Don’t look so surprised. If you’ve been following the Browns at all this summer (who hasn’t?), you’ll know that Griffin was always favored to open the year as Cleveland’s top signal-caller. That’s not saying much since the alternatives were 37-year-old journeyman Josh McCown and raw third-round pick Cody Kessler. But it’s still a nice victory for Griffin, who won over coach Hue Jackson with a dazzling display at Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage.
“Robert has earned the right to be named the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns," said Jackson Monday when he made his official announcement. "Throughout this process, he has gained the respect from his teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization that is necessary for him to lead our offense and really the entire team.”
It’s been a while since Griffin has been on top. Let’s be clear—being named the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns doesn’t qualify as “being on top.” But it’s a heck of a lot better than where Griffin was at this time last season. Griffin was on the outs in Washington, one mistake away from losing his job to Kirk Cousins. We know how that story ended. Griffin imploded in spectacular fashion behind a porous Redskins’ offensive line before leaving his third preseason game with a concussion. Cousins took the reins at quarterback and Griffin never played another snap for the team that drafted him second overall in 2012.
It’s been so long since Griffin has played a meaningful game that it’s hard to gauge where he belongs in the fantasy ranks. The general consensus is that Griffin won’t be worth drafting this fall though perhaps some of the more adventurous fantasy owners will take him as a late-round flyer.
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Griffin comes with a long list of red flags—his reckless style of play, his lengthy injury history, the way he’s butted heads with coaches throughout his career. But that was the old Griffin. Jackson, a famously no-nonsense coach, has whipped Griffin into shape this offseason by molding him into a more conventional pocket passer. That’s quite the change in philosophy from Griffin’s heyday in Washington when he was known as a tuck-and-run specialist.
Staying under center is a good way to keep Griffin out of harm’s way—his penchant for improvising has led to many unnecessary injuries. But it also saps him of his biggest strength: running the football. Griffin has never dominated through the air. His career-high in touchdown passes is only 20. But he erupted for 815 rushing yards as a rookie and has logged at least 30 yards rushing in 19 of his 35 career starts. Griffin’s track-star alter ego will probably make a few cameos throughout the year (he’s been bragging about his 4.3 speed). But if Jackson has his way, you won’t see many runs like this from Griffin in 2016.
For a team with a Vegas win total of 4.5, the Browns actually have some interesting weapons on offense. It all starts with Josh Gordon, a former first-team All-Pro who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013. Gordon hasn’t played much football recently and will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy to begin 2016. But if Gordon is still the same player he was three years ago, he’ll immediately emerge as Griffin’s go-to target and the focal point of Cleveland’s entire offense. Of course, that might be wishful thinking. Right now Gordon is nursing a minor quad injury and appears to be out of shape. Jackson has publicly chided Gordon’s fitness and has urged him to lose weight. Gordon carries even more baggage than Griffin, but if he can shake off the rust, he’ll be well worth his mid-round ADP.
Aside from Gordon, the Browns still have Gary Barnidge, a late bloomer but one of the more sure-handed tight ends in football nonetheless. Barnidge was the Browns’ featured receiver last year, leading the team in catches (79), yards (1,043) and touchdowns (nine). Regression is likely but Barnidge remains a hulking presence in the red zone. Eight of his nine touchdowns last year came from inside the 20-yard line.
But let’s not forget the Browns’ draft-day prize, 15th overall pick Corey Coleman. The star wideout has had quite a camp so far, evoking plenty of praise from coaches and beat writers alike. Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland used the word “scintillating” to describe Coleman’s performance at Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage while Jackson called the Baylor alum (just like Gordon and Griffin) a “fantastic player.”
Despite the rave reviews, fantasy owners may want to pump the brakes on Coleman, at least until we get some clarity on his injured hamstring. Coleman has been shut down with hamstring fatigue and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go for Friday’s preseason opener against Green Bay. For what it’s worth, Coleman’s current ADP on FantasyPros sits at 106, making him a consensus ninth-round pick in 12-team leagues. He’ll lose some volume to Gordon but if his hamstring holds up, Coleman should carry considerable fantasy value, particularly early in the year while Gordon serves his suspension.
The Browns’ defense was gutted this offseason following the departures of Karlos Dansby, Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner. But the Browns were able to keep their most important piece, two-time Pro Bowler Joe Haden. The 27-year-old has established himself as one of the tougher assignments in football over the past few seasons but concussions limited him to only five games last year. Haden missed the start of camp while continuing his rehab from offseason ankle surgery but has already been removed from the PUP list and should be ready to go for Week 1.
Cleveland’s season opener on September 11 will be against the Eagles, who are currently operating without their No. 1 wideout, Jordan Matthews. The third-year receiver suffered a bone bruise in his knee during Friday’s practice and will be on the shelf for 2-4 weeks. Eagles coach Doug Pederson is hoping he’ll be back for the team’s third preseason game at Indianapolis on August 27.
Matthews is the only sure thing in Philadelphia’s patchwork receiving corps. Nelson Agholor is coming off a terribly disappointing rookie year while perennial underachiever Rueben Randle has gotten mixed reviews this offseason. Fortunately the Eagles have a pair of productive tight ends in Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. Both signed contract extensions this offseason and should have major roles in the passing game.
Ertz in particular stood out with a career-high 75 catches for 853 yards and two touchdowns last season. He finished seventh in yards per game among tight ends while catching more passes than both Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. On average, he’s been coming off the board in the ninth round in redraft leagues. That puts Ertz on the back end of the TE1 spectrum and a nice consolation prize for owners who miss out on Gronk and Jordan Reed in the early rounds.
Quick Hits: The Saints released Hakeem Nicks on Monday. The 28-year-old has been with four teams since the start of 2014. His career is hanging by a thread … The Broncos released their first training camp depth chart on Monday. Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian were listed as co-starters (yikes) while Ronnie Hillman and Devontae Booker appeared as co-backups to starter C.J. Anderson … Josh Doctson has been ruled out for the Redskins’ preseason opener against the Falcons on Thursday night. Doctson has been battling an Achilles injury since May … In addition to playing for the Redskins this year, All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman will also be a contributor to Fox’s NFL coverage. He’ll make a minimum of 10 appearances, which was news to head coach Jay Gruden … The Rams listed Case Keenum as the starting quarterback in their initial training camp depth chart. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff is the backup, though it would be a shock if he didn’t open the year as L.A.’s starter … Cordy Glenn will sit out the Bills’ entire preseason slate with a high-ankle sprain. The fifth-year left tackle inked a five-year, $65 million contract this offseason … Ted Larsen will get the first crack at replacing Bears center Hroniss Grasu, who is out for the year with a torn ACL. Larsen’s main competition at center will come from second-round pick Cody Whitehair … Alshon Jeffery was back at practice Monday after missing the first week of camp with a slight hamstring injury. Jeffery only appeared in nine of the Bears’ 16 games last year … The Jets activated Khiry Robinson from the PUP list on Monday. The former Saints running back has been taking it easy after missing eight games with a broken leg last season … Eric Ebron was able to avoid a serious injury after being carted off at Saturday’s practice, though he did suffer a significant right ankle sprain. He’ll have a little over a month to recover before the Lions’ season opener against the Colts on September 11 ... Jay Ajayi was listed ahead of Arian Foster on the Dolphins’ first training camp depth chart. Don’t read too much into it. At best, Ajayi will be in a timeshare with Foster when the season opens … According to ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia, it’s “clear” that Tyler Lockett will receive “consistent touches” this year. Lockett hauled in 51-of-68 targets for 664 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie and was named to the All-Pro team as a return specialist … We’re a week and a half into training camp and the Chargers still haven’t heard from Joey Bosa. Tensions are so high that Bosa’s mother said she wished her son had “pulled an Eli Manning on draft day.” Manning refused to play for the Chargers after the team drafted him first overall in 2004 and eventually facilitated a trade to the Giants. Bosa’s contract dispute with San Diego stems from offset language … 10-year veteran Lance Moore announced his retirement on Monday. Moore signed with the Falcons on Friday but must have had a change of heart.