Browns Offensive Profile Under Hue Jackson
2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 18th
2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 31st
2016 Play Volume Rank: 28th
2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 27th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 285 (3rd)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 51 (17th)
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer appear to be even in the Browns' quarterback battle with potential lean toward the rookie after Kizer earned more and more first-team reps as spring practices progressed. The favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft as of last September, Kizer has video-game characteristics at 6-foot-4, 233 with a power arm and big-play scrambling skills. His 2016 season circled the drain in a forgettable year for Notre Dame, however, and Kizer must speed up his in-pocket process after struggling to decipher information quickly on college tape. Whereas Kizer perfectly fits the Hue Jackson vertical-passer mold, Kessler is a Chad Pennington/Marc Bulger type whose rookie season was more productive than most recall, albeit abbreviated. Pro Football Focus credited Kessler with the NFL’s highest adjusted completion rate under pressure (80.6%) and third-lowest turnover-worthy throw rate (1.7%). Brock Osweiler generated some positive spring reports, but Kizer and Kessler dominated starter’s reps and should continue to all August. The winner will be viable in two-quarterback leagues. If Kizer ascends, he would offer the highest talent-driven ceiling under an offensive mastermind coach playing behind one of the AFC’s top offensive lines.
In free agency, the Browns surprisingly swapped out Terrelle Pryor for Kenny Britt, who netted a four-year, $32.5 million deal after setting career highs in targets (111), receptions (68), and yards (1,002) with the Rams last season despite having to catch passes from Case Keenum and Jared Goff. No longer the separator he once was after several early-career leg injuries, Britt now excels as a contested-catch receiver who uses his big body (6’3/218) and long arms (34”) to out-maneuver defensive backs. Britt has also developed reliable hands, having dropped just 12-of-267 targets (4.5%) over the past three years. As Corey Coleman’s career is off to a slow start and the Browns lack proven options both at third receiver and tight end, Britt offers target-monster potential in his first year with Cleveland. Britt is used to dealing with poor quarterback play, and the Browns are missing the third most targets in the league (285) from last year. While not a sexy pick and lacking an especially high ceiling, Britt is a virtual certainty to outscore his WR53 (MFL10s) and WR59 (FF Calculator) Average Draft Positions if he stays healthy.
The 15th overall pick in last year’s draft, Corey Coleman exploded for a 5/104/2 receiving line in Week 2 against the Ravens, then failed to clear 50 yards the rest of the way. Coleman missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury and suffered a broken hand in practice after his breakout game, costing him the ensuing six weeks. At OTAs this year, Coleman sustained another hamstring strain and a middle-body injury while diving for a pass. Used as a deep threat in his rookie season, Coleman averaged a whopping 15.4 air yards per target (Next Gen Stats) and the NFL’s fifth-highest Average Depth of Target (16.0) among wide receivers with at least 50 targets. An explosive athlete with 4.4-flat speed at 5-foot-11, 194, Coleman drew Odell Beckham comparisons coming out of Baylor for his ability to outrun coverage and burn defenders after the catch. While Coleman’s opportunity and talent are not in doubt, his year-two breakout potential hinges on shaky quarterback play and Coleman’s availability after piling up several early-career nicks. Understandably, Coleman's ADP was a roller coaster all offseason, most recently settling into the early double-digit rounds.
Third receiver duties are wide open with sophomores Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins standing out as the Browns’ most play-worthy prospects. 2016 fourth-round pick Louis made three starts in place of Coleman and out-snapped 2016 fifth-round pick Higgins 315 to 180, but did little with his opportunity, managing 205 scoreless yards on 35 targets. Louis runs 4.43 at 6-foot-2, 215 but entered the pros with an underwhelming college resume. Higgins is almost Louis’ polar opposite as a poor athlete who lit up the box score at Colorado State and best projects as a possession-style interior receiver. Neither Louis nor Higgins is a good bet for 2017 fantasy impact, but they are names to monitor in Dynasty leagues.
The Browns cut Gary Barnidge a day after trading up for No. 29 pick David Njoku, a sign they anticipate Njoku being something close to an every-down player as a rookie. It’s a big ask of a redshirt-sophomore entrant who’s not yet 21 years old, but also a risk a team like the Browns can afford to take. As a pass catcher, Njoku’s college tape reminded of Travis Kelce as an open-field dominator who averaged an otherworldly 11.2 yards after catch per reception in 2016, and 16.6 yards per catch in his college career. He tested as a 93rd-percentile SPARQ athlete at the Combine and measured in with a LeBronian 82 ½-inch wingspan. Njoku’s transition should be assisted by his experience playing on the line of scrimmage in the Miami Hurricanes’ pro-style offense, where Njoku held his own as both a run and pass blocker. While it’s no secret that rookie tight ends tend to struggle – only six in NFL history have exceeded 65 targets -- Njoku does have an outside chance to buck that trend based on his wealth of opportunity and superlative talent. I still think he is a poor bet to outscore Jason Witten, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Cameron Brate, Antonio Gates, and Jared Cook, all of whom are being drafted behind Njoku in MFL10 best-ball leagues.
Running Game Outlook
The Browns slapped Isaiah Crowell with a one-year, $2.746 million restricted tender after he posted career bests in carries (198), rushing yards (952), yards per carry (4.81), receptions (40), and yards from scrimmage (1,271) as a third-year pro, earning 55% of Cleveland’s offensive snaps compared to Duke Johnson’s 44% and handling a much bigger passing-game role than ever before. Per Next Gen Stats, Crowell’s 5.88 yards-per-carry average against eight-man boxes ranked second best in the NFL, and Pro Football Focus ranked Crowell No. 4 among 58 qualified backs in yards after contact per attempt (3.2). Free agency brought RG Kevin Zeitler and C J.C. Tretter to stabilize the interior line; Zeitler has been a top-ten guard at PFF in three straight years, while Tretter was PFF’s No. 5 center before he suffered a season-ending injury last Week 8. Even before the upgrades, last year’s Browns line quietly ranked fourth in the NFL in yards created before contact per rushing attempt. While Crowell’s RB14 (FF Calc) and RB15 (MFL10s) ADPs look reasonable on paper, it is still fair to question whether Crowell is capable of beating expectations on a bad team in a low-scoring offense. He’s a solid RB2, but tough to view as a true upside pick.
Duke Johnson was reduced to a lightly-used scatback in Hue Jackson’s first year running Cleveland’s offense, seeing nearly two fewer carries per game (4.6) than his rookie season and even being out-targeted by Crowell 34 to 27 over the final eight weeks. An almost complete non-factor in scoring position, Johnson was out-carried by Crowell 28 to 7 inside enemy 20-yard lines and touched the ball just three times inside the 10-yard line all year. Johnson has been efficient on his ball-carrying and ball-catching opportunities to date, but there is no tangible reason to expect his role to grow significantly barring injury to Crowell. There were early-camp whispers Johnson could see more time at slot receiver, although Hue Jackson used to say the same of Rex Burkhead in Cincinnati, and nothing much ever came of it. Johnson carries June ADPs of RB41 (MFL10s) and RB49 (FF Calc). While still an attractive hold in Dynasty leagues, I am valuing Johnson toward the lowest end of his ADP range in re-draft formats this season.
2017 Vegas Win Total
Fresh off a 1-15 campaign, the Browns’ Win Total is set at 4.5 with a lean toward the under (-130). Cleveland’s 2016 Pythagorean Win Expectation (2-7-3.3) suggests they did underachieve, although that was all part of the plan. I think the Browns will proactively try to win games this year, at least early on or until the season gets out of hand. While the in-division schedule does Cleveland no favors, facing the AFC South, NFC North, Chargers (away), and Jets (home) provides some relief. I’m intrigued to watch the Browns’ analytics-driven plan come together and agree they are on a promising roster-building path, but I am not convinced they’re ready for a four-win leap. I’m taking the Browns’ under for at least one more year.