The table is set for a monster offensive season in Cleveland. New HC Kevin Stafanski is perhaps the single best match for QB Baker Mayfield. After a disappointing 2019 season, helmed by HC Freddie Kitchens and OC Todd Monken, chief strategy officer and analytics guru Paul DePodesta won the internal power struggle going down in the Browns’ front office. DePodesta fired Kitchens and Monken and brought in 2019 Vikings’ OC Kevin Stefanski, a professed proponent of analytics usage, as head coach who will assume full control of play calling duties.
The impacts of Stefanski’s system can hardly be overstated. In Sharp Football’s 2020 Football Preview, Warren Sharp outlines just how bad Baker Mayfield is in three-wide receiver sets — the heavily preferred personnel group of the 2019 Browns. The great news is that Mayfield thrives in two-tight end sets. Last year as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski utilized three-wide receivers sets 35% less than the league average while utilizing two-tight end the second most, 14% higher than league average.
As the quarterback goes, so does his pass catchers. Odell Beckham Jr., now fully healthy after a hernia plagued him throughout the 2019 season, is set to take on the dynamic, downfield “Stefon Diggs” role in the Stafanski offense. Jarvis Landry, expected to take over the “Adam Thielen” slot role, is recovering from hip surgery. His recovery is progressing nicely but it’s not guaranteed he’ll be ready for Week 1. When healthy though, Landry and Beckham will absolutely dominate snaps. Tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku should also regularly show up in Cleveland’s box scores as the offense takes on Sharp Football’s worst slate of expected pass defenses (in terms of efficiency) in 2020. RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt create an RB1/RB2-flex duo.
Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule:
- 3rd softest overall schedule
- 7th softest in terms of the opponent’s overall defensive efficiency
- 5th softest blend of pass defenses
- The softest(!) in terms of the opponent’s pass defense efficiency
- 8th softest blend of rush defenses
- 12th toughest in terms of the opponent’s rush defense efficiency
- 3rd softest in terms of the opponent’s overall offensive efficiency
- 3rd softest in terms of the opponent’s offensive pass efficiency
- Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s offensive rush efficiency
Although Baker Mayfield isn’t expected to be a high-volume passer, as the running backs are featured in Stefanski’s system, his expected efficiency should not be in question. Mayfield’s 12 personnel (two-wide receiver/two-tight end) prowess is as good as it gets and his pass catching corps is loaded from top to bottom. An important note made in Sharp Football’s 2020 Football Preview that wasn’t mentioned above: Mayfield’s sack rate drastically drops in 12 personnel as well. Although many still believe sacks are a concrete product of the offensive line, data shows that sacks are much more a quarterback-based stat. The implication here is that Mayfield gets sacked less in 12 personnel because he’s more comfortable than when he’s in 11 personnel — he’s firing on all cylinders rather than feeling out of sorts. Fewer sacks and higher production go hand-in-hand. The incoming swisscheese slate of pass defenses (listed above, via Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule metrics) enhances his box score outlook. Having scared drafters off after the Browns’ cataclysmic 2019 season, Mayfield is the type of target late round-QB drafters should be looking for. His .5PPR 10.05, QB15 ADP is a reasonable price to pay for him.
Despite missing two games last year, Stefanski’s lead back Dalvin Cook still finished as the overall RB5. Stefanski’s current lead back, Nick Chubb, is in line for 20+ touch workloads this season, against moderate run defenses, as the focal point of the Browns’ offensive attack. No. 2 back Kareem Hunt is a superior pass catcher to Chubb though and he should see somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 touches — a total that will likely bring weekly RB2/flex value. Hunt is also a talented ballcarrier so don’t think he’ll be limited to just passing game work. It’s quite possible that the Chubb/Hunt duo ends up leading the rest of the NFL’s backfield in both yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. Although it would be nice if Hunt wasn’t siphoning targets from Chubb, Chubb is still worthy of his .5PPR 1.12, RB8 ADP. Hunt’s weekly flex appeal combined with his RB1 potential were Chubb to miss time likewise affirms his own .5PPR ADP of 7.01, RB29.
After a brief NFL interlude, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are ready to return to the college dominance that the duo exhibited with two team-leading seasons in 2012 and 2013 at LSU. Reunited in 2019, Beckham Jr. and Landry will gobble up snaps and targets as the Browns’ 1-2 punch at receiver in 2020. With eight combined Pro Bowls between the two of them — and two 2nd-team All Pro nods for Beckham Jr. — we know how talented these players are. It speaks volumes about Beckham Jr. that a 74-catch, 1,035-yard, 4 touchdown season was a down year for him. Landry meanwhile, continues to shine as an always-open slot receiver, perennially racking up gaudy reception totals. Expect Landry to lead the team in targets this season, paying huge dividends on his .5PPR 7.03, WR30 ADP. Beckham Jr. may not quite see the target volume that Landry will but the value of his targets will be higher as the “Stefon Diggs” downfield role should lead to frequent chunk gains for Beckham Jr. Shed your fears of a repeat 2019-performance and draft Beckham Jr. at his current .5PPR 3.04, WR9 ADP.
Rashard Higgins has reportedly repelled rookie Donavan Peoples-Jones in the fight for the team’s No. 3 WR job. Given the expected two-wide receiver usage though, Higgins is unlikely to hold much standalone value.
Preseason darling Taywan Taylor is buried on the depth chart.
Incumbent tight end David Njoku attempted to force a trade from the Browns recently, with newly acquired 2019-breakout Austin Hooper and Baker Mayfield developing a strong rapport. It appears as though the desire for a trade has quieted though as Njoku is practicing. The duo should see a high-volume of snaps this season, making both of them fantasy relevant. However, of the two, Hooper is the only one who’s had a truly standout season as a pass catcher. Hooper is a great option at TE with his reasonable .5PPR ADP of 8.02, TE11. With the trade attempt and the appearance of playing second fiddle, Njoku is largely going undrafted. Given his own talent-based potential and the expectation of heavy two-tight end usage, Njoku is a worthwhile late round flyer.
3rd on the tight end depth chart is 2019 John Mackey Award winner (given to the top tight end in college football) is the Browns 2020 4th Round pick, Harrison Bryant. Bryant led Florida Atlantic University with an absurd 65 catches, 1,004 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns. Those numbers placed Top 5 or better in all 3 categories, across the Conference USA. Bryant has drawn praise from decorated veteran guard Joel Bitonio and would immediately step into action, were either Hooper or Njoku to miss time, as a fantasy TE2 streaming option.
Update 9/1/20: We can add the Maurice Bassett Award to Harrison Bryant’s trophy case as the Browns awarded him the award for “standout training camp performance”.
Austin Siebert is exactly the kind of fantasy option at kicker that we’re looking for: a good kicker on offense projected to score a lot of points.
The Browns D/ST is more of a matchup-based streaming option rather than a set-it-and-forget it one.