.75 million deal this offseason.

 

Cleveland Browns Bust: Amari Cooper

Even if Deshaun Watson were to start all 17 games at quarterback, one could be at least slightly concerned about Amari Cooper’s 2022 prospects. Drafters are taking him as the #18 WR in half PPR on Sleeper. But he only finished inside the top-18 once since 2017. For each of the past three years, he was playing for teams that ranked inside the top-seven in passing offense.

He’s joining a team with a projected Week One starting QB who averaged 210 yards per game last season. Jacoby Brissett put up those numbers while throwing the ball 37 times per game. He’s joining a team that averaged 30.6 yards per game.

Cooper was already being overhyped since the trade went down. He’s always been on the edge of the elite, never taking the next step. He has never quite lived up to his #4 overall draft capital. He makes the Pro Bowl, not the All-Pro team. He rates 90 on Madden, not on PFF.

His play drops off as a season goes along—a trend that is evident in his monthly splits: 75 yards per game in September and October versus 53 in December and January. Then after a Week 15 performance in which he only caught two of five targets for eight yards, he complained he wasn’t getting the ball enough. He wasn’t getting the ball as much because he was being outplayed by a second-year receiver.

In fact, he was getting outplayed by second-year receivers on other teams with worse QBs throwing them the ball, Darnell Mooney and Michael Pittman Jr., in 2021 too as well as rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, all of whom are going behind him in drafts.

 

Cleveland Browns Lock: Nick Chubb

In an offense riddled with uncertainty, Nick Chubb is the one consistent elite at his position. He’s recorded over 1,000 scrimmage yards, eight rushing touchdowns, and 5.0 yards per carry every single year of his career. He’s second, behind only Derrick Henry, in rushing yards since 2018 and fourth in rushing yards per game. For each of the past three seasons, he has ranked as a top-12 RB in standard and half PPR.

Going into 2022, there is every reason to believe he’ll be a low-end RB1 once again. The Browns' offensive line is ranked as #2 by PFF and #5 by Fantasy Pros. He has upside regardless of what ends up happening at QB. If it is Jacoby Brissett all year long, the Browns will have to run the ball heavily. If Watson plays, Chubb could see increased efficiency on each run and more red zone trips.

It is unlikely Chubb will be in the running for #1 RB, however, given the Browns split backfield approach. Kareem Hunt takes about 10 carries per game when healthy, and when he missed eight games last year, D’Ernest Johnson showed he was more than capable of stepping into his role.



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