We have all done it: stow our hometown team players on our fantasy teams. Some of us do it for fandom, others do it to prove how smart they are. Often, it pays off…a random Browns running back will have a ninety-five yard, two touchdown game against a bad rushing defense the week before a bye, or, on a deep-team league, the Browns starting quarterback will play out of his mind during a rainy, night home game against an equally bad team. The worst case scenario, drafting a <ahem> “superstar” player the Browns of old signed to elevate the team, only to have that player get injured after a decent game, or just flat out quit on the team, or get his house burned down by his girlfriend.
That is part of the “Old Browns”. This is the “New Browns”.
This season, be as confident as general manager John Dorsey by drafting these following five players to your fantasy teams.
Myles Garrett, DE
An end? Can I have some of whatever you all doing right now?
We are sober as vicars over here, thanks. Just check out his statistics.
Garrett started all sixteen games last year. In those games, he logged forty-four total tackles, thirty-five solo. Twelve of those tackles went for a loss, and he sacked the QB thirteen-and-a-half times.
Garrett is a freak. Need proof?
There is no reason next season, under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, Garrett will not have a monster year. With two years under former DC, Gregg Williams, Garrett benefitted from an aggressively-minded defensive scheme. Wilks’s system is more schematically productive than Williams’s blitz-happy style. The one factor that favors Garrett specifically is that Wilks loves long, athletic defensive linemen. While Garrett’s tackle number may stay the same, his sacks and tackles-for-loss will be up. With the addition of the all the big name defensive linemen this off season, it will difficult to stand out, yet the talent surrounding him will only make Garrett more deadly.
Garrett should have 48 total tackles, 16 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss, 3 defended passes, and one interception on his way to being the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. For the non-sicko fantasy managers, just drafting the Browns defense will be good enough. Wait for it in the sixth to ninth rounds to pick it.
Rashard Higgins/ Antonio Callaway, WR
Either one of these young, fast, receivers will be a solid late-round pick. Both will benefit from the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. to the roster. Stash either player on your bench, use one for possible trade bait during the season, insert one for a match up advantage, or, if you have a deep league, plug them into the fourth, fifth, or flex WR slots.
Callaway had some consistency issues catching the ball last year. The speedy wideout took full advantage with one-on-one situations, however. He beat his man and coverage well enough to earn quarterback Baker Mayfield’s trust as the season went on. He averaged 13.6 yards per catch with limited time, and, on many plays, he continually gained at least a yard and a half separation between himself and a defender on play Mayfield did not find him. Callaway will be the third option on most passing plays. With the attention drawn to OBJ and Jarvis Landry, Callaway’s receptions may stay relatively the same (43 last year, 45 possible this year), his yards-per-catch and touchdowns will go up (15 YPC this year, 10 rec. TDs, up from 5).
(If you are in a sicko league, Callaway will be in a battle with Dontrell Hilliard and Damon Sheehy-Guiseppe for the primary returner spot, but it will be his to lose.)
Higgins has come a long way from his rookie season. He never quite lived up to his “Hollywood” nickname (being cut and re-signed to the team at one point) until recently, Higgins has steadily improved in the three years of being with the club.
He credited this two years ago with the arrival of wide receiver Jarvis Landry and last year to the arrival of quarterback Baker Mayfield. The biggest thing they did for him was to help him restore his confidence.
“They knew they could trust me,” “Hollywood” told Dan Labbe of Cleveland.com. “I go out and I practice hard just like those guys and they see that dog in me and they want to bring out the best in me.”
Higgins vowed to feed on that energy and “ball out” like Landry every day. He will certainly capitalize on the wealth of pass-catching talent. His catches might go down slightly from thirty-nine last year, he will make up for it in yards and average. There will be plenty of times opposing defenses will forget about Higgins to their own folly. Expect Higgins to have about 625-50 yards receiving this season (up from 572 last season), average slightly above 15-per-catch (about the same from last year’s 14.7), and have seven touchdowns, three more than last year.
David Njoku, TE
Everyone on this team is feeling themselves. Njoku braggadociously claimed last week on The Rich Eisen Show that he feels he is capable of a 20 touchdown season.
Njoku is the threat defenses need to worry about. While his boast is admirable, it is not realistic; however, it is at least worth considering. The Browns organization has been waiting for Njoku to grow into the position for years. What they saw when they drafted him was a raw-boned athletic freak lumbering down the field. What he has become is what they expected. He has worked diligently on his route-running and agility over the past few seasons to the point where he can even separate from a defender.
The modern NFL offense requires talented tight ends who act more like wide receivers. Most often than not, he will line up in the slot or on a bunch, most likely near Landry or Odell Beckham Jr. in order to cause panic in a defense. Njoku usually weaves his way where the defense is open and becomes a 246 lb. (problem) WR after the catch. While Njoku is not yet Gronk or Travis Kelce-level, he will be up there this year. He should be able to grab 74 receptions for 755 yards, and, not quite twenty, but ten TDs. (Last season: 56, 639, 4)
Nick Chubb, RB
While the tight end position is evolving, the yang of this balance is the declining importance of the running back position. Modern NFL offenses are not even “throwing to set up the run”; they are flat out ignoring it, handing it off occasionally to keep defenses honest. While last year’s elite teams like the Los Angeles Rams still committed to it, even they have suffered for it. Arguably, the best running back in the NFL right now, Todd Gurley, may not even get serious work in until closer to the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign because his knee is so bad. With Dallas Cowboys RB Zeke Elliot and Los Angeles Chargers RB Melvin Gordon III both in contract disputes, other than the New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara and the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson, the market for RBs is bearish and the shelf-life for RBs is quick.
Nick Chubb stock in fantasy football has been taking full advantage of this by climbing the charts of most fantasy experts’ drafts. Straight out of the University of Georgia Bulldog backfield mold, Chubb is a young, punishing jackhammer with a quick first-step and deceptive downhill speed, ask the Atlanta Falcons:
Despite having plays called by an offensive genius last season who clearly knew what he was doing by limiting him, Chubb managed to squeeze 996 yards out of 192 carries. He led the league in average with 5.2 yards per attempt. Chubb’s value increases, especially in points per reception (PPR) leagues. He caught 20 passes for 149 yards and two very memorable touchdowns off of screens. With soft hands and defenses stretched thin, Chubb will reap early season benefits until RB Kareem Hunt becomes eligible. Look for a 1,050 yard season from Chubb, similar receiving numbers (18 passes for 134), and twelve TDs, mostly in short yardage situations.
If you have gotten this far, congratulations. This is was not intentional. The title of this piece is “Five Must-Have Browns Fantasy Players”, not “Five Stupidly Obvious Fantasy Players”. However, before we get to the most stupidly obvious one, here are some players in Honorable Mention:
Kareem Hunt, RB: His troubles will keep him out until late in the season, but, if you gamble on him as Dorsey intends to do so, he could be valuable as a late season flex pickup.
Duke Johnson Jr., RB/WR: Now that Duke has a real football agent, his contract negotiations might not be as nasty as they might have been (or wanna be), and they should not affect his performance. He is a dangerous pass-catching back, and his value will be in the PPRs and in the flex positions.
Baker Mayfield, QB: Mayfield set the rookie record for TDs by a quarterback with 27. He might have broken more records had he played all season. There is no reason he will not lead the league in total TDs next year.
Relax. Here is your one “stupidly obvious” player:
Odell Beckham Jr., WR
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. With great power comes great responsibility. And so on, and so forth.
Swagger is high in Berea, and not because the beloved Dawg Pound mascot is watching practice from the cherry picker. The Browns got an infusion of “juice” last season with Landry and Mayfield, but, with such a larger-than-life personality like OBJ, juice is flowing like a river.
Yet, the season has not started. Expectations are high, and talk is at a premium right now. OBJ has even drawn more criticism with his latest comments about last season. He has a ton to prove, and, with this electric offense, he just might do it.
Statistically, what can be said that has not been said? Even being shut down last season, he still caught 77 passes for 1,052 yards and six TDs. In his first three seasons with the New York Giants, he had 90+ receptions and 1,300+ yards. If he returns to form in a more comfortable offense, there is no reason he cannot catch 104 passes and break 1,500 with 1,515 yards with 13 TDs.
This season, we do not have to be hometown goobers by picking all Browns players. In fact, we might just win our leagues in doing so.
All statistics referenced from ClevelandBrowns.com