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Offseason Primers: Cleveland Browns

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Sometimes when teams lose they change quarterbacks. When that doesn't work they change head coaches. When that doesn't work they change front-office executives.

Well, the Browns have been losing for a long time. So last year they went all the way with their change. They have a new owner as well as a new team president, new general manager and new head coach. But in the most twisted of ironies, the quarterback of the Brownies remains the same. For now.

2012 Touches Leaders
724 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Trent Richardson 318 (267 car., 51 rec.) 43.9%
Montario Hardesty 67 (65 car., 2 rec.) 9.3%
Greg Little 55 (53 rec., 2 car.) 7.6%
Josh Gordon 50 rec. 6.9%
Benjamin Watson 49 rec. 6.8%
All Others 185 25.5%

What matters for Fantasy Football is that the ultra-conservative Pat Shurmur is gone and creative play caller Rob Chudzinski is in at head coach. With him is veteran offensive mastermind Norv Turner. Chudzinski and Turner are veterans of the NFL and have a pretty darn impressive track record when it comes to getting players to produce big stats. Chudzinski was Cam Newton's first offensive coordinator, worked closely with Antonio Gates (while Turner was the Chargers head coach) and way back when was the Browns offensive boss when Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards has their breakout years. Their credibility is strong and they'll need every ounce of it to squeeze life out of this offense.

The passing game is a major question mark heading into 2013. Brandon Weeden, who turns 30 this October, is currently slated as the starter but as soon as the Browns add another passer he'll be on shaky ground. His accuracy was a trainwreck last year, especially when throwing past 10 yards (47 pct. completed). Receiver Josh Gordon holds some promise but through two years Greg Little has shown, uh, little to make anyone think he can be a threat. The Browns need playmakers to help Weeden the same way the Bengals do for Andy Dalton -- the difference is the Bengals have a great one in receiver A.J. Green and a couple of promising role players.

At least the Browns struck gold at running back with Trent Richardson, and you better believe Chudzinski and Turner will lean on him. Richardson totaled 1,317 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie, and that was while playing with a broken rib and missing all of training camp with a gimpy hamstring! There's no doubt that he'll remain a heavy volume workhorse for the Browns as they transition to a better offense that should feature him prominently. Running behind a very good offensive line, there's obvious potential in Richardson, making him a Top 5 Fantasy choice and potentially the only Browns player you'll draft this summer.

Now, if the rest of the Browns can follow Richardson's lead -- and that includes the defense as they switch back to a 3-4 front under excellent defensive coordinator Ray Horton (formerly in Arizona) -- then they might not make any changes anytime soon.

Greg Little -- Bust

2012 Target Leaders
566 pass attempts
Josh Gordon 96 17.0%
Greg Little 91 16.1%
Benjamin Watson 82 10.2%
Trent Richardson 70 7.2%
Jordan Cameron 39 6.9%
All Others 188 33.2%

I'm pretty sure the Greg Little Bust Memo went out to everyone who plays Fantasy Football but just in case, here are some reasons why you can find a receiver better than Little in drafts. One, he's played a ton over the past two seasons and has six touchdowns to show for it along with 114 catches for 1,356 yards. That's 3.5 catches and 42.4 yards per game. Making that stat uglier is the reality that he's caught just 53.8 pct. of his targets, meaning he's been thrown at plenty. And from our friends at Pro Football Focus, Little's had 23 drops in two years. You can do the better than this. Heck, the Browns can do better than this.

Josh Gordon -- potential breakout

For a kid who wasn't drafted an April, didn't participate in the offseason program and was behind in his homework in training camp, Gordon had a pretty good year. He led the Browns in receiving yards (805) and receiving touchdowns (five) while converting nearly one out of every four receptions into a catch good for at least 20 yards. That's the good news; the bad news is that four of his scores and almost 30 percent of his receiving yards came during a three game stretch last year. So while his final stats were at least respectable with some potential for a big follow-up, he was woefully inconsistent. Enter Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, two men who have found mismatches for their quarterbacks to exploit. Turner especially likes fast outside receivers who can pick up 17 yards or more on average, and that's right in Gordon's wheelhouse (he averaged 16.1 yards per catch last year). Even if the Browns can't work some magic at quarterback, at least Gordon has a chance to become consistent with a better offensive system to match up with his abilities. He's worth a late-round pick.

Jordan Cameron -- potential late-round flier

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Brandon Weeden Undrafted
Trent Richardson Top 5 pick
Josh Gordon 115-125 overall
Greg Little Late-round pick
Jordan Cameron Undrafted
Browns DST Undrafted

Here's a fun fact about Rob Chudzinski: He's a former tight end who has made a living turning tight ends into great Fantasy options. Players who have done well with him include Kellen Winslow Jr., Antonio Gates and more recently Greg Olsen. This is a guy who won't forget his tight end in the heat of battle like some play callers might. Surely, Chudzinski will look at Cameron's big 6-foot-5 frame and tinker with ways to use him against slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs. There are probably reasons why Cameron didn't pick up more playing time in the past -- he has eight starts and 26 catches in two years -- but if Chudzinski's track record is any indication, Cameron's reputation will be on the rise. Don't be surprised if training camp wraps and Cameron's getting high praise.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Isaac Redman calls it quits
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) A spinal cord injury has ended the career of former Steelers running back Isaac Redman .

Redman tweeted his decision Friday. He added that he turned down offers from teams to potentially play after his release from Pittsburgh in October.

The 29-year-old Redman finishes his career with 1,148 yards rushing on 282 carries and 4.1 YPC.


Speculation: Contract issue keeping Vontaze Burfict out
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:51 am ET) Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict remains sidelined from practice Friday. The team has also not confirmed a multi-year contract extension with the second-year player.

It is unknown if there is a connection to the two facts. Speculation is that the deal has been held up by one side or the other.

The team listed a stomach ailment as the reason for his absence from practice Thursday.


Jets not ready to give up on unproductive Stephen Hill
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Despite the fact that Stephen Hill has just one reception in the first two preseason games, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has not given up on the 2012 second-round pick.

"I was pleased with his progress [last year] up until he got nicked and that he got nicked again," Mornhinweg told the New York Post. "This year he was even more impressive in the offseason and through training camp, with a few exceptions. There were a couple days there. So he's coming along. And in many cases, this is what happens, at all positions, but especially at the receiver position, that third year they make a pretty good jump. That's what we're looking for there."

The Jets are seeking a receiver to start opposite Eric Decker. David Nelson is another possibility, but his potential is not considered as strong as that of Hill, whose production fell off the table after a strong start in 2013.


Jamaal Charles all but ruled out for Saturday game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) What was anticipated now appears official - Chiefs superback Jamaal Charles will not play Saturday against Minnesota.

Charles returned to practice Thursday after missing time with a bruised foot. But Andy Reid is taking the cautious approach with him.


Coach: Two-QB system on table for Browns down the road
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:16 am ET) Mike Pettine has confirmed that he and Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have considered a two-quarterback system down the road with a package featuring rookie Johnny Manziel "on the table."

Pettine announced this week that Brian Hoyer will start the season opener in Pittsburgh. He has indicated that any package involving Manziel will not yet be incorporated for that game.

"No, this is Brian's job," Pettine said. "I don't foresee us now, especially early, being in a two-quarterback system. This is Brian's job and I never think of it as a leash or we want a guy to be a game manager. ... I don't want our guys on offense to feel like there's any type of governor there and they can't just cut it loose and be aggressive."


James Laurinaitis questionable for Saturday game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:07 am ET) Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis is only a maybe for the Saturday night game in Cleveland. An ankle injury could keep him sidelined for the third straight game.

Laurinaitis practiced this week and ramped up his activity every day. He did some full-team work Thursday, the last full-scale workout before the clash against the Browns in which the starters will receive the longest look of the preseason. Jeff Fisher sounded as if he could flip a coin to predict whether Laurinaitis will play.

"Don't know whether he's going to go; it will be very close," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Laurinaitis has racked up at least 114 tackles in each of his first five years in the NFL. He recorded a career-high 3 1/2 sacks in 2013.


Marshawn Lynch set to rack up carries in preseason clash
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) Pete Carroll said that "it's time" for featured back Marshawn Lynch to ramp up the reps. The result will be far more playing time Friday night against Chicago.

Carroll did not announce Thursday how long the starters would play, but did acknowledge that the third preseason game would be the one in which they play the most. They are likely to remain on the field into the third quarter, per the Everett Herald.

Lynch was in on just two plays in the last game without a carry. That is destined to change against the Bears.

"It's time for him to get some carries and get involved a little bit," Carroll said. "I could not be more pleased with the conditioning level that he's had, the consistency of practice and his preparation has been great. He'll be ready to go."


Brandon Bostick almost surely a no-go for season opener
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:40 am ET) The Packers have all but ruled out tight end Brandon Bostick for the Sept. 4 regular season opener in Seattle.

Bostick sustained a slight fracture of the fibula in his right leg while catching a pass Saturday in St. Louis. Sources have told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the best-case scenario would be to have Bostick back on the field for the second or third game, though he could remain out into October.

He caught seven passes for 120 yards in 2013.


Anthony Hitchens works with first-team at middle linebacker
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Redskins fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens took all the first-team reps at middle linebacker in Thursday practice, per the Dallas News. He worked ahead of veteran Rolando McClain, who had missed the Wednesday session with cramps.

The development was necessitated by the loss for the season of linebacker DeVonte Holloman, who has sustained what could be a career-ending neck spinal injury. Hitchens was drafted to play on the outside, but has spent significant time in the middle.

"I'm just moving back and forth," Hitchens said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they moved me again. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can right now."


49ers not ready to award Steve Johnson No. 3 receiver role
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:31 am ET) The 49ers aren't ready to declare Steve Johnson as the team's No. 3 receiver. In fact, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, the team won't "put numbers" on their receivers. Johnson is fight Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton, and rookie Bruce Ellington for snaps this preseason.

When asked if Johnson is the third wideout, offensive coordinator Greg Roman said: "It depends. It depends. I think we'll have some flexibility there."

 
 
 
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