Cleveland Browns: Six Underrated Fantasy Football Options
The most important sports-related question on our minds this summer: Will there be NFL football in 2011? The second most important sports-related question on all of our minds this summer: Will there be fantasy football in 2011?
As with the real thing, when it comes to fantasy football this year, we're looking at a 'hope for the best, prepare for the worst' scenario. Still, the lockout can't stop us from getting ready for our all-important fantasy drafts for this upcoming season based on the good faith belief that there will be real football as well.
So in the spirit of fantasy football, it's time to start fantasizing about our 2011 fantasy teams. And what do the Browns have to offer?
Expect to overpay for fantasy stud Peyton Hillis if you want him badly enough, but if you're looking to pick up some Browns in the later rounds for less cash, here are some surprising underdogs from the Browns roster who just might turn out to be fantasy surprises this season.
Author's Note: When citing fantasy football projected rankings for 2011, I used the fantasy football player ranker on CBSSports.com, which can be found here.
1. WR Greg Little
In their rankings for wide receivers for 2011, CBSSports.com ranks Browns rookie Greg Little 59th out of the 80 receivers included. That makes him the top-ranked receiver on the Browns, but not particularly well-ranked across the league.
As we've discussed before, it's tough to predict stats for a rookie receiver, particularly one surrounded by a lot of other young players on his team's offense. Still, I took a shot at it in a piece written about two weeks ago, basing the numbers on what I believe to be comparably talented players in comparable offenses during their rookie seasons.
That left me with the following projected totals for Little: 60-70 receptions, 800 yards and five TDs for the more basic stats. While those numbers won't have you bypassing Andre Johnson for him, they do make Little a steal at the 59th slot for wide receivers. He's priced at $1 in the rankings—quite a steal if he can hit or exceed these totals.
2. TE Ben Watson
As we've all lamented over and over when worrying about the Browns' receiving corps, TE Ben Watson beat them all in pretty much every stat category by a huge margin last season, logging 68 receptions, 763 yards and three TDs.
CBS Sports ranks him 27th out of the top 32 tight ends in the league. Obviously, another three-touchdown season isn't going to seal your league victory in fantasy football this season, but as the Browns appear to be getting better this year, Watson may find himself in the end zone more often accordingly.
His other numbers aren't bad, and are actually better than those of some of the TEs ranked ahead of him. Obviously fantasy football, like real football, can't be predicted on stats from the year before alone, but at least in fantasy, a player's numbers from his previous season generally get you closer to the mark.
Watson isn't young, but he's not yet to the point where you'd expect his numbers to decline, so there's no evidence his totals will drop based on ability to perform.
The only thing that might hurt Watson and his stats? Yep, his own teammates. Watson had to do it all last year—he had very little help from other TEs and receivers. With a better team in place and a QB who likes to spread the ball around, it's possible that Watson's numbers will drop at the expense of others' numbers going up.
But then again, if this team is as good as we hope they are, ALL of the team's ball catchers' numbers should go up. At any rate, with a 27th-place ranking and no dollar value assigned, Watson could be a steal in your draft if he even gets close to his totals from last season.
3. WR Brian Robiskie
WR Brian Robiskie hasn't exactly been impressive in his first two seasons in Cleveland. He had just 29 receptions, 310 yards and three TDs in 2010. Hence why he's ranked 77th among WRs by CBS Sports.
There's no denying Robiskie fully deserves that ranking going into 2011. He's never proved he can do any better. But those of us who watch the Browns closely have sensed a possible breakout for Robiskie this season. He improved at the end of 2010, has worked hard this offseason at Camp Colt and will be part of an revamped offense much more suited to his strengths with the Browns in 2011.
Among Browns receivers, his 77th ranking was second behind Greg Little. Mohammed Massaquoi was not among the top 80 players CBSSports ranked.
I don't mean to suggest that Robiskie is going to be what you'd call a fantasy stud in 2011. That's extremely unlikely. But he could very well be a great depth guy who you could pick up in the late rounds for pennies on the dollar. Given where he's ranked now, if he can give you 400-plus yards and a five-spot of TDs, he's not a bad deal for his projected draft slot.
He could make a great injury sub later in the season or a bench player to absorb the blow caused when you have multiple receivers with a bye in the same week.
4. QB Colt McCoy
CBS Sports ranks second-year quarterback Colt McCoy 29th out of 32 QBs in the league. If there's anyone in Cleveland who believes that's even close to accurate, I will be shocked.
McCoy is obviously still learning, but I very much doubt we'll see 28 quarterbacks in the NFL perform better than him this season, in terms of real or fantasy football.
Last season McCoy had six TDs, nine INTs and 1,576 yards in eight games. He will easily more than double those totals this season, and that's a conservative estimate. His numbers, even if they match my most optimistic estimates, won't have you hemming and hawing over whether to draft him instead of Tom Brady, but they should have you drafting him easily at least before about a third of the other QBs in the league.
McCoy is certainly not a good target for a very early-round fantasy pick, if for no other reason than that the type of offense the Browns plan to run isn't the sort that will likely run up massive stat totals for QB even if it functions successfully. But should McCoy be the 27th quarterback selected in your fantasy draft?
Put it this way: shame on you if you let him stay on the board anywhere near that long on draft day.
5. WR Carlton Mitchell
Ladies and gentlemen, meet your fantasy football long shot: the speedy but unproven Carlton Mitchell.
WR Carlton Mitchell saw virtually no playing time last season during his rookie year. Accounts differ on whether this was because former coach Eric Mangini had a bizarre stubbornness about starting rookies or whether this was because Mitchell couldn't hang onto the ball.
The reality of the situation may be somewhere in between, but the truth is we won't know until we see him in game action this year. What we do know, however, is that Mitchell is one of the hardest workers and one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated players on the team. He's been working his tail off at Camp Colt and is in impossibly good shape from extra workouts. In other words, he'll be the best player he can be in 2011. We just don't know what that means yet.
With his speed and athleticism, if Mitchell can catch and hang onto the ball, he should be good for some decent fantasy totals. I don't know how often he'll get to the end zone, but he could rack up 500 yards in a best-case scenario. That's unlikely of course (I'd guess more like 300 yards, realistically), but It all hinges on how much playing time Mitchell gets, which is impossible to determine at this point.
He'd be too much of an unknown to pick up blind if your draft was today, but luckily, we should have a lot better idea of how much Mitchell will be on the field by the time fantasy drafts roll around (assuming the preseason happens on time).
One thing is for certain: Mitchell will give 200 percent effort every time he sees game action. That's not enough to warrant drafting him until the very late rounds, but he could be a surprise steal at a very low price in 2011 fantasy football.
6. Browns DST
Perhaps the greatest underrated fantasy option the Browns have to offer in 2011? Their defense/special teams.
Obviously the new kickoff rules will affect the 's' part of these points, just as they will in an actual football game, but luckily that's a level playing field for every team, so it won't affect DST rankings at all.
Based on last year's numbers and early projections for this year, the Browns DST ranks 23rd of 32 on CBS Sports. To me, it might be the most inaccurate ranking for any of the Browns for fantasy purposes.
I won my fantasy league last season with the Browns as my DST. Now, before you ask if that was because my team was the only one in the league, I'll concede that it wasn't the Browns DST that brought home the trophy. But they did keep me in the race and didn't hurt my team at all. And that was a far less talented defense than we'll see this season from the Browns.
If you're in a league that allows you to carry two DSTs, I'd recommend picking up the Browns in the early second half of the rankings for DSTs (say, the 15th-17th or so of all DSTs selected), and then benching them for the first few weeks of the season with the plan to use them later and/or during bye weeks.
This way, they'll be on the bench in the early weeks of the season when they may still be struggling with the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive scheme, but will provide a very solid option for later in the season should your top DST suffer too many injuries or underperform.