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Coaching Matters: 2021 Cleveland Browns Coaching Staff Preview

After every NFL season, NFL teams take the time to evaluate not only the players but also the coaching staff and front office as well. While many teams choose to retain the same head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator, a few other teams opt to go in a new direction with their coaching staff.

One team that managed to maintain their core coaching staff this offseason was the Cleveland Browns, with head coach Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, and defensive coordinator Joe Woods all returning for the 2021-22 season.

This article will look at the potential impact this coaching staff will have on the players and try to pinpoint the Browns players' fantasy values in it.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

The Baseline

To get a better understanding of the value the Browns coaches help bring to this team, we can look at the NFL league averages in each of the past two years in a variety of statistical categories and then compare them to the averages achieved by the Browns' coaches. Here are 'The Baseline' NFL league averages over the past couple of years:

QB Impact

Year Team Pass Att. Team Pass Yds. Team Pass TDs QB Carries QB Rush Yds. QB Rush TDs
2019 League Average
34.87 251.78 1.56 3.56 15.04 0.16
2020 League Average 35.19 254.88 1.70 4.19 18.43 0.25

RB Impact

Year RB Carries RB Rush Yds. RB Rush TDs RB Rec. RB Targets RB Rec. Yds. RB Rec. TDs
2019 League Average
21.77 92.96 0.68 5.10 6.64 40 0.19
2020 League Average
21.68 95.13 0.75 4.71 6.14 34.94 0.18

WR Impact

Year WR Rec. WR Targets WR Rec. Yds. WR Rec. TDs
2019 League Average
12.05 19.59 158.39 0.95
2020 League Average
13.24 20.21 166.67 1.04

TE Impact

Year TE Rec. TE Targets TE Rec. Yds. TE Rec. TDs
2019 League Average
4.70 6.88 50.99 0.38
2020 League Average
4.76 7.03 51.29 0.45

Defense Impact

Year Points Allowed Pass Yds Given Up Run Yds Given Up Plays Against Yds/Play
Turnovers Forced
22.8 235 112.9 63.5 5.5 1.4
24.8 240.2 118.9 64.3 5.6 1.3

 

2021 Offense

2021 Head Coach: Kevin Stefanski

Kevin Stefanski has had quite the rise in the coaching world. He served as the Minnesota Vikings interim offensive coordinator for the last three games of the 2018 season, got promoted to the Vikings' full-time offensive coordinator in 2019, and then got hired to be the Cleveland Browns head coach in 2020. Let's take a look at some of Stefanski's offenses during his career in an offensive coordinator or head coaching role.

QB Impact

Year Games Team Pass Att. Team Pass Yds. Team Pass TDs QB Carries QB Rush Yds. QB Rush TDs
2019 Vikings 16 29.13 233.06 1.63 2.31 3.63 0.06
2020 Browns 16 31.31 231.31 1.69 3.38 10.31 0.06
Stefanski's Career Averages (OC/HC) 35 29.97 229.43 1.69 2.8 6.8 0.06

RB Impact

Year Games RB Carries RB Rush Yds. RB Rush TDs RB Rec. RB Targets RB Rec. Yds.
RB Rec. TDs
2019 Vikings 16 26.38 124.06 1.06 5.06 6.25 44.13 0.06
2020 Browns 16 26.88 132.63 1.13 3.63 4.63 29.38 0.31
Stefanski's Career Averages (OC/HC) 35 26.4 127.51 1.09 4.26 5.31 36.14 0.17

WR Impact

Year Games WR Rec. WR Targets WR Rec. Yds. WR Rec. TDs
2019 Vikings 16 8.56 13.06 133.88 1
2020 Browns 16 10.19 15.38 144.63 0.75
Stefanski's Career Averages (OC/HC) 35 9.34 14.34 135.71 0.91

TE Impact

Year Games TE Rec. TE Targets TE Rec. Yds. TE Rec. TDs
2019 Vikings 16 5.19 6.56 46 0.5
2020 Browns 16 5.63 8.69 56.06 0.56
Stefanski's Career Averages (OC/HC) 35 5.46 7.54 52.86 0.54

 

Kevin Stefanski Takeaways & Expectations

Kevin Stefanski has accomplished more in his one year as a head coach than any Browns coach in the last 20 years has and accomplished the impossible - take the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs and win a playoff game. His offense was a big reason for the team's success last year. The team had a near 50/50 pass-run ratio - finishing the regular season with 501 passing attempts and 495 rushing attempts.

Stefanski has taken this approach his whole career even dating back to his days as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator. His team has averaged just 29.97 passing attempts per game over the 35 games he's been a play-caller, and while his quarterbacks have been efficient, this passing volume makes it tougher for his quarterbacks to put up big fantasy passing numbers. In addition, Stefanski's quarterbacks haven't brought a lot of value on the ground, averaging just 2.8 carries per game over the course of his career.

Based on all this information on Kevin Stefanski's play-calling tendencies, starting quarterback Baker Mayfield is likely to be a better real-life quarterback than a great fantasy football quarterback. If you are playing in a fantasy football league, Mayfield should be valued in the QB2 range.

Looking at the running back position, Kevin Stefanski's system is one of the best in the business for producing high-level performers. His offense provides many opportunities for his running backs to score with his running backs averaging 1.09 rushing touchdowns per game over the 35 games he's coached. He's also provided his running backs with more carries than the typical play-caller in every season he's been in the league.

This level of usage is extremely encouraging for the Browns running backs fantasy prospects. But overall, what percentage of the carries go to one running back versus Stefanski conducting a running back by committee approach?

Stefanski has given his season carry leader about 53.5% of the team's season tailback carries over the course of his career as an offensive coordinator or head coach. It is important to note that in the graph Kareem Hunt was considered the 'lead back' for 2020 because Nick Chubb missed four games (Hunt had 198 carries and Chubb had 190 carries) and Hunt played in every single game. Chubb will be the lead back in the 2021 season and should see more than 250 carries if he plays in every game, but both players will have decent workloads.

The one big knock on Stefanski's running backs is that he hasn't featured them very much in the passing game relative to other play-callers. Over the course of his career, Stefanski's running backs have averaged just 5.31 targets per game. When compared to the league-average numbers in 'The Baseline' section, it's clear that these numbers are below-average and Stefanski's offense won't be giving his running backs much work through the air.

Overall, Stefanski gives his running backs an extraordinary amount of carries and a slightly below-average amount of passing work. From a fantasy perspective, Nick Chubb should find himself as a strong RB1 and Kareem Hunt should be valued in the low-end RB2/high-end FLEX range of running backs.

How Stefanski has utilized his wide receivers is not nearly as positive as to how he has utilized his running backs. In his career as an offensive play-caller, Stefanski's wide receiver room has averaged just 14.34 targets per game. For reference, the average wide receiver room averaged 19.59 targets per game in 2019 and 20.21 targets per game in 2020.

This usage is extremely concerning for Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry's fantasy prospects. Both receivers are capable of finishing in the WR2/FLEX range just based on pure talent, but they have more of an uphill battle to hitting their fantasy ceiling than other receivers on pass-happy teams.

Finally, Kevin Stefanski's tight end usage has been fairly pedestrian in his time as an offensive play-caller, with his tight end room receiving 7.54 targets per game over the course of his career.

This usage shows there is room for a Browns tight end to be a TE1. But the problem is that the Browns have three capable tight ends in Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku. Having three quality options at the position will dilute the workload enough so that none of the Browns tight ends will be more than a streaming option.

 

2021 Offensive Coordinator: Alex Van Pelt

Alex Van Pelt has been an offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills (2009) and Cleveland Browns (2020). Let's dive into some statistics from his time as an offensive coordinator.

QB Impact

Year Games Team Pass Att. Team Pass Yds. Team Pass TDs QB Carries QB Rush Yds. QB Rush TDs
2009 Bills 16 27.56 174.31 1.06 3 15.25 0.06
2020 Browns 16 31.31 231.31 1.69 3.38 10.31 0.06
Van Pelt's Career Averages (OC/HC) 32 29.44 202.81 1.38 3.19 12.78 0.06

RB Impact

Year Games RB Carries RB Rush Yds. RB Rush TDs RB Rec. RB Targets RB Rec. Yds.
RB Rec. TDs
2009 Bills 16 22.63 95.88 0.25 4.63 6.19 34.38 0.13
2020 Browns 16 26.88 132.63 1.13 3.63 4.63 29.38 0.31
Van Pelt's Career Averages (OC/HC) 32 24.75 114.25 0.69 4.13 5.41 31.88 0.22

WR Impact

Year Games WR Rec. WR Targets WR Rec. Yds. WR Rec. TDs
2009 Bills 16 8.25 16.25 111.56 0.81
2020 Browns 16 10.19 15.38 144.63 0.75
Van Pelt's Career Averages (OC/HC) 32 9.22 15.81 128.09 0.78

TE Impact

Year Games TE Rec. TE Targets TE Rec. Yds. TE Rec. TDs
2009 Bills 16 2.63 4.44 23.38 0.06
2020 Browns 16 5.63 8.69 56.06 0.56
Van Pelt's Career Averages (OC/HC) 32 4.13 6.56 39.72 0.31

 

Alex Van Pelt Takeaways & Expectations

Alex Van Pelt will be following Kevin Stefanski's lead since Stefanski is the team's current play-caller, but it's important to look at Van Pelt's history as an offensive coordinator just in case he needs to call some plays. Alex Van Pelt initially got thrown into the offensive coordinator role back in 2009 with the Buffalo Bills just days before the season began after Turk Schonert was fired. With that team, Van Pelt tried to minimize the passing attack as much as possible with the team averaging just 27.56 passing attempts per game.

The Browns took a similar approach last year with Van Pelt as the offensive coordinator, as the team averaged just 31.31 passing attempts per game. Based on this information, if Van Pelt ends up calling the plays in 2021 the passing philosophy should largely remain the same - low volume and high efficiency.

Looking at the running back position, Alex Van Pelt has done a pretty good job giving the position work. His running backs have averaged 0.69 rushing touchdowns per game and he's seen an average of 24.75 carries per game over the course of his two years as an offensive coordinator.

This usage is very encouraging to see because it means that even if Kevin Stefanski passes off the offensive play-calling duties to Van Pelt, the team will still give their running backs a fair amount of work on the ground. But how would that work potentially be distributed on the ground between the backs?

The data suggests that Van Pelt is as comfortable taking both a bell-cow approach as he is taking more of a running back by committee approach. Back in 2009 with the Buffalo Bills Van Pelt's offense gave Fred Jackson 237 carries of the team's 362 season tailback carries (65.4%). In 2020 with the Cleveland Browns, they took a two-headed monster approach with Kareem Hunt receiving 198 carries (16 games) and Nick Chubb receiving 190 carries (12 games). The 2021 season should meet somewhere in the middle of these two distributions with Nick Chubb fully healthy.

Finally, much like Stefanski, Alex Van Pelt doesn't feature his running backs frequently in the passing game with his tailbacks seeing 6.19 targets per game with the Bills in 2009 and 4.63 targets per game with the Browns in 2020.

Overall, Alex Van Pelt appears to have similar beliefs in how to utilize the team's running backs as head coach Kevin Stefanski does. This bodes well for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and means they will get frequent usage even if the play-caller changes.

Looking at how Alex Van Pelt has utilized his wide receivers, like Stefanski it is very low volume. In 2009 with the Buffalo Bills, Van Pelt's wide receiver room saw just 16.25 targets per game. In 2020 with the Cleveland Browns, the team provided its wide receivers with just 15.38 targets per game.

Much like Kevin Stefanski, Alex Van Pelt hasn't really seen a large workload from his wide receiver room in his time as an offensive coordinator. This means that you shouldn't expect any major changes in wide receiver usage if Alex Van Pelt ends up calling the plays for the Browns at any point this season.

Finally looking at the tight end position, Van Pelt's offense didn't target them much in 2009 with the team averaging just 4.44 tight end targets per game.

While the lack of talent at the tight end position for the 2009 Bills likely played a factor in this decision-making, it is important to keep this in mind. If Alex Van Pelt ever becomes the primary play-caller of the Browns it could result in Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku being less frequently utilized.

 

Fantasy Relevant Players: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Andy Janovich, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Anthony Schwartz, Demetric FeltonAustin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku

 

2021 Defense

2021 Defensive Coordinator: Joe Woods

Prior to being hired as the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator in 2020, Woods had previously served as a defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos (2017-2018). Let's take a look at some of the team defensive statistics of some of these teams during his time as a defensive coordinator.

Year Games Points Allowed Pass Yds Given Up Run Yds Given Up Plays Against Yds/Play Turnovers Forced
2018 Broncos 16 21.81 245.56 119.56 63.88 5.72 1.75
2020 Browns 16 26.19 247.63 110.81 64.69 5.54 1.31
Woods's Career Averages (DC/HC) 48 23.96 231.27 106.58 62.69 5.39 1.38

Looking at his career averages, Joe Woods has gotten solid production out of his defenses in the three years he's been a defensive coordinator. But there is some reason for concern. In his first season as the Browns defensive coordinator last year, the Browns ranked 21st in points allowed (26.19) and were particularly suspect against the pass, ranking 22nd. The team was dealing with quite a few injuries on the defensive side of the ball last year - particularly in the secondary, which may have played a factor in these rankings. Right now we should view Joe Woods as a mediocre defensive coordinator who should bounce back a bit in 2021 but will be heavily dependent on the amount of talent the team has on defense. The 2021 defense should have some talent - especially after signing Jadeveon Clowney - and for that reason, the Browns D/ST should be considered a solid D/ST flier late in fantasy drafts and a strong streaming option during the 2021 NFL season.

 

Other Notable Assistants

Special Teams Coordinator: Mike Priefer - Mike Priefer has been the special teams coordinator of the Cleveland Browns since 2019. He's been a special teams coordinator at the NFL level since 2006, spending time with the Kansas City Chiefs (2006-2008), Denver Broncos (2009-2010), and the Minnesota Vikings (2011-2018) prior to joining the Browns.

RB Coach: Stump Mitchell - Stump Mitchell has been the running backs coach of the Cleveland Browns since 2019. He's coached running backs in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks (1999-2007), Washington Redskins (2008-2009), Arizona Cardinals (2013-2016), and New York Jets (2017-2018) prior to joining the Browns. Mitchell is also the team's run game coordinator and was an NFL running back for 10 seasons with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals (1981-1989) and the Kansas City Chiefs (1991).

WR Coach: Chad O'Shea - Chad O'Shea joined the Browns in 2020 as the passing game coordinator and as a wide receivers coach. He has previously been a wide receivers coach for the Minnesota Vikings (2006-2008) and the New England Patriots (2009-2018). O'Shea was also the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator during the 2019 NFL season.

TE Coach: Drew Petzing - Drew Petzing has been the Browns tight ends coach since 2020. Before joining the Browns, he spent six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings working with wide receivers and quarterbacks.

OL Coach: Bill Callahan - Bill Callahan has been coaching football since 1978, and has been the Browns offensive line coach since 2020. Widely regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league, Callahan was an offensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles (1995-1997), Oakland Raiders (1999-2001), New York Jets (2008-2011), Dallas Cowboys (2012-2014), and the Washington Redskins (2015-2019) prior to joining the Browns last year. He's also held roles as a head coach with Oakland Raiders (2002-2003) and as an offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001) and the Dallas Cowboys (2012-2014).

DL Coach: Chris Kiffin - Chris Kiffin has been coaching since 2005. In the NFL, he's spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an offseason quality control intern (2006), the San Francisco 49ers as a pass rush specialist (2018-2019), and with the Cleveland Browns as the defensive line coach (2020-Present).

LB Coach: Jason Tarver - Jason Tarver became the Cleveland Browns linebackers coach in 2020. He's previously worked in a variety of roles with the San Francisco 49ers (2001-2010, 2015-2017) and as the defensive coordinator with the Oakland Raiders (2012-2014).

DB Coach: Jeff Howard - Jeff Howard joined the Cleveland Browns as the defensive backs coach in 2020. He's been coaching since 2007 and previously worked with the Minnesota Vikings in a variety of different roles (2013-2019).

 

Enjoy this series? Be sure to check out all of the other 'Coaching Matters' team previews: Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, and Tennessee Titans

 

Follow Eli Grabanski on Twitter: @3li_handles



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Kyle Pitts - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

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Tight end is one of the hardest positions to nail down, especially since different leagues have different settings. Tight End Premium has started to take off, giving an added boost to those top options. Most of the tight end landscape nowadays is boom-or-bust or middle-of-the-pack. Looking at tight ends in 2023 and the touchdowns they... Read More


Patrick Mahomes - Fantasy Football Rankings, DFS Lineup Picks, NFL Injury News

One-Man Mock Draft - Assembling the Greatest Fantasy Football Teams Ever

If you're a longtime fantasy football player, then you have been lucky enough to witness the game's greatest players deliver some incredible performances over the years. Perhaps they even helped you win a few fantasy football titles along the way.  But where would the greatest players and fantasy football heroes stack up if they were... Read More


2024 NFL Draft Bold Prediction: Which Sleeper Team Trades Up To Land Rome Odunze?

Football never sleeps at RotoBaller! With the 2024 NFL Draft just days away, we're digging into some potential teams that could be on the move in the first round. RotoBaller's David Rispoli breaks down the sleeper team that could trade up to draft Washington's star wide receiver Rome Odunze. Win MORE in 2024 with RotoBaller!... Read More


Who Offers The Best Value At Quarterback Right Now? 2024 Fantasy Football Outlook

Football never sleeps at RotoBaller! With some high-stakes best ball drafts already underway, we're digging into what the fantasy football landscape will look like in 2024. RotoBaller's David Rispoli breaks down the Quarterback who stands out as the best value on the board and is already his favorite QB target in early 2024 fantasy football... Read More


Who Offers The Best Value At Wide Receiver Right Now? 2024 Fantasy Football Outlook

Football never sleeps at RotoBaller! With some high-stakes best ball drafts already underway, we're digging into what the fantasy football landscape will look like in 2024. RotoBaller's David Rispoli breaks down the wide receiver that stands out as the best value on the board in early 2024 fantasy football drafts. Win MORE in 2024 with... Read More


Blake Corum - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, RB, NFL Draft Sleepers

Best Fantasy Landing Spots for Top Rookie RBs - 2024 NFL Draft

The 2024 NFL Draft is fast approaching. This year's draft class is filled with talented players, especially at the running back position, where there might not be a standout star, but there are a lot of really solid players. There are a number of places where each running back could land, but not all of... Read More


Re-Drafting The 2015 NFL Draft: Entire First Round Do-Over

We're just a few days away from the 2024 NFL Draft and this year's draft is looking like it'll be one of the most stacked draft classes on paper. The same was being said about the 2015 NFL Draft as well, and many analysts claimed the rivalry between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota would be... Read More


Ray Davis - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, RB, NFL Draft Sleepers

Five Late-Round Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers in the 2024 NFL Draft

We are less than a week away from the 2024 NFL Draft. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding who NFL teams are targeting. These questions will soon be answered. For fantasy football purposes, the NFL Draft allows us to spot potential sleepers who can make an impact in our leagues. Running backs are always... Read More