Cleveland Browns rookie running back Terrance West is a strong-built, bruising ball-carrier who makes for an ideal backfield staple in the reputably physical AFC North division. In terms of immediate fantasy value, some are of the opinion that West is a sleeper to buy while his price isn't high.
That isn't the case. West's wear and tear, position on the depth chart, massive leap in competition and a number of other factors suggest the deck is stacked against him to succeed right away.
West is in a zone-blocking scheme drawn up by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, which translates well to the 5'9", 225-pounder's downhill running style. Several have been impressed with West's preseason form as well—another positive sign for his fantasy outlook:
Terrance West is a grown man. Mercy.— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) August 19, 2014
Terrance West running thirsty.— Ken Carman (@KenCarman) August 19, 2014
Glad to see Terrance West getting that pad level low in short yardage tonight. Good for him.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) August 19, 2014
With an ever-tenuous quarterback situation, though, it's hard to say with conviction that the Browns will be able to execute Shanahan's scheme in ideal fashion.
Veteran Brian Hoyer is a career backup who has never proven over any significant span of time that he's been NFL starting QB material. First-round rookie Johnny Manziel is exciting as a playmaker, yet in the preseason, he proved—and admitted—that he isn't ready to see the field as the face of the franchise.
This all impacts West. If Cleveland doesn't produce rather immediate results, a new offense could be in store soon enough. Should the quarterback play be shabby—if the preseason is any sign, it will be—the Browns won't pass it well enough to keep defenses honest. The defenses will load the box and dare Hoyer or Manziel to beat them with their arms.
Embracing contact in the FCS, to the tune of 413 carries in his final collegiate season, saw West shine and vault himself into the third round of the draft. Running through defenders comes a little easier at that level than it does in the NFL.
Especially with defenses stuffing the box, even someone with West's power, amid making such a massive competitive leap and being inexperienced in the pro game, will find it difficult to thrive. Pounding the rock so often at Towson means West will likely hit the rookie wall rather early in 2014, too.
That isn't to say West won't be productive down the road. It will just take patience for fantasy owners to see the dividends in a prospective West investment.
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Patience isn't a luxury the Browns have. They will do the best they can to compete now.
Coach Mike Pettine's predecessor, Rob Chudzinski, was out after just one season. The Browns have lost at least 10 games in each of the past six years. There is as much instability under center as there's ever been. No matter how good the defense is on paper, or how theoretically strong the rushing attack could be, those strengths will be irrelevant without strong quarterback play.
Ben Tate is entrenched as the starter and has done nothing to lose his job. All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas recently discussed how Tate has helped the Browns acclimate to yet another new system, per Cleveland.com's Tom Reed:
I think he's done a great job. He's the only guy on this team who has been in this offense and has experience running the wide-zone stuff. His knowledge and leadership in that regard has been invaluable. [...] He tells us what he wants to see from us and how he wants to approach different concepts. The big thing in the zone system is having the offensive line and the running backs on the same page and same landmarks on our defenders.
[...] I think he's done a great job for us so far. One of the bright spots on offense is how we've been able to run the ball with Ben back there and I expect him to have a great season for us.
Although he's been playing with backups oftentimes, West has nevertheless averaged less than three yards per carry on 18 attempts in the preseason thus far.
There haven't been any overly explosive plays to suggest West will be a smash hit in his maiden NFL season. Part of that is the quarterback play, along with the fact that Tate has outplayed West, meriting the chance to showcase his abilities with superior personnel blocking for him.
It's still difficult to tell what the Browns have in store for Dion Lewis. However, the 23-year-old—same age as West, with two NFL seasons played—would seem to offer more fantasy upside thanks to his receiving ability, particularly in PPR leagues.
DraftBrowns.com's Brendan Leister and Justin Higdon break down how Lewis has reestablished himself as a factor after breaking his leg in the 2013 preseason:
Admit Dion Lewis impressed/surprised me in pass pro on 1 play. Did a good job holding his ground. Defender called for illegal hands to face.— Brendan Leister (@BrendanLeister) August 20, 2014
52 snaps and 35 have been pass routes RT @JoshFin: Easily quantifies as one of my biggest surprises; how much burn Dion Lewis has had.— Justin Higdon (@afc2nfc) August 19, 2014
Lewis has the Browns' only preseason touchdown, on an eight-yard score that came after a Manziel screen pass and a number of broken tackles en route to pay dirt.
There have been some bright moments for West, yet nothing to endorse him as a viable fantasy flier. His power is the only asset that would offer West some goal-line potential. That's predicated on the Cleveland offense getting there with some regularity. A dearth of playmakers in the receiving corps makes such a proposition dubious.
West may be the feature back of the future in Cleveland, but despite some encouraging signs in the preseason, he isn't that player right now. Until Manziel or another viable QB option comes along, or until Tate or Lewis leave the rotation, West won't net much in terms of instant fantasy returns.