Cleveland Browns: Ranking the Teams Best Fantasy Football Options

Brian KleinCorrespondent IIJune 20, 2012

Cleveland Browns: Ranking the Teams Best Fantasy Football Options

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    Over the past couple of seasons, the Cleveland Browns have seemed void of any reliable fantasy football options. 

    There has been the Peyton Hillis’ of the world, whom came unexpectedly into the fantasy football spotlight and then disappeared just as quickly. 

    At first glance, the 2012 Cleveland Browns roster might not seem to impress anyone who plays fantasy football. 

    But with Pat Shurmur coming into his second season as the Browns head coach and the addition of Brad Childress as the offensive coordinator, the Browns may not only surprise a lot of people on the football field but also in the fantasy numbers. 

    Over the next couple of slides let’s look at where Josh Cribbs, Phil Dawson, and other Cleveland Browns may surpass their fantasy football rankings.

    All fantasy football rankings courtesy of Jamey Eisenberg at CBS Sports.  For Dave Richard’s and Jamey Eisenberg’s complete 2012 fantasy rankings, please click here.

1. Phil Dawson, Kicker

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    Phil Dawson is one of the more reliable Cleveland Browns fantasy football starters for the 2012 football season. 

    Even though Dawson is ranked as the 30th kicker in this fantasy football class, the veteran is being undervalued. 

    Dawson is a career 83 percent field goal kicker that went 7-for-8 with field goals of 50-plus yards last season.

    The Browns offense should be improved this upcoming season and in turn, Dawson should get many more opportunities to kick field goals and extra points.

    Dawson kicked 20 extra points last season and, with the additions of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson to the Browns offense, that number should shoot up.

    At 37 years old, Dawson has shown no signs of slowing.  I would not expect Dawson to become a top-10 kicker at this point in his career, but I have no issue believing that he should fall into that next tier of fantasy kickers.

2. Trent Richardson, Running Back

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    No matter what aspect of football you look at, Trent Richardson has been grabbing all the headlines. 

    Richardson is a lock to be a starting caliber fantasy football running back.  Richardson is already ranked as the ninth fantasy football running back for the class of 2012.  A ninth place ranking for Richardson did surprise me.  Richardson's ranking places him above Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte

    That is a lot of faith to place in a rookie running back who has yet to even take a NFL snap with pads.  So I warn Browns fans out there, who have been waiting to own a Cleveland Brown starter: Wait on Richardson and do not feel the need to over-select him. 

    I still believe the Browns will place a carries limit on Richardson during his rookie season.  Thinking Richardson will be a 300-plus-carry back his first NFL season is a bit ridiculous.  Even looking back at Adrian Peterson in his rookie season, the Pro Bowl running back only averaged 17 carries a game. 

    Again, do not feel the need to jump on the Trent Richardson fantasy football bandwagon right away.  The kid is going to be a great running back, but like everything else, even that takes time.  I view Richardson, at best, being the 16th fantasy football running back for the class of 2012.

3. Cleveland Browns Defense/Special Teams

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    The Browns’ special teams took a step backward last season.  I believe the shortened offseason, rule changes and loss of Brad Seely affected this unit more than anyone could have anticipated.

    I expect Josh Cribbs and the Browns special teams to step up and take a stride toward the top of the NFL.    

    The defense was productive under new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.  The defense ranked second in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. 

    By no stretch of the imagination was the Browns defense perfect, but I feel strong strides will be made for the 2012 season.  These strides will be led by two individuals who should continue to stand out. 

    D'Qwell Jackson was second in the NFL in tackles with 158.  If he continues to stay healthy, there is no reason Cleveland fans and fantasy football owners should not expect more of the same from Jackson.

    Jabaal Sheard entered the NFL as a man on a mission.  The defensive end was credited with 55 tackles, 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.  The additions of Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker to the defensive end position should help Sheard to be even more dominant this upcoming season.

    The loss of nose tackle Phil Taylor will hurt the Browns up the middle but the Browns are much deeper across the board on defense, which includes the additions of defensive tackles Billy Winn and John Hughes to the Browns' front four. 

    A 30th ranking for the Browns defense and special teams rides on insulting.  I know the Browns struggled to force interceptions last season, but with an improved pass rush this should also improve.  I see the Browns being a top-12 fantasy football defense in 2012.

4. Cleveland Browns’ Wide Receivers

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    None of Cleveland’s wide receivers are going to make fantasy football owners forget Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson. 

    But I do believe the Browns have two wide receivers that are worth taking a flier on late in your fantasy football draft. 

    Greg Little

    Little possesses the most upside and potential of any of the Browns’ wide receivers.  As a rookie, Greg Little had 61 receptions for 709 yards and two receiving touchdowns. 

    The big question marks surrounding the second-year pro is has he straightened out his issues with dropped passes and have the Browns solved their quarterback conundrum?

    The addition of Brandon Weeden to the Browns' quarterback situation should help Little with both of these problems.  Weeden’s immense arm strength should help him deliver the ball to his wide receivers more consistently.  In turn, Little should become a more dependable pass catcher. 

    Little’s 43rd ranking seems to be correct for the wide receiver.  Any fantasy football owner should view Little as a third wide receiver that has the potential to start if everything comes together.

     Joshua Cribbs

    I realize Josh Cribbs is not the most traditional of NFL wide receivers, but he may just be the perfect late round choice that can take a fantasy football team over the top.

    Pat Shurmur limited what Cribbs was as a football player last season.  He attempted to make Cribbs a one-dimensional wide receiver.

    This is not what makes Josh Cribbs so great on a football field.  Shurmur and Childress need to allow Cribbs to once again line up all over the field.

    Even if Shurmur does not decide to use Cribbs in multiple positions, his value is still clear.  Cribbs was second on the Browns last season with 41 receptions and 518 yards.  His four receiving touchdowns were tied for first on the Browns.

    But that is not what makes Cribbs a valuable fantasy football choice.  Cribbs is also the Browns' lead kick and punt returner.  Essentially, owners of Cribbs can double-dip on his touchdown value.  Most standard fantasy football leagues award special teams' touchdowns to the individual player that scored that touchdown.

    Not ranking Cribbs in the top-80 fantasy football wide receivers is a vast understatement of his potential.  Josh Cribbs should always be viewed as a valuable bench option.  His play at wide receiver is going to increase and get better.  Plus, he should have a great season as Cleveland’s kick and punt returner, raising his fantasy value even higher.  

Potential Sleepers

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    If you are in a deep league, or want to keep an eye on a few potential Cleveland Browns sleepers, then here we go. 

    Jordan Cameron

    Cameron worked into the Browns' lineup last season after injuries to the other tight ends.  Cameron finished the 2011 season with six catches for 33 yards.

    The season statistics are not impressive under any standard but Cameron is a work in progress.  He did not play a lot of college football and the athletically-gifted tight end possesses all the skills needed to dominant within the NFL. 

    Pat Shurmur may have even noticed the signs of Jordan Cameron’s potential.  In an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, Shurmur stated;

    “The guy that looks way different is Jordan Cameron…  Oh, gosh—the size—and he’s had a great offseason.  He’s a guy that hadn’t played much football, so I think he’ll make a big improvement this year.”

    As a Browns fan, I know I am tired of waiting for Evan Moore to have a breakout season.  So with a solid offseason and preseason, Jordan Cameron can be the tight end that emerges as the replacement for Benjamin Watson.

    Cameron still continues to be an undrafted fantasy football wild card, but an individual who owners should keep an eye on.

    Montario Hardesty

    To call Hardesty’s NFL career unreliable is an understatement.  Hardesty has experienced injuries upon injuries and been disappointing every time he has seen the football field.

    But just maybe the addition of Trent Richardson and a healthy Brandon Jackson is exactly what Montario Hardesty needed.

    As I mentioned before, I believe the Browns will place a carries limit on rookie running back Trent Richardson.  One way they will try to keep Richardson from taking too many big hits is by allowing Montario Hardesty to be Richardson’s short-yardage back. 

    The Steelers have shown in the past with the combination of Jerome Bettis and Rashard Mendenhall that these short yardage backs are fantasy football vultures. 

    I can see Hardesty pilfering touchdowns away from Trent Richardson.  This will not make Richardson’s fantasy football owners happy but it will make Hardesty a great late round sleeper choice.

    Montario Hardesty is ranked as the 77th running back in the 2012 fantasy football class.  If Shurmur and Childress see Hardesty as a short-yardage option, then he will out produce his current ranking and be a nice backup running back for any fantasy football owner.