To be honest, this preview is incomplete. It will be until at least August 1, when Josh Gordon will have his suspension appeal. If Gordon plays, he’s a top-tier receiver and boosts the value of Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer while limiting Jordan Cameron’s upside. If he is indeed suspended for the entire season, we’re right back to where Cleveland was before it had Josh Gordon. Does anybody remember Greg Little?!
At this point, it looks like Gordon will be suspended, and probably for longer than the two-game stint he had to sit out last season. If your league has enough bench spots and a structure that would make a half-season of Gordon valuable, go for it. He’s an elite talent, and a 10th round ADP could be well worth it. Just make sure you’re willing to commit him to your team for his entire suspension.
QB: Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer
Be cautious when drafting Manziel in redraft leagues; he has the "upside" that fantasy players want but not the opportunity just yet. In keeper and dynasty leagues, he might be worth a pick, but the hype may be going a bit far. He is unlikely to repeat the rare rookie campaigns of Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, and is being compared to Griffin mostly because Griffin’s former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, is now calling plays for the Browns.
For now, Hoyer will be the starting quarterback for the Browns, but he isn’t likely to be a productive fantasy passer. He showed promise in the first two games he started, and sustained a season-ending injury in the third. He’ll most likely be missing Josh Gordon, and the fans will be rooting for the team to start Manziel. In my opinion, the most likely spot for a Hoyer benching is after the Browns’ week 3 game vs. the Ravens. Unfortunately, the Browns open against the Steelers, Saints, and Ravens, which are all tough pass defenses. Since the Browns have a bye in week 4, we may see Johnny Football starting against the Titans in week 5.
RB: Ben Tate, Terrance West
I'm not sure how much value the Cleveland running game will produce in 2014, but Tate vs. West will be one of the most-watched training camp battles. I give the edge to Tate here due to experience not only in the NFL but also with Kyle Shanahan's offense. This is probably West's job by next season, but the offensive line is solid and Tate should be a RB2/Flex when healthy.
WR: Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, and seven others under contract
As previously discussed, Gordon should be a worthy stash in redraft leagues if he can reduce his suspension. In PPR leagues, Hawkins is a must-draft and a lock for week-to-week consistency. He probably won’t score 10 touchdowns, but the volume is appealing. Austin is intriguing in daily leagues, but I have no problem with him as a late pick in redrafts. The injury is coming, and one just has to be ready to drop him at the right time.
Since Hawkins and Austin aren’t slam-dunks, there is a decent chance that one of the many other receivers on the Browns could make a splash in 2014. My favorite is ex-Redskin Anthony Armstrong, who is 31 years old but is a legitimate deep threat. Under Shanahan, he emerged as the Redskins’ second receiver in 2010 and caught 44 passes for 871 yards, good for 19.8 yards per catch. Keep an eye out for him in case he puts up numbers early in the season.
TE: Jordan Cameron
Even though Norv Turner is gone, Cameron should still be able to post a top-10 tight end season. He ranked middle-of-the-pack with efficiency in 2013, and struggled to repeat his early success after Josh Gordon came back from his suspension. On Fantasy Football Calculator 12 team mock drafts, he is being the 58th player selected and 5th tight end, which does not allow for much profit.
In the offseason, the Browns were able to replace the departed T.J. Ward with Donte Whitner, and add linebacker Karlos Dansby and cornerback Justin Gilbert. In my D/ST rankings, I placed the Browns 18th and outside the normal streaming class because of mediocrity against both the pass and the run. It’s just not an exciting defense once you get past Joe Haden.