Cleveland Browns Fantasy Football Preview: Take These Guys at Your Peril
The Browns had another disappointing season in 2009; managing to finish 5-11 despite having one of the worst offenses in the league.
However, that record is a bit misleading, since it was aided by a four-game winning streak that featured victories over the Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders, and Jaguars at the end of the season.
Mike Holmgren was hired as the team’s president prior to the conclusion of last season, and he brought in Tom Heckert in as the team’s general manager. Despite the impressive pedigree of the team’s new management, the Browns figure to struggle once again in a very competitive AFC North in 2010 as they attempt to revitalize a roster that is devoid of playmakers on offense.
Jake Delhomme was signed from free agency to keep the quarterback seat warm while the team develops rookie third-round pick Colt McCoy. Delhomme is clearly a declining player, so it won’t be a surprise if the team turns to backup Seneca Wallace or McCoy at some point during 2010.
Despite an impressive season from Jerome Harrison, the Browns used a second-round pick on rookie runner Montario Hardesty, who they hope can supply the power running presence they lacked in 2009. There are concerns about Harrison’s ability to handle a heavy workload for an entire season, but he figures to get plenty of touches, especially on receiving downs.
The Browns feature a young, unproven group of wide receivers in Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Chansi Stuckey, and rookie sixth-round pick Carlton Mitchell. They are joined by veteran Bobby Engram, who will likely battle Stuckey for the slot receiver role.
Barring an unexpected breakout season by one of the younger players, the Browns figure to once again have one of the worst groups of wide receivers in the league.
Ben Watson was signed to start at tight end, though he failed to make the most of his natural talent during his stay with the Patriots. Perhaps a scenario change will revitalize his career. Evan Moore showed some impressive receiving ability as a rookie in 2009, but he leaves something to be desired as a blocker.
Barring a strong comeback season from Delhomme and unexpected production from the team’s wide receivers, the Browns figure to struggle in the passing game in 2010. That will force head coach Eric Mangini to rely on the running game behind an offensive line that struggled at times during 2009.
Add it all up, and it won’t be a surprise if the Browns come close to duplicating their offensive performance in 2009 when they scored a paltry 19 offensive touchdowns.
Delhomme has been horrible for the last season-and-a-half on a Panthers team with an outstanding rushing attack, a solid offensive line, and Steve Smith at wide receiver.
In 2010, he moves to a Browns team that has a depth chart at wide receiver that is absolutely scary in that it had the worst passing offense in the league last year with a woeful 129.8 yards per game, was the only team to complete fewer than 50 percent of their passes, averaged a league-worst 5.1 yards per attempt, and had the second-lowest number of touchdown passes with 11.
There’s no point in adding much more, considering that only Delhomme’s relatives were thinking about adding him to their fantasy squads in 2010.
There are some that think Wallace is in Cleveland to compete with Jake Delhomme for the starting position, but that may be a stretch. Instead, look for Wallace to be used extensively in the wildcat formation and perhaps even in running the option.
In addition, he has experience at wide receiver, so he could be used in that manner when the defense thinks a wildcat play is being run. Even if Wallace were to win the starting job, it’s extremely unlikely that he would be worth owning in fantasy leagues.
Harrison is coming off a surprisingly productive 2009 season after suffering through three seasons of relative inactivity for the Browns.
He finished last season with 862 rushing yards to go along with 220 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns in only seven starts, and he had been touted as a breakout candidate in 2010. However, of his 150 fantasy points from last year, 89 came in three games against the Chiefs, Raiders, and Jaguars; it’s hard to ignore that he failed to win significant playing time from an aging Jamal Lewis in 2007 and 2008.
Harrison is also a leftover from the previous management regime in Cleveland, and the new group headed by Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert traded up in the second round to draft Montario Hardesty.
Did we mention Harrison plays in the Browns popgun offense led by Jake Delhomme? To summarize: Bad offensive team, solid play for half a year out of four seasons, and the team’s new management has drafted his replacement.
By mid-year, Harrison could be coming off the bench in a change-of-pace, pass-catching role. While Harrison has an opportunity to produce in 2010, he is a player who carries significant risk and will likely be drafted before he should be based only on his 2009 production.
Here’s the good news: The Browns traded up in the second round to draft Hardesty, new Browns general manager Tom Heckert said he views Hardesty as a feature back, and president Mike Holmgren thinks he can be special.
Of course, they drafted him, so what else are they going to say?
Now the bad news: He needs to supplant Jerome Harrison, he had an injury-plagued college career, and the Browns offense has serious deficiencies at quarterback and wide receiver.
In fact, by season’s end, they may have the worst production in the league at those positions. While Hardesty has appeal in keeper leagues, he is unlikely to provide solid production during his rookie year in Cleveland.
With Massaquoi, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Is he the player who had a productive rookie season with 624 yards, three touchdowns, and a nifty 18.4 yards per catch average, despite playing on a bad team with poor quarterback play? Or is he a marginally talented player who put up some decent numbers because the Browns didn’t have anybody else to throw to?
At 6’2” and 207 pounds, he has good size and displayed some big play ability as a rookie. However, he was very inconsistent, with a large portion of his production (407 yards and two touchdowns) coming in four games—the only games in which he topped 40 yards receiving.
In addition, his average yards per catch as a rookie may be deceiving since he doesn’t possess great deep speed. Nonetheless, he projects as the Browns top wide receiver in 2010 and as a low-end WR4 with limited upside.
Robiskie came into the league last year with the reputation of the most polished rookie receiver in the draft. However, that analysis was proven wrong when he failed to earn a meaningful role on a Browns team that may have had the worst group of wide receivers in the league.
Despite being the fourth pick in the second round and possessing decent speed, he was active for only 11 games—many of which he barely played—and caught a mere seven passes for 106 yards. He was targeted only 21 times.
Barring major improvement during the offseason, along with a solid training camp, he does not currently project as a player worth drafting in any but the deepest of fantasy leagues.
Cribbs has displayed some obvious big-play ability, but the most yards from scrimmage he has had in a season over his five-year career came last year when he totaled 516. In the previous four years, his combined total was 292 total yards.
Although the Browns list him as a wide receiver, there is little doubt that his biggest potential for fantasy purposes lies in his ability as a running back. With Jerome Harrison showing only a solid half-season out of four full years in the league, Montario Hardesty having a history of injuries, Peyton Hillis being a marginal talent, and James Davis coming off a wasted rookie season, Cribbs could get a shot for some carries at running back.
It’s a long shot at best, but it would be interesting to see what he could do if given an opportunity.
For one season, Stuckey was reasonably decent as a third receiver on a 2008 Jets offense that put up solid passing numbers. However, the Jets gave up on him after he started three of four games with minimal impact.
He’s a marginal talent at best and isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot in 2010—although head coach Eric Mangini brought him in, which helps his situation. The Browns passing offense figures to be horrid, so there are no tailwinds to help Stuckey’s fantasy production like there were when he was with the Jets.
Watson brings his tantalizing speed to a Browns roster desperate for receiving help. However, he failed to flourish during his six seasons in the pass-heavy Patriots offense.
While he may get more opportunities in Cleveland given the state of the team’s wide receivers, most of his fantasy production in New England came on touchdowns, and he will likely have fewer scoring opportunities in Cleveland.
For fantasy purposes, he is a low-end backup tight end who possesses little upside.
Moore looks the part of a solid pass catcher and figures to get some opportunities with the Browns in 2010. Unfortunately, they signed Ben Watson to take over as the team’s starting tight end, and Jake Delhomme is at quarterback.
Keep your eye on Moore as a potential waiver pick-up or bye-week filler, considering the skills he showed last season.
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