2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

2021 Fantasy Football Cleveland Browns Preview

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Welcome Fantasy friends and foes to the 2021 Fantasy Football Cleveland Browns Preview.

In my 2020 Fantasy Football Cleveland Browns Preview, I explained how the only constant in Cleveland is change. However, I firmly believe that Cleveland has the correct group of front-office personnel to lead this team to maintain respectability and playoff contention for years to come.

After running in and then out of seven general managers and eight head coaches since 2009, the Browns are finally do something right. Cleveland never lost two games in a row and finished the 2020 regular season with an 11-5 record, and won the AFC sixth seed as a Wild Card team.

The Browns beat their inter-division rival Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 during the Wild Card round last year, their first playoff win since 1994. The team was forced to play their first playoff game since 2002 without their head coach Kevin Stefanski, along with four other members of the coaching staff, starting guard Joel Bitonio, and two defensive backs Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson.

In the AFC Divisional round, the Browns traveled to Kansas City to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately, the season ended in Kansas City with a 22-17 loss in a close, highly contested matchup.

In his first year as head coach, Stefanski led the Browns to their first road playoff win since 1969. However, he was forced to implement his new offense in a totally virtual offseason. As a result, Stefanski had to deal with COVID restrictions and even tested positive himself as the Browns reached their pinnacle with a playoff berth. His accomplishments culminated in Stefanski being named 2020 NFL Coach of the Year.

The most critical offseason task was to improve on a bottom-tier defense. So general manager Andrew Berry went to work, acquiring defensive backs John Johnson and Troy Hill, defensive lineman Jadaveon Clowney and linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. In addition, Berry also drafted potential first-year starters in cornerback Greg Newsome and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. As a result, the revamped defense could have up to nine new starters this season.

Is the defensive overhaul enough to take the Browns deeper in the playoffs? Will Baker Mayfield continue his ascension to a championship quarterback? Will Odell Beckham be healthy enough to be a game-changer? Find out the answers to these questions and a whole lot more in the 2021 Fantasy Football Cleveland Browns Preview.

2021 Fantasy Football Cleveland Browns Preview

Free five-minute mock drafts against industry experts and custom analysis for your team with the FantasyPros Draft Wizard.

QUARTERBACKS

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The Browns might have finally found their franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield. His improvement in a new offensive system escalated throughout the season culminating in an exciting finish for Browns fans.

Mayfield took a giant leap as the Browns were making their playoff push. He threw only one interception over the team’s final nine regular-season games. He also averaged 285 passing yards over the last six weeks of the regular season. The former top pick also put up four touchdowns against one interception in two playoff games. Mayfield reached this level of play without his top wideout, Odell Beckham Jr.

The Browns have one of the best offensive lines in the league and the best RB tandem in the NFL. Mayfield will be playing for the same head coach for the first time in his career. The situation surrounding could not be better, aside from the health of Beckham.

One factor that doesn’t get mentioned often enough is that Mayfield was faced with horrendous weather during a three-game stretch last season. The weather didn’t permit a passing game to succeed and affected the passing stats for Mayfield and his receivers. As a result, chances are we would be discussing Mayfield as a top-12 QB in Fantasy had it not been for the forecast. Nevertheless, Mayfield finished as the 17th QB in Fantasy last season. 

2021 SEASON OUTLOOK

Baker Mayfield was known as a gunslinger in his days in Oklahoma. I think Stefanski and his coaching staff have been masterful in their handling and development of Mayfield. The city of Cleveland loves him. He is a proven winner and helped the Browns get to the playoffs.

Fantasy managers should look to love him as a solid value selection in your Fantasy drafts in a 1-QB league. Baker can be a top 12 QB in 2021 with his growth in Stefanski’s offense.

A healthy and explosive Beckham return is necessary for Baker to move to the next echelon at quarterback. An elite deep threat is missing from the Browns’ offense. While Donovan Peoples-Jones broke off a few big plays, he doesn’t strike fear in opposing defenses. A healthy and focused Beckham will make a dramatic difference.

Mayfield finished sixth on the NFL Next Gen Stats, top-ten list of deep-pass throwers last season. Just imagine what Beckham can do with those targets. Look for Mayfield to have a career season in 2021 and be the quarterback to wait for in your Fantasy drafts.

RUNNING BACKS

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The Cleveland Browns finished third overall in the league with 2374 rushing yards last season. That was on the back of an elite offensive line, which ranked number one in both pass-blocking and run blocking according to Pro Football Focus. With all five starters set to return, the offensive line should improve in year two as cohesion continues to form.

Stefanski now has had an entire year with the Browns, and calling the plays, they ran the ball 495 times, fourth-most in the NFL. The running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is the best RB tandem in football. We should see plenty of the same in 2021.

Chubb scored 199.7 Fantasy points last season which ranked ninth among running backs. Chubb accomplished that production in only 12 games. The former Georgia Bulldog is one of the best pure runners in the league. His 3.15 yards created per attempt in 2020 were the most running back has averaged since FantasyData began tracking the stat back in 2017.

Kareem Hunt finished with 199.5 Fantasy points scored last season which ranked tenth among running backs. Hunt sees plenty of action, mainly because of his passing-down abilities. His 38/304/5 slash line showcases his role in the Browns offense and is a perfect Robin to Nick Chubb’s Batman. Hunt is also a force running the rock, averaging 4.2 YRC with six touchdowns.

THE 2021 SEASON OUTLOOK

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for almost 2,000 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground last season. Chubb is the preferred early-down back, and he should be drafted in the top five in standard leagues. However, his lack of involvement in the passing game in PPR formats means that he must be getting a significant volume of carries. The bottom line is that Fantasy managers should draft Chubb among the top ten backs in any scoring format.

Hunt is a dynamic playmaker whose involvement in the passing game secures the former Toledo Rocket as an RB2 in PPR formats. If Chubb was to miss any time; similarly to last season, Hunt catapults into a top-five back immediately.

WIDE RECEIVERS

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When the Browns acquired Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants, they hoped to pair up a dynamic playmaker with an electric skillset with the young brash quarterback in Mayfield. But, unfortunately, we have yet to see the chemistry that on paper looks like a big play waiting to happen.



Beckham has been a disappointment for the Browns, catching 23 passes for 319 yards in seven games last season. He suffered a torn ACL in Week 7, and the Beckham trade rumors were trending in NFL circles. So was this the end of OBJ in Cleveland?

The former LSU star is multi-talented and was considered one of the league’s best wideouts just two seasons ago. All indications are that his recovery is going exceptionally well, and it isn’t easy to give up on that much talent.

Baker is often seen as the face of the franchise. However, the heart and soul of the Browns is Jarvis Landry. He is THE team leader, and Baker looks for Landry whenever he is in trouble and is the go-to receiver in the Browns offense. His catch percentage has increased in Cleveland’s three seasons, finishing with a 71.6 catch percentage last season.

The dynamic duo of Beckham Jr. and Landry was ranked the 13th best duo in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, and I believe the best is yet to come for these former LSU teammates.

Rashard Higgins had 662 receiving yards from Week 7 through the postseason. Pro Football Focus named Higgins the most underrated player on the Browns roster. He stepped up huge in Beckham’s absence last season, and Mayfield has a man-crush on Higgins, posting a 119.2 passer rate when he targeted Higgins last season.

Donovan Peoples-Jones made several critical plays on offense, especially in the second half of the season. He flashed intriguing upside in his rookie season. He should see an increased role this season. 2021 third-round pick Anthony Schwartz is a 4.25 40-yard burner Stefanski will love scheming to get him in open space.

THE 2021 SEASON OUTLOOK

Admittedly, it’s pretty challenging investing in Odell Beckham Jr. on your Fantasy roster. His injury history and lack of success with Mayfield have made Fantasy managers shy away from Beckham. He has posted a disturbing 55.6% catch rate in 23 games with Mayfield. The duo has not been on the same page.

However, Beckham is currently being drafted as the WR37 according to the latest Sleeper ADP, and I would take that dart throw every day. Having Beckham as your WR3 is perfect for roster construction. The draft capital is not overwhelming, and if he looks “even better,” as his best friend Jarvis Landry has recently stated, you have a potential league-winner.

Jarvis Landry has surpassed 1,000 yards three times in his seven-year career but has never had double-digit touchdowns. He is PPR gold and currently ranked as WR40 in FantasyPros latest rankings. Landry is a bargain at that ADP. He is a WR2 with the draft capital of WR3.

Fantasy managers should not sleep on Rashard Higgins. He is free in Fantasy at the moment. Higgins finished second in yards per target (11.5) and fifth in Fantasy points per target (2.33). His chemistry with Mayfield and the uncertainty of Beckham’s health should lead to Fantasy managers assuring themselves of coming away with Higgins in their drafts.

TIGHT ENDS

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Austin Hooper signed a gigantic contract for a tight end in 2020, earning himself the highest annual tight end salary in NFL history. The Fantasy expectations were extremely high as Hooper was headed to a Stefanski offense built for tight ends.

With only 46 catches and 435 yards along with four touchdowns, Hooper underwhelmed on his ROI and missed three games for the second consecutive season. The former Falcon was coming off two straight Pro Bowl seasons with the Falcons, where he averaged 723 yards and five touchdowns per season.

Despite signing Hooper to a mammoth contract, Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry drafted the 2019 Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The rookie flashed dynamic potential while sharing a role with David Njoku behind Hooper. Bryant surpassed Njoku as the second tight end in the Browns offense while grabbing 24 catches on 38 targets for 238 yards and three touchdowns. Bryant improved as a run-blocker as the season progressed but emerged without a reception on his lone target in the postseason.

David Njoku has not played up to his first-round status. It has been a shaky few seasons for Njoku in Cleveland, with trade rumors creating plenty of drama for the former Miami Hurricane. After a strong sophomore season in 2019, Njoku has produced 24 receptions on 39 targets for 254 yards and three touchdowns. All the potential in the world, but doubtful that it will be seen in Cleveland.

THE 2021 SEASON OUTLOOK

The Browns are a run-heavy team that utilizes two tight end sets to open up play-action passes to their tight ends. Their offense is TE-friendly, with 30% of targets going to the TE group.

Fantasy managers did see some promise from Austin Hooper at the end of the season. Hooper put up 25 catches on 40 targets and 211 yards along with three scores in his final five games, including the playoffs. Hopefully, that production carries over into the 2021 season as Hooper and Mayfield develop more chemistry.

The Browns offense needs Hooper to match his numbers with the Falcons and surpass 700 yards and five touchdowns. If Fantasy managers cannot snag one of the elite tight ends, Austin Hooper should be a target late in your drafts to stream the position.

Harrison Bryant will be a weapon in this offense, but he possesses minimal Fantasy upside unless Hopper gets hurt. However, dynasty owners should target Bryant with a tight end who carries heavy upside.

David Njoku has plenty of talent but hasn’t been able to put it all together in Cleveland. The additions of Hooper and Bryant make him expendable for Fantasy purposes. However, he is in the last year of his rookie deal, so it would not be surprising if Njoku is wearing another uniform in 2021.

 

FINAL VERDICT

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The Cleveland Browns ended the longest playoff drought in the NFL and are coming off their first playoff victory in 25 years. They have proven they can hang in there with the best of them. The Browns look to follow their best season since their return in 1999 with a deeper run in the playoffs.

The offense is returning all of their pieces from last season. In addition, it welcomes back a game-changer in Odell Beckham, Jr. The keys to taking it to the next level will be the progression of Baker Mayfield to a consistent championship level. Also, the defensive overhaul provides a significant improvement over the bottom-tier defense from last season.

2021 Final Verdict: 12-5 record. The Cleveland Browns are building something in Cleveland. With everyone finally on the same page, led by Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, the Browns battle to win the wild card in the tough AFC North. They take another step forward and make it to the AFC Conference Championship game in 2021. Check out what will happen next.




Check out the rest of our 2021 Fantasy Football content from our great team of writers!

 

About Dennis Sosic

Dennis Sosic is from Cleveland, Ohio and a HUGE sports fan including NFL (GO BROWNS!) and college football (GO BUCKEYES!) MLB (GO TRIBE), NBA (GO CAVS!) and MMA. He has been called a Sports Geek by friends and foes alike and that fits him perfectly. He has been competing in fantasy sports, mainly fantasy football and baseball for over 20 years. Please do all of us a favor and follow Dennis @ CALL_ME_SOS.

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