Despite turning the ball over 18 times in 11 starts last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Browns committed to McCown as their starting quarterback, signing him to a three-year, $14-million contract that contained $6.3-million in guarantees. This despite the fact they selected Johnny Manziel in the 1st round of last year’s NFL Draft. At 35 years of age and a career backup, McCown takes over an offense that struggled mightily throwing the ball in 2014, but showed some potential rushing. Josh Gordon will miss all of 2015 due to a suspension and tight end Jordan Cameron signed with the Miami Dolphins in the offseason, leaving McCown’s main receiving options as fellow newcomers Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline and Robert Housler, plus returning veteran Andrew Hawkins. The Browns will compete for worst passing game in the NFL this season.
Having flamed out spectacularly as a rookie in 2014, Manziel entered a rehab facility in the offseason in order to straighten out his personal life and hopefully his professional life as well. After struggling in the preseason, Manziel was relegated to a backup role behind Brian Boyer before starting a couple of late season games which basically proved the Browns were correct in keeping him nailed to the bench. While Manziel’s efforts to fix the issues that ail him should be commended, the expectation is that he will enter 2015 behind Josh McCown, although it would certainly rate as a shock if the Browns don’t give him a couple of starts at some point. Either way, the truth is that Manziel lacks the weapons necessary to make him a viable fantasy option. He is only roster worthy in dynasty formats, and he has done nothing at this point to prove that he has a bright future in the league.
Undrafted coming out of college due to off the field concerns, Crowell emerged as the Browns leading rusher during the second half of his rookie season, carrying the ball 148 times for 607 yards and eight touchdowns. While that was a reasonably impressive feat, the truth is that Crowell lacks upside as a rusher and is limited in the passing game due to his poor route running and lack of ability in pass protection. Lacking speed, Crowell relies on his size and is a punishing runner who has proven to be a solid short yardage runner. However, he has little ability to make tacklers miss and will enter training camp in a dogfight with fellow second year player Terrance West and rookie Duke Johnson for playing time. Given the sorry state of the Browns offense, Crowell rates as a low end RB3 provided he opens the season as the team’s starting running back.
Although the Browns seem to have found a pair of solid rookie running backs last season in Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West, they went to the well again at the position in this year’s draft, drafting Miami-Florida product Duke Johnson in the 3rd round. Johnson has some serious agility skills, but in Cleveland he will likely operate as a change of pace, receiving back behind Crowell and West in an offense that will struggle to move the ball. At 5’9” and 206 pounds, Johnson doesn’t possess feature back size and Browns coaches have indicated they envision him in a Giovani Bernard type role, which clearly limits his upside. However, both Crowell and West struggled with their consistency as rookies so there is a chance that Johnson emerges from the pack to earn 12-15 touches per game. The odds of that are low so we consider Johnson little more than a late round flyer in redraft formats and a mid-tier prospect in dynasty formats.
Taken in the 3rd round of last year’s draft, West entered the season in a backup role to Ben Tate, took over as the team’s starter when Tate was released and finished the season splitting time with Isaiah Crowell. The 5’9”, 225 pound Towson State product was a bell cow type runner in college but his lack of consistency and refusal to simply take the yards that were there landed him in the doghouse at times as a rookie as his workload fluctuated widely from week to week. He will fight with Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson for touches this season and rates as the least intriguing option out of the trio of young running backs. Crowell is clearly a 1st and 2nd down downhill runner who looks to punish opposing defenders. Johnson possesses potentially game breaking abilities in the passing game and is an elusive when rushing the ball. The truth is that West is likely the team’s second best option behind Crowell in terms of rushing the ball and second best receiving option out of the backfield behind Johnson. However, he does possess some talent and given Crowell’s off the field issues, West holds some appeal in dynasty formats. In redraft formats, monitor West in the preseason to determine if he is worthy of a late round flyer.
Cut loose by the Kansas City Chiefs after stringing together three consecutive seasons where his production didn’t match his salary cap hit, Bowe was signed by the Browns in the offseason and joins a wide receiver depth chart that rates amongst the worst in the league. In Cleveland, Bowe will battle with the likes of Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Rob Housler for targets. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is fair to ask whether, at 30 years of age (31 in September), Bowe has enough left in the tank to take advantage of the opportunity. Not helping matters is the Browns quarterback situation. Bowe failed to catch a single touchdown last year and has just 13 touchdowns in the last four seasons. While he has a decent change to emerge as a WR3 in PPR formats given his expected volume of targets, Bowe rates as a WR4-5 in standard scoring formats.
After posting back to back 1,000 yards seasons with the Dolphins in 2012 and 2013, Hartline crash landed last season, catching just 39 of his 63 targets for 474 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Miami made rookie Jarvis Landry a bigger part of their offense. Cut loose by the Dolphins, Hartline landed in Cleveland where he will enter training camp listed as a starter opposite Dwayne Bowe. At first glance, that sounds promising. However, we expect Hartline’s role and production with the Browns to mimic his 2014 season in Miami. Bowe figures to lead the team in targets with slot receiver Andrew Hawkins following close behind and tight end Rob Housler likely soaking up another 60-80 looks in the passing game. Hartline should only be rostered in the deepest leagues and even then we give him only a lukewarm endorsement.
In his first season in Cleveland, Hawkins emerged as Cleveland’s most productive receiver, posting career highs in receptions with 63 and yards with 824 while scoring two touchdowns. Unfortunately, it took him 112 targets to muster that production meaning his completion to target ratio was unimpressive for a slot receiver. With the Browns once again featuring one of the league’s least impressive depth charts at wide receiver, Hawkins should be line for plenty of targets once again in 2015. The issue is whether he will produce enough to have fantasy value. Last season is a pretty clear indictment of his fantasy prospects. Given his lack of touchdowns production, we rate Hawkins as nothing more than a late round flyer in standard scoring formats and a somewhat more intriguing option in PPR formats.
While several teams in the league were stocking their wide receiver depth charts based on the abundance of receiving talent found in the last two rookie drafts, the Browns waited until the 4th round of this year’s draft to select Vince Mayle. In Mayle, the Browns gain a possession receiver who lacks the deep speed to threaten defenses and that limits his upside. That being said, only declining veterans Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline stand in Mayle’s way of earning a spot in the starting lineup, given that Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel lack the size to be consistent weapons on the outside. Mayle rates as a low end dynasty prospect and waiver wire material in redraft formats.
A 2012 4th round pick, Benjamin finally showed some playmaking ability in 2014, posting a career year with 37 receptions for 629 yards and a touchdown. While the average yards per reception of 17.0 was impressive, his inability to post more than one touchdown was noteworthy as was his less than impressive completion to target rate of 50.7%. It is his lack of efficiency as a diminutive player best used out of the slot that figures to relegate him to a minor role going forward. In truth, Benjamin benefited from circumstance in 2014 as injuries and suspensions ravaged the Browns receivers. We expect Benjamin to enter the season ranked 4th on the depth chart and of little value to fantasy owners.
Out for the year, folks. Worth a stash in dynasty leagues although there is little evidence to support the narrative that Gordon is getting his life back on track.
After four non-descript seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, Housler joins the Browns in 2015 where he has essentially been handed the starting position at tight end left open when Jordan Cameron signed with Miami in the offseason. Let’s consider that somewhat odd given that he caught nine of 17 targets for 129 yards in his final season in Arizona although it is also fair to note that he was miscast in Bruce Arians’ offense which doesn’t feature the tight end position. In Cleveland, Housler will compete for targets with the likes of Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins which gives him a chance for decent production in 2015. However, the quarterback situation and Housler’s inability to produce on a consistent basis four years into his career render him little more than a TE2, although his opportunity does make him a little more intriguing than some of the other options available at that point in fantasy drafts.