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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Cleveland Browns

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Yup, things are definitely changing in Northeast Ohio.

The Browns cleaned house this offseason, canning head coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff after just one year, then removing team CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi. Ray Farmer, a long-time NFL personnel man, was named their new general manager, and soon after the team hired long-time defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as head coach. Both moves have been met with some skepticism but both men have done a nice job so far.

The Browns made quite a splash in free agency, signing linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Donte Whitner, running back Ben Tate and receivers Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson, Earl Bennett and Miles Austin. Why all the receivers? Because last year's breakout sensation, Josh Gordon, is reportedly looking at a long suspension for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy. After he put up 1,646 yards on 87 catches with nine scores while catching passes from a terrible collection of quarterbacks, the belief was that he would continue dominating. But who knows if he'll play? Maybe the Browns know he won't and that's why they added all those receivers.

But there's no doubt that the Browns' biggest splash of all wasn't a free agent or a receiver. It was a quarterback -- a controversial, playmaking quarterback named Johnny Manziel. The outgoing gunslinger out of Texas A&M is small in size but big in the spotlight as he gets attention wherever he goes. He also was one of the most polarizing college football players -- able to make amazing plays and produce a bumper crop of stats despite lacking in size and mechanics.

Opinions on whether or not he'll succeed in the pros range all over the map -- some people think he's a bust, others think he's a leader who could make a Super Bowl run. The Browns are hoping it's the latter.

Buckle up, Cleveland. It's going to be an interesting ride.

Long-term investment ... Johnny Manziel

The Browns are insisting that Brian Hoyer has a good chance to begin the season as their starting quarterback. That might be reason enough to not draft Manziel in a standard seasonal league. But even if Manziel gets on the field for the Browns, he'll have a wide receiving group that is void of playmakers until Gordon comes off the suspended list. If that lasts for the entire 2014 season, there won't be many good reasons to even claim Manziel off waivers during the Fantasy season. The real value for Manziel is in long-term formats like dynasty and keeper leagues. Once he's entrenched as the starter with an elite receiver like Gordon reliably on the field, the potential for Manziel will be sky-high. It seems unlikely such potential will be realized early on this season, so don't draft him.

Don't overrate him ... Ben Tate

Tate has a wonderful opportunity in Cleveland, but he's had mixed results with wonderful opportunities in the past. Take last year for instance -- he started the last six games of 2013 with the Texans and had a game way over 10 Fantasy points, another with 10, another with nine and three more with five or fewer. Maybe you could blame that on playing in an offense with a suspect passing game, but how might you classify the Browns' pass game this fall?! He also dealt with injuries then, but he's dealt with injuries throughout his career. And the Browns drafted a running back with plenty of potential in Terrance West -- there's no guarantee that he doesn't end up leading the way at some point this season. The best way to view Tate is as a back who should be able to grind his way to some nice totals assuming he stays healthy. The middle of Round 4 would be the earliest to consider taking Tate (with a ninth-round pick on West to back him up).

Sleeper ... Andrew Hawkins

2013 Touches Leaders
727 total touches
Willis McGahee 146 (138 car., 8 rec.) 20.1%
Chris Ogbonnaya 97 (49 car., 48 rec.) 13.3%
Josh Gordon 92 (87 rec., 5 car.) 12.6%
Jordan Cameron 80 rec. 11.0%
Edwin Baker 51 (43 car., 8 rec.) 7.0%
Fozzy Whittaker 49 (28 car., 21 rec.) 6.7%
All others 212 29.2%

Look, somebody's going to have to catch the ball in the Browns offense besides tight end Jordan Cameron (more on him later). Nate Burleson has a history of breaking things and is more of a wise old owl than a speeding eagle. Miles Austin has slowed down over the years and has a series of hamstring problems. Charles Johnson has interesting measurables but no experience. Earl Bennett has experience but is otherwise uninteresting. And Gordon is expected to be suspended. Here's what's cool about Hawkins: He's the guy the Browns targeted in restricted free agency, proof that they have an idea of how they want to use him. And Hawkins is speedy, a factor that always helps. It's also cool that owners can draft Hawkins with a late-round pick in standard leagues and a mid- to late-round pick in PPR leagues. He's not a big guy (5-foot-7, 180 pounds) and there's an injury history that has to be considered (he missed eight games last year) but with such a late pick, owners can overlook that for a chance at getting a highly-targeted receiver.

Schedule analysis

Being the Browns means always having a tough schedule thanks to two games each against the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. Those opposing defenses should be a challenge against the run, but against the pass they have some holes. Expect a tough start for the run game as Cleveland opens at Pittsburgh, then vs. New Orleans and Baltimore before an early Week 4 bye. The silver lining is that three of the Browns' next four games are against the Titans, Jaguars and Raiders, three defenses expected to be pretty soft. But after that it doesn't look good for the Browns, as every opponent from Week 9 on should provide a semblance of a challenge. Because of that early bye and the relatively safe matchup in Week 5, we're ballparking Manziel's first start for Oct. 5 in Nashville.

Training camp battles

Does Manziel have a chance to start in Week 1? Of course there's a chance, but it will take a major demonstration of knowing the playbook and playing better than Hoyer. We haven't seen Hoyer play at a high level for more than a couple of games, and he's coming off of a torn ACL. So it's not like he's going to be handed the starting job either. But Hoyer does have NFL experience and the Browns start the season with a tough schedule. Those factors help Hoyer have a leg up on Manziel to begin the season as Cleveland's starter.

How will the WR depth chart shake out? No one expects Gordon to be available in Week 1 because of a looming suspension. Hawkins, Burleson and Austin are all new to the Browns and learning the team's new playbook. Hawkins seems like the best fit for the slot and anywhere else on the field they can hide him. Austin and Burleson seem like the best outside receiver fits. But younger players like Charles Johnson and Travis Benjamin along with veteran Earl Bennett will push hard for playing time. This is a mess, but one worth keeping tabs on if only to have some names in mind for your late picks.

Is Justin Gilbert a Week 1 starter on defense? Not every first-round cornerback comes into the NFL and plays well right away (isn't that right, Dee Milliner?). There are high hopes for Gilbert to assimilate into the Browns defense quickly, particularly because he was a Top 10 pick. But here's news for you: If Gilbert ascends to the starting lineup and plays like a veteran, this defense will be tough to poke holes in assuming it stays healthy. The cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden is one of two big question marks the Browns defense has going into camp -- far fewer questions than the franchise normally has.

Bold prediction

Gordon wasn't the only breakout pass catcher for the Browns last season -- Jordan Cameron also posted blow-away career-high numbers with 80 grabs for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. How he delivered those stats might not have been consistent (only five games with 10-plus Fantasy points including three in the first four weeks), but after being as productive as he was with a litany of mediocre quarterbacks suggests that he could deliver even more statistically. The Browns have upgraded at quarterback and if Gordon's out for a while, Cameron should be a consistent target in the passing game. Kyle Shanahan is the new offensive coordinator in Cleveland and while he doesn't have as prolific a track record with tight ends that former playcaller Norv Turner had, he still has utilized his tight ends well over his last six seasons. That should help Cameron plenty. Expect another big year for Cameron, one in which he eclipses his career-bests from a season ago. Consider him a Top 5 tight end worth a pick in Round 6 or 7.

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Player News
Nothing special for Raiders DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(8:50 pm ET) The Raiders may have upset the visiting Bills in Week 16, allowing 24 points on 321 yards, but their DST didn't have much to show for it in Fantasy. They were a little light on big plays, recording two sacks and two interceptions.

The Raiders DST finished with eight Fantasy points in standard CBSSports.com leagues, which was actually one of its better performances on the year. It has scored double-digit Fantasy points only twice all season.

You should know better than to use it in Fantasy, particularly with the matchup it has Week 17 at Denver.


Rookie RB Andre Williams punishes Rams in Week 16
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:50 pm ET) Giants rookie running back Andre Williams powered his way to 110 yards on 26 carries in Sunday's win at St. Louis. Williams (5-11, 230) showed his brute strength on a 45-yard run in the third quarter when he ran over Rams safety Rodney McLeod.

This was Williams' second 100-yard game during his team's three-game win streak.

Williams handled the bulk of the carries with Rashad Jennings out with an ankle injury. With Jennings iffy for Week 17, Williams could get another big workload against the Eagles.


Lamar Miller closing the season out strong
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(8:45 pm ET) The Dolphins have mostly looked to limit running back Lamar Miller's touches this season, as he entered Week 16 with fewer than 20 touches in all but one game so far. He blew past that mark Sunday against the Vikings, and showed just what he can do in a 37-35 win.

Miller rushed the ball a season-high 19 times, and consistently had productive runs, racking up 92 yards with a long of just 14. The story was similar in the passing game, as he had five receptions for 58 yards, with a long of just 18. It was his best receiving game of the season, to go along with his second-best rushing game.

Miller has already rushed for a career-high 984 yards, and seems all-but assured of surpassing the 1,000-yard mark in the finale. He also has eight total touchdowns, after rushing for just three in his first 29 games, showing he can be an all-around back.

Assuming the Dolphins don't bring anyone in to compete for the job, Miller could be a borderline first-round value for the 2015 Fantasy season. In the near team, however, he's got a tough matchup to close out the season against the Jets, though he did have 12 Fantasy points against them in a Week 13 matchup. 


Bills DST underwhelms with favorable matchup
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(8:43 pm ET) Having scored double-digit Fantasy points (according to standard CBSSports.com scoring) in seven of its previous eight games, the Bills DST seemed like a gimme Week 16 at Oakland, which had allowed the fourth-most Fantasy points per game to DSTs this season. But for whatever reason, the defense didn't show up, allowing 26 points on 347 yards in a surprise loss for the Bills.

The points and yardage weren't even the biggest problem. The big plays that had carried the Bills DST in recent weeks, like the three touchdowns in its previous four games, were nowhere to be found. The Bills had just one sacks and zero takeaways.

The timing of this performance is all the incentive you need to sit the Bills DST for Week 17 at New England. With that matchup, it would have been a tough call otherwise.


Eli Manning throws for a season-high 391 yards, 3 TDs
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:36 pm ET) Giants quarterback Eli Manning picked apart the Rams in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes for a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns. It was his second straight outing with three scoring passes and no turnovers.

Manning threw a pair of touchdowns to breakout rookie Odell Beckham and another to Rueben Randle. Manning has seven touchdown passes against one interception in his team's three-game win streak, and he's accounted for 30 scores against 17 turnovers this year.

He'll take on the Eagles to close out his 2014 season.


Rams take step back defensively
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(8:36 pm ET) The Rams entered Week 16 one of the hottest teams on the defensive side of the ball, but they didn't perform up to their recent standards Week 16 against the Giants, allowing 37 points on 514 yards, both season worsts. They had just one sack with zero takeaways.

Altogether, the performance came out to one Fantasy point for the Rams DST in CBSSports.com leagues, this after averaging 18.0 in its previous seven games. It allowed an average of 12.4 points on 304.1 yards during that stretch. One game doesn't undo that kind of momentum.

Unfortunately, the Rams are visiting a red hot Seattle team in Week 17, but the Seahawks' surge has been more because of their defense than their offense. Still, you'll want to weigh your options carefully. The Rams DST is a fine start for Week 17, but not automatic.


Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski kicks four FGs in Week 16 win
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:33 pm ET) Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski made four of his five field-goal attempts and added two extra points to score 14 points in his team's 26-24 win over the Bills in Week 16.

Janikowski delivered from 45 and 36 yards out in the second quarter to help his team take the lead and 38 and 49 yards in the third quarter to extend the lead to two scores. His miss came from 48 yards out just after the two-minute warning, and while the Bills were able to respond with a touchdown, the Raiders still pulled out the win.

Janikowski has made 19 of his 22 attempts this season. He'll get to kick in Denver when the Raiders hit the road to face the Broncos in Week 17.


Consistency remains out of Ryan Tannehill's grasp
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(8:30 pm ET) Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill snapped a streak of disappointing performances in Week 16 against the Vikings, as he put together arguably the finest performance of his career.

Tannehill, who has found his greatest success this season when utilizing his legs, did it all with his arm Sunday. He racked up 396 yards through the air on 35 of 47 passing, the second-best total of his career, and added a career-best four touchdowns, while tossing one interception as well.

Tannehill has taken his game to another level this season, but consistency remains an issue. He has scored 30-plus points in two of the last five games, but had just 40 in the other three combined. He had consecutive 20-plus-point games just twice overall, heading into Week 17 against the Jets.

With the Dolphins announcing they will be keeping coach Joe Philbin around for the 2015 season, Tannehill's job should be secure. His upside is apparent, but he has still shown it only in flashes. He shouldn't be viewed as a top-10 quarterback for Fantasy purposes heading into the offseason. 


Kenbrell Thompkins leads Raiders receivers in Week 16 win
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:29 pm ET) Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins led his team with five receptions and 90 yards in Sunday's 26-24 win over the Bills in Week 16.

Thompkins' highlights have ben few and far between this season, but he was able to haul in a 50-yard reception on third-and-13 late in the first quarter to set his team up with first-and-goal. The Raiders would score their first touchdown of the game two plays later. Thompkins came into the game just just 170 yards on 15 receptions.

Receiver Andre Holmes also came through with a big play in the win, hauling in a 51-yard pass late in the fourth quarter on another third-and-long play. The Raiders scored a key touchdown four plays later. Holmes finished with 73 yards on three receptions.

Two Raiders managed to catch touchdowns in the victory, and for both players, it was their only catch of the game. Wide receiver James Jones hauled in a wide-open three-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, while fullback Jamize Olawale scored the decisive one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Raiders have a trip to Denver to face the Broncos on tap in Week 17.


Odell Beckham show rolls on unabated
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:29 pm ET) Giants wideout Odell Beckham shredded the Rams for eight catches, 148 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, his third straight 100-yard game in what's looking like a Rookie-of-the-Year season. Beckham is the first rookie in NFL history with at least 130 yards and a touchdown catch in three straight games.

With his 9-yard scoring grab in the first quarter and his 80-yarder in the third, Beckham has 11 touchdown catches, a Giants' rookie record. He has at least six catches and 90 receiving yards in eight straight games.

Beckham drew a game-high 12 targets and continued to make the adjustment to the NFL look easy. He has 1,120 receiving yards in 11 games.

Beckham plays the Eagles in Week 17.


 
 
 
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