At the age of 14 I made one of the most unfortunate decisions of my life. I willingly, under no duress, looked at all 28 NFL teams, at the time, and willing chose to root for the Cleveland Browns. I will spare you my reasoning for my being drawn to the Browns. But assure you my fandom was real. As, by age 15 I’m fairly certain I was the only kid in Canada that had a life size poster of Bernie Kosar on their bedroom door.
You would think that this year’s Browns bullishness would have me excited. It goes something like this: “don’t look now but the Browns are actually going to be good. They’ve have a much stronger roster and don’t be at all surprised if they make some noise in the Wild Card race. Also, Hard Knocks!”
This seems to be another extremely popular “contrarian take”. Which can mean only one thing: it’s dead wrong.
First off, let’s get a little perspective on this Wild Card pipedream. Last year the dreadful AFC Wild Card teams had the tickets punched with 9-7 seasons.
Here is the Browns 2018 schedule:
Steelers, @Saints, Jets, @Raiders, Ravens, Chargers, @Buccs, @Steelers, Chiefs, Falcons, BYE, @Bengals, @Texans, Panthers, @Broncos, Bengals, @Ravens.
Hey, anything can happen but as I look at those games I’m having a hard time getting to 9, or even the 7 wins that Seattle eked into the playoffs with a few years ago. I remain skeptical, and here’s why.
From the top down:
Why am I skeptical? Jimmy Haslam is why. Organizations that win have long-term plans, patience, and resolve. Jimmy seems like the kind of guy whose opinion is always based on the last conversation he’s had. He seems to operate on his gut feel for things. And I think I know what his gut is full of. By most accounts he has had his hands in draft pick selections, roster construction and starting lineups and of course the hiring and firing of management and coaching, something he does frequently and messily.
The recent management moves speak to this sloppy approach. The Browns, enduring a winless season, decided to let go of de-facto GM Sashi Brown, despite his set out long-term plan of blowing up the roster and hoarding draft picks and cap spaced. It was a plan based on losing and the picks and cap space were ready to be deployed. While the Browns were long on cap space and draft picks, what they were short on, was patience. Haslem reasoned that poor draft performance in the previous two seasons was reason for Brown’s dismissal. Brown traded the 2nd overall to the Eagles in 2016 (Carson Wentz) and the 12th in 2017 (Deshaun Watson), which certainly is not a good look. While those players look to be stars in the making, let’s remember that there was no consensus at the time on either, and Brown believed he had a long-term mandate with his eyes on future drafts. Jimmy Hindsight had run out of patience, and a new direction, or at least half of a new direction was to be taken.
A winless season, on the back of a 1-win season, was not, however, enough to lose Hue Jackson his job. In the same press conference that Sashi Brown’s firing was announced, Hue Jackson’s job was secured. The Browns had yet to hire John Dorsey as GM, and the normal course of action, you would think, would be to reserve any decision on the head coaching position until the new GM was signed. Jimmy knows best though, I suppose, and John Dorsey was to begin his mandate seemingly painted into a corner.
If Hue’s record is not reason enough for his firing, his handling of second round pick Deshone Kizer should have been. Kizer was not close to being ready, had no veteran QB support, a weak receiving corps and was missing perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas almost immediately. But what the hell, let’s see what the kid’s got, thought the Browns. Now maybe this was not Hue’s decision, maybe his hand was forced. But his handling of the situation, his ability to be a teacher and developer of talent, was bared for all to see. When Kizer, unsurprisingly, struggled, Hue was not there to nurture or lead, he simply blamed the kid, benched the kid or entertained the idea of AJ McCarron as a cure all to the team’s woes.
Enter the new kid. Expectations for first overall pick Baker Mayfield will be high. Given the time to learn and patience to fail he could be the Wetnz or Watson that Haslem rued missing. I think it’s reasonable to be concerned that Jimmy will be eager to see his shiny new toy in action. John Dorsey made the very encouraging move of signing Tyrod Taylor this offseason (more on him later). Tyrod is the veteran presence missing last year ad if he’s actually played this year, maybe this team can get some wins, win some confidence and finally change the culture. But given Jimmy’s involvement…
What’s hopeful is that John Dorsey can manage Jimmy’s impatience and Hue’s coaching. His hiring of Todd Haley suggests Hue’s tenure could be short-lived. Ideally Tyrod plays, Baker watches, Hue looking for work by late October and Jimmy is tranquilized until 2019.
Fantasywise – mouths to feed:
In a vacuum, all above BS aside, this is the best roster the Browns have had for years. The return of Josh Gordon, the signing of Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde, the drafting of Chubb and Callaway, and the continued development Duke Johnson, David Njoku and Corey Coleman, should have Browns fans excited. This roster could make some noise. And I think it makes the most noise with Tyrod Taylor.
Last year Tyrod put up modest numbers with an exceptionally modest Bills roster. Taylor was working with LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay and a bunch of scrubs. Tyrod gets upgrades at all positions: offensive line, receiver, tight end and arguably, running back. While McCoy is certainly better than any individual Browns back, the group’s depth is far better than the Bills 2017 RB cast. The issue is, with so many mouths to feed, who do you own for fantasy.
Duke Johnson is a premier receiving running back. While Chubb and Hyde duke it out for early down work, Duke should own passing downs. I’d suggest all three have limited upside in the near-term but that Duke should be owned in all PPR formats. He’s reasonably priced in best ball on Draft and can be had cheaply in dynasty at the moment. His contract is up at the end of this season so he could very well end up elsewhere in 2019, making Chubb that much more interesting for longer-term purposes.
In 2018 I’ll own Duke shares and be hopeful he finds a good situation beyond this season. Chubb I’d buy for the long-term and Hyde I’d generally avoid, not for lack of talent but since the time share makes him uncertain for 2018 and beyond.
Receivers and tight ends:
Landry is a great addition for the team’s success but his own fantasy numbers will certainly take a hit. Jarvis goes from being the main target in the Dolphins offense to a team where he will compete with Njoku ad Duke Johnson for possession targets, while Gordon can be targeted all over the field. The dearth of talent here puts a limited upside to any players immediate fantasy totals, but certainly makes them a harder team to play against.
I’d own shares of Gordon for long-term dynasty purposes but am reluctant to take him for 2018. Callaway has big upside and given his off-field issues could come with a Gordon-like discount. Both are dangerous rides with risk of suspension, but I’s prefer their upsides to Landry’s. For the coming season I’d take a pass on all of them.
My favourite fantast value:
So, lots of competing targets, with no clear winners. It makes sense that the biggest upside on this roster is Tyrod Taylor. Running QBs add their own alpha to the equation and Taylor tagged 427 rushing yards on to his measly 2,800 passing totals. Given the upgrade in his supporting cast I think it’s a fair estimation to think he could add as many as 800-1,000 yards passing to last year’s total, while matching last season’s rushing totals. That makes him a very sneaky late round QB in best ball where he can be had in the last two rounds, and anywhere in re-draft or dynasty where multiple QBs are started.
The risk, of course, is meddling Jimmy Haslem and the likelihood that Baker Mayfield will start early and often. And as a Browns fan that makes me worry for Baker Mayfield and the teams fortunes this season and beyond. If Tyrod gets the lion’s share of snaps, his fantasy numbers could be a steal.