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Fantasy Football Offensive Evaluation: Cleveland Browns

The Browns did not finish last in the NFL in scoring last season, so they can say that. They might not necessarily be "proud" of that fact, but it is a fact. They finished second to last in scoring. Outside of one of the years biggest surprises at running back, there wasn't much to look to in Cleveland in terms of fantasy football.

They clearly had to make a change, and that change came in the form of new head coach and play-caller Pat Shurmur. He had been an offensive coordinator for just one year in St Louis before getting his first head coaching gig. Last year he helped guide the Rams offense to a +114 point turnaround, and they committed just 21 turnovers during the year despite having a rookie QB.

Shurmur will look for similar success in 2nd year pro Colt McCoy. Even though he was drafted 84 picks after Sam Bradford, McCoy had a decent rookie season and there's reason to believe that Shurmur could have similar offensive success with McCoy as he did with Bradford. He's the sixth head coach in Cleveland since 1999, so he'll need to find something that works if he wants to remain a head coach and not be the next Jim Zorn.


Colt McCoy

I'm really not sure what's not to like about a Texas Heisman-candidate quarterback that completed 70% of his passes in college, but I'm not an NFL scout. Probably for good reason, but I think some teams missed out on McCoy. Despite getting thrown into the fire during his rookie season, and on the Browns no less, he had an admirable year, completing 60.8% of his throws with 6 TD and 9 INTs in 8 games with over 1,500 yards.

He's going to have to learn a new offense to run, but if the first pre-season game was an indicator, he's doing just fine. He completed 9 of 10 passes for 135 yards and a score, the one incompletion having been batted down at the line. He's got good decision-making skills for a player his age, but the Browns still lack a go-to receiver to pair with McCoy. The Browns had options on draft day, but they passed on players like Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert because they clearly believe in McCoy and they also got a hefty bounty in return from the Falcons to trade out of the #7 spot. I think Colt is a good backup option in fantasy, someone to take a flier on in the late rounds of a deep league. His biggest issue will be if he has anyone worthy to throw to.

Running Back

Peyton Hillis

If history has taught us anything, it's that Hillis has a future in broadcasting. Why? Because he joins guys like Darryl Johnston, Larry Csonka, and Merril Hoge amongst the great white running backs of all-time. That's just science.

He rose past the label of being a "White guy, so he HAS to play fullback" throughout his career, being overshadowed by Felix Jones and Darren McFadden at Arkansas, being drafted by the Broncos in the 7th round, showing great promise in his rookie season and then a year later being traded to Cleveland for a 6th round pick so that the Broncos could start Knowshon Moreno, to becoming this years Madden coverboy. That's an incredible story. If there's ever a case of a job in America where it's the white guy that has to prove himself, it's the running back position.

He rushed 270 times for 1,177 yards, 11 TD, 61 catches for 477 yards and 2 more scores. This season he should get more carries, which could lead to some huge numbers for Peyton, but I do have a few concerns. I love Hillis and he helped me win a fantasy championship last season, but here's what I'm worried about: The pressure of finally going into the season as a featured back and Madden cover-boy, the new offense under Shurmur because you just never know what you're going to get, following up your first big season with another big season, the Browns throwing the ball a lot more than they run it because the Browns are going to lose a lot of games this year, in the last 5 games of 2010 he rushed for 272 yards and did not score. I'd comfortably draft Hillis at the end of the 1st round and I'd love it a lot more if I got him in the 2nd. He's a RB1 in my book, but I admit I'm going into that with caution.

Brandon Jackson

He was a 2nd round pick by the Packers in 2007 and rushed for 703 yards last season after Ryan Grant went down with injury. He's good at catching balls out of the backfield, but he averaged only 3.7 YPC and that was in Green Bay. I am not even sure I'd handcuff him to Hillis, because he may lose his backup job to...

Montario Hardesty

Drafted by the Browns in the 2nd round last year out of Tennessee, Hardesty has yet to play an NFL game because he tore his ACL in his very first pre-season game. He did not suit up for the Browns in their first pre-season game this year, but the difference between Jackson and Hardesty is this: We know what Jackson is, we have no idea what Hardesty is. I wouldn't draft him, I just wouldn't forget about him either.

Wide Receiver

Mohamed Massaquoi

He led Cleveland WRs in yards last season. He had 483 yards. These two facts are scary for Browns fans. He was a 2nd round pick in '09 out of Georgia, but he really caught our attention when he caught 8 passes for 148 yards in his 3rd NFL game. He caught only 1 pass in 2 of the next 3 games however. Last year his game high for catches was 5 and for yards was 81. He could still be a good sleeper, because of the new offense, Colt McCoy, and being the #1 option for now. But that's all he is, a very deep sleeper. He's not dead, but he's wearing one of those masks that people where when they go to sleep and you keep shaking him and shaking him and now you're a little worried but you never know when he'll pop right out of sleep and scare the crap out of you.

Greg Little

If Massaquoi is a deep sleeper, that makes Little straight comatosed. If we "know little" about Hardesty, then we're completely lost on Little, because he didn't even play for UNC last year after rules violations left him ineligible and yet he still got drafted in the 2nd round with the pick the Browns got from the Falcons.

He's impressed in camp and pre-season while Massaquoi is recovering from injury, so there's a good chance he could find his way into the starting lineup. As far as really deep sleepers go, Little makes quite an interesting case. As a potential #1 target for McCoy, and potentially drawing little (no pun intended) attention from the defense in the early going, he could be a sneaky play. If Hillis continues a dominant running game, it will open things up for the wideouts.

Josh Cribbs

He's already a bit of a legend as a kick returner, but Cribbs is continuing to try to make a Devin Hester like transition to wide receiver, and with the current situation as murky as it is in Cleveland, there's a chance he could find himself with a lot of opportunities this year. He's lightning fast and exciting in the open field, but can he outduel cornerbacks on a consistent basis? He had a career worst year returning kicks, averaging just over 20 yards per return and a long of just 37, after having a return of at least 90 yards in each of his first 4 seasons. He didn't do any better returning punts. He's an exciting player, but a risky play. And his downfall in special teams last year, plus the new rules about kicking off from the 35, show why it's not always a good idea to give high value to returners.

Tight End

Ben Watson

I think if Ben Watson was campaigning for you to draft him as your starting tight end it would go like this:

Hi there, I'm professional football player Ben Watson. It may surprise you to know that I've won a Super Bowl, I was a first round draft pick, and I was once 2nd on the Patriots in receiving yards. Yes, the New England Patriots. You've heard of them, right?

I know what you're thinking, "You mean you're Daniel Graham?"

No, my name is Ben Watson and I have moved on from the Patriots to the Cleveland Browns to be the number one option. Stop, don't turn the channel yet. I know, it's the Browns, but hear me out. We've got a new head coach and offensive coordinator and he plans to make the offense click like it never has before, with me as a top red zone target. Even if it is the Browns, it is still something.

Again my name is Ben. Watson. And I want you to make me your starting fantasy tight end. W-A-T-S-O-N. I think I'll be pretty okay.

That's his campaign slogan by the way. "I think I'll be pretty okay"

He easily led the Browns in receiving yards last season with 68 catches for 763 yards and 3 scores. It was his first year not being a Patriot, which could have been enough for any man to lose his mind when he realizes that he just went from New England to Cleveland, but he made up for it by getting the most opportunity of his career. How much he'll be utilized in the new offense is unknown for sure, but he caught 2 passes for 56 yards in the first preseason game.

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