The Cleveland Browns' passing game has gone through quite the transformation in just a week's time, starting with an inevitable quarterback selection in the NFL's Draft. Since, the fantasy community has learned of a looming WR Josh Gordon suspension that could cost him the entire season, WR Nate Burleson yet again breaking his arm, a pair of quip-inducing wide receiver signings, and a moderately notable wide receiver release. From the "digging deep" section, Cleveland also signed four undrafted wide receivers.
Where to start? Offensive line seems logical.
It all begins with the big boys upfront. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars (51) and Miami Dolphins (58) allowed more sacks than Cleveland (49) in 2013. The Browns added second-round OL Joel Bitonio, who will compete for a starting spot at both guard spots and right tackle. My best guess: He wins one of the inside jobs. Last year's starting right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, improved as the season went along and rated as one of the better players at the position. Center Alex Mack returns after flirting with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. Cleveland also has some dude named Joe Thomas manning the left tackle position. He is pretty good, in case you haven't heard of him.
How important is the offensive scheme?
The man now in charge of calling plays in Cleveland is none other than offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. As you likely recall, he masterminded the offense that made Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III look like a genius as a rookie. While Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel has to beat out veteran Brian Hoyer (knee) for the starting job, you have to think it really just a formality. Barring an unexpected twist, look for Manziel to start behind a zone-blocking line that is nimble and able to slide the pocket. Manziel may not be quite as athletic as RG3, but the coaching staff probably likes it that way.
This system will not ask Manziel -- or even Hoyer, should he win the gig -- to throw a lot. It will focus on controlling the clock through a sustained ground game. What made RG3 successful as a rookie? He had the luxury of playing behind a quality line and take his shots after RB Alfred Morris soften the defense to throw them off-balance.
Manziel will have big games here and there, but really shouldn't be consistently relied on in fantasy leagues during his rookie year. He will have a bright future, by all of my estimations. Hoyer cannot be drafted, if he wins the job, as anything higher than a weak QB2.
... Speaking of which
Newcomer Ben Tate has the talent to be that kind of running back for the Browns, but his durability history means he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. That could work in your favor as a fantasy owner looking to find an undervalued fantasy back, as long as you are willing to assume the risk.
Cleveland added rookie running back Terrance West, whose 5-foot-9, 225-pound frame is sufficient for an NFL running back, but I have major doubts about how long it takes him to play at an NFL level. I see loads of potential for Towson University product, but he is a small-school back who played behind one of the better offensive lines saw on tape while analyzing prospects. You could drive a truck through some of the holes they created for him. The game speed of the NFL is going to affect him, at least early on. West will see touches, and playing behind Tate means he could see A LOT of them, but he will be overdrafted in fantasy leagues.
My early expectation of "fullback" Chris Ogbonnaya's role draws parallels to how Darrel Young was used in Washington under Shanahan. "OG" will catch a few passes out of the backfield and score a handful of sneaky touchdowns, to the dismay of Tate and West fantasy owners.
Understanding the receiving corps
Well, this is going to be a challenge! The pending suspension of Gordon will dictate how the rest of the receiving corps shakes out. Most media reports say he will be on a year-long vacation, but I think he may get away with as few as eight games. It's just a hunch, really, so don't quote me on that. I think the way the NFL is investigating overall league marijuana use (reportedly, what put Gordon in this situation) and its related punishment will work in the receiver's favor.
Considering that Gordon's status is largely up in the air, it becomes difficult to have any clue how to project a number of meaningful games for the other receivers. A career-long case of the butterfingers has seemingly caught up to veteran Greg Little. Cleveland released him Friday.
That small move (see what I did there?) means more passes to go around for the following players (presuming Gordon is out of the picture): Miles Austin, Earl Bennett, Andrew Hawkins, Burleson (arm), Travis Benjamin (knee), Joshua Cooper, Charles Johnson, Tori Gurley, Conner Vernon, Willie Snead, Kenny Shaw, Jonathan Krause and Chandler X. Jones.
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About Cory J. Bonini
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.
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