Once the Browns were done with Ben Tate (Week 11), Crowell out-touched West 90 to 68 over the final seven games, but West had the last laugh, turning 20 touches into 106 yards and a TD against the Ravens in Week 17. (A seemingly healthy Crowell touched the ball five times for 22 yards.) The team drafted Duke Johnson and last season HC Mike Pettine was handing out touches based on practice performance, so Crowell's current 6th round ADP seems steep given his uncertain workload and Cleveland's projected offensive struggles.
Then there’s Duke Johnson, who could steal the spotlight. He’s not as big as the other two (Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West) — 5-foot-9, 210 pounds — but is quick, agile and looks like a big play waiting to happen. Coordinator John DeFilippo will line up Johnson in the backfield, the slot and out wide, but if he carries the ball like he did at Miami — a school-record 3,519 yards — he could quickly become the featured back.
The Cleveland running game is murky at best. The team has two second-year players, Crowell and West, who both had fantasy-relevant moments last season, but they added Johnson to the mix in the draft. He’s the best receiver of the bunch, so he should have a role on third-down at the very least. But he’s capable of stealing carries as well. The Browns should have a good running game, but it’s going to be a headache trying to project these three on a week-to-week basis. In PPR formats, our money is on Johnson to hold the most value.
Browns coach Mike Pettine views veteran journeyman Josh McCown as the team’s projected starting quarterback, former first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel as the clear-cut No. 2 and converted wide receiver Terrelle Pryor as a former signal caller who might eventually moonlight at the position.
Atop the depth chart, it’s status quo at the game’s most important position. As the Browns wrapped up mandatory minicamp in mid-June and prepared for vacation, Pettine and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo made it clear McCown was the favorite to start the Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the New York Jets.
“I don’t think anything’s changed,” Pettine said. “The repetitions will be handled that way, with Josh as the one. Now I wouldn’t say I’m guaranteeing today that Josh McCown is going to be the starter against the Jets. A lot can happen in a preseason.”
Pettine didn't rule out Manziel making a move, but did note there is a clear separation between McCown and Manziel right now. McCown is 31st on our QB rankings and isn't getting a lot of attention in drafts.
The Miami Dolphins overhauled their wide receiver group this offseason, with the exception of promising second-year player, Jarvis Landry. Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson are all out of Miami, and have been "replaced" by Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker.
Three new receivers, three better fits for Ryan Tannehill, according to head coach Joe Philbin. He is confident the trio of Jennings, Stills, and Parker are better for Tannehill than the previous trio of Wallace, Hartline, and Gibson.
"I do think it’s a better skill set to match [Tannehill]," Philbin told the Palm Beach Post.
As expected, first-round pick DeVante Parker should be a big part of the offense this season. Philbin had great things to say about Stills' speed and called Parker and Jennings QB-friendly guys. A combination of these three receivers, plus Landry, the story said, should give Tannehill the weapons he needs. Add in newly-acquired tight end Jordan Cameron and the Dolphins look like a dangerous offense. As a result, Tannehill finds himself ranked 10th on our QB list. If he can produce QB1 numbers, he could be a real steal with an ADP of the ninth round in 12-team leagues.
He didn’t set the lofty standard for himself that came with being a top-five draft pick. The Bills did that after making a stunning trade with the Cleveland Browns to vault from No. 9 to No. 4 overall to select Watkins. By paying the exorbitant price of first- and fourth-round choices in 2015 to make the climb, they instantly identified him as the primary solution to making EJ Manuel look much more like the first-round quarterback he didn’t look like as a rookie in 2013.
Fair or not, Watkins had to live with that label and the expectations that came with it. Ultimately, his 65 catches (tying him with Robert Woods for second on the team behind the 66 of running back Fred Jackson) for 982 yards and six touchdowns didn’t come remotely close to fulfilling them. Manuel was benched after four games, and the Bills proceeded to miss the playoffs for a 15th consecutive year.
Worse for Watkins was the fact that, in a draft packed with superb receiving talent, he took a seat many rows behind Odell Beckham Jr., who caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns for the New York Giants, the story said. Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans were also having more productive seasons and all those guys were taken after Watkins in the 2014 NFL Draft. Watkins is also behind the above WRs in our rankings for this season, coming in 30th. We project a much better season for Watkins (75-1,027-5.9), who has a QB situation more in question than the above players. He's shaping up to be a mid-range WR3 for fantasy teams and could benefit more with some QB stability.
Sunday, July 26, 2015, 4:32pm
MManamon: I’m going with Brian Hartline. Dwayne Bowe, to me, has never consistently lived up to the moniker of the No. 1 receiver. He’s had good seasons, but not great ones year after year. He did not have a single touchdown last season and he was targeted 93 times, just less than six per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
After catching 72 and 81 passes in 2010 and ’11, Bowe has caught 59, 57 and 60 the last three seasons. Whether it’s a function of the Kansas City offense or whether it’s a function of Bowe being in a decline will play out. Andy Reid is a pretty good offensive coach and he preferred Jeremy Maclin.
Hartline’s receptions in Miami dropped in 2014 as well, from 74 and 76 in 2012 and ’13 to 47 in ’14. But unlike Bowe, Hartline’s targets dropped precipitously.
In 2013 and 2012, he was targeted 130 and 125 times. Last season he was thrown to 62 times.
McManamon has some questions about where Bowe is at this stage of his career, while Hartline is just a year removed from a career season. The author added that Hartline's hard-nosed, consistent play will certainly help the Browns in terms of what they can expect. Our rankings disagree with this, though, and we project Bowe to have a much better season.
Shorter passes, including ones aimed at running backs, are also prevalent in Browns OC John DeFilippo’s West Coast system. As a result, rookie Duke Johnson, the University of Miami’s all-time leading rusher whom the Browns drafted in the third round, will be counted on to fill a prominent role from the beginning.
Johnson poses the greatest receiving threat among this group, so he’ll have a lot on his plate in his first professional season. The coaching staff plans to move him into different spots, including receiver, in hopes of creating mismatches.
The Browns, though, are not relying on Johnson to become their starter right away. They would like him to eventually develop into the role, but they realize it might not happen immediately.
So at this point, Isaiah Crowell, who entered the league undrafted last year, is the favorite to start. A third-round draft pick in 2014, Terrance West will receive chances to earn carries as well, but his job security is more vulnerable after being benched twice last season because the coaches weren’t pleased with his preparation.
Crowell out-touched Terrance West 90 to 68 over the final seven games, but West had the last laugh, turning 20 touches into 106 yards and a TD against the Ravens in Week 17. (A seemingly healthy Crowell touched the ball five times for 22 yards.) In PPR formats, Johnson is the only running back in Cleveland that interests us. At this point, there is just too much uncertainty with Crowell/West in terms of who will get the carries in any given week.
Browns writer Nathan Zegura said that WR Taylor Gabriel "has been the star of the offseason." Zegura went on to say, "He is going to push to be a starter in two-wide receiver sets. He has been that good, consistently generating separation and getting down the field against all comers."
We reached out to Zegura on Twitter and asked him to rank Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel in expected 2015 receiving yardage and he replied: "So tough. Depends on if Gabriel can win #2 job. Right now, I'd go Bowe, Hawk, Gabriel, Hartline. Gabriel could lead if he becomes an every down WR." This is a camp battle to monitor. For now, consider adding Gabriel in the waning rounds. His big-play ability makes him an ideal candidate for best ball formats.
Saturday, July 11, 2015, 11:44am
Texans QB Brian Hoyer offers HC Bill O'Brien the more known quantity after starting 14 games for the Cleveland Browns last season, but he finished the year with a 1-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his last four games.
Ryan Mallett offers more upside, but he remains a relative unknown with just 79 career passing attempts. Even if Hoyer begins the season as starter, he could at some point give way to Mallett, much like he did late last season with Johnny Manziel.
Tom Savage remains a developmental project who can bide his time behind the other two.
Hoyer showed flashes, especially two years ago with the Browns before getting hurt, but last year struggled. If Hoyer wins the job he'll have a better running game to work with compared to Cleveland as Arian Foster is one of the top backs in the league. DeAndre Hopkins will be the featured target of the aerial attack. Cecil Shorts was limited by injuries and reduced opportunities in the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive youth movement, but he arrives as a versatile starting option. Third-round pick Jaelen Strong could carve out an early role as a possession receiver. Right now, the Texans QB starter only has streaming potential until we see more stability.
While most NFL players are vacationing this month, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry and his buddy and former LSU teammate, Odell Beckham Jr. (the NFL offensive Rookie of the Year) are pushing themselves through grueling morning workout at well-regarded trainer Pete Bommarito’s Performance Systems facility in Davie.
Landry is determined to improve his speed to prove he’s more than a slot receiver.
Is his speed better? “Absolutely,” Landry said this week. “I can’t wait to show it.”
Landry flashed that explosiveness when he caught a deep ball from Ryan Tannehill during the Dolphins’ minicamp last month.
“You can see the difference with Jarvis,” Bommarito said. “There’s a difference between straight line speed and football speed. He’s excelled at both.”
Landry was the #42 WR in standard formats and #30 in PPR, so as a high-volume slot receiver, he's going to have more value in PPR formats. The Dolphins lost four of their top six most-targeted players: Mike Wallace, Charles Clay, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. They have been replaced by Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, DeVante Parker and Jordan Cameron, but Landry's role should expand as well. He only played 62% of the snaps on the season, and didn't start playing consistent starter's snaps until Week 9. Over the final nine weeks, Landry was the #15 WR in PPR formats (and #23 in standard). He is currently the 24th WR off the board in early PPR drafts.
The reality is he hasn’t had a productive season since 2012, when he caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns, but the Eagles would sign right now for anything close to those numbers.
Think about this: On an awful Browns team with quarterback havoc, Austin was on pace for 63 catches, 757 yards and three TDs before lacerating his kidney in a freak injury. Last year, Riley Cooper caught 55 passes for 577 yards and three TDs.
If sports science can keep him healthy, and with some stability at QB in Chip Kelly’s offense, Austin could at very least be more productive than Cooper and is probably more reliable than Josh Huff, who still has to prove he can be consistent and values the football.
Austin will have to battle some young guys drafted by Chip Kelly in order to get on the field, but like the piece mentions, Austin is pretty much the veteran presence at the position. With pass-catching RB Darren Sproles and emerging TE Zach Ertz also around, there are going to be a lot of targets to get the ball to, but Austin could be a guy who makes a move in camp and jumps on the fantasy radar, so he's perhaps worth keeping an eye on in this fast-paced offense.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 11:57am
After spending the last four years trying to make it as an NFL quarterback, Terrelle Pryor is now in Cleveland, trying to make it as a wide receiver. He says he has the talent not just to earn a roster spot, but to be a great wide receiver.
“I believe I can get great at anything,” Pryor told KDKA. “Just need the reps and just got to prove it.”
Pryor said he has the work ethic that only the great ones have.
“There’s not a lot of guys who work like I work,” he said. “I truly believe that. I believe somebody who works extremely hard is Antonio Brown. Definitely I’ve worked with him, I have had to opportunity to work out with him an awful lot. We spent a lot of time together in 2011 down in Florida, so I saw his work ethic. The drive, the nights we would run in the sand along the ocean, run 6 miles every night.”
We had a story on this item last week. Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot said there just may not be enough time for Pryor to learn all the details involved in the transition from QB to WR, but that it was definitely worth a shot to try and convert Pryor.
Monday, July 6, 2015, 6:35pm
“When Josh was here he was the touchdown man and I’m here to fill his shoes,” Bowe told NEOMG during minicamp. “It’s my job to do that in this offense and I believe I can do that.”
“If I get (a touchdown) in the (home) opener first quarter, the floodgates are open and the Dawg Pound is going crazy,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome. Once I start that, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I might go crazy.”
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Bowe has the right attitude, and he seems optimistic that last season was an anomaly, the story said. Bowe has totaled 532 catches for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns, all with Kansas City, but last year he put up a 60-754-0 line. Every one of the Chiefs’ 18 touchdown catches last year went to a running back or tight end. We rank Bowe just 58th on our WR list heading into camps.
Sunday, July 5, 2015, 9:00pm
There’s no clearer sign that running back Trent Richardson’s career has not gone as planned than the fact that he’s starting his fourth NFL season on his third team after being the third overall pick by the Browns in the 2012 draft.
If there’s an optimistic spin to put on Richardson signing with the Raiders after an ineffective pair of years in Indianapolis following a trade with Cleveland for a first-round pick, it’s that Richardson will get a fresh start with a new coaching staff. While discussing all of the team’s options at running back, offensive line coach Mike Tice said that the Alabama product has made a good early impression in Oakland.
“Each one has their own style,” Tice said on Sirius XM NFL Radio, via the Raiders website. “I like the [Latavius] Murray kid. He really came on in that veteran mini-camp. He got his legs under him and showed some quickness, some good finish. I thought the young man out of Alabama came on. He lost some weight, his quickness came around.”
Thanks to Murray, Richardson is way down our RB list at 97. Richardson hasn’t gotten high marks on quickness in his first two stops in the NFL, making Tice’s observation a step in the right direction for a player who hasn’t taken enough of them in the last three years, the story said. The Raiders also have Roy Helu, so Richardson will have to battle for playing time.
Browns HC Mike Pettine broke the tight end group down this way: “We really have two different types of tight ends. The ‘Y’ is more the on the ball, blocker type where that’s [Jim Dray] and [Gary Barnidge]. The F is more of a move type, off the ball, more of a wing. You can flex him out some. Gary is kind of a ‘tweener.’ He can do both. We just like the depth in the room. We have three guys that they’re not identical skillsets there. There’s some overlap. Gary, like I said, is kind of both. Jim is more towards the ideal ‘Y,’ and [Rob Housler] is more the ideal ‘F.’”
Housler could be fantasy relevant if he sees starter snaps as a move tight end. He wasn’t given much to do in Bruce Arians’ offense while in Arizona, but he has a good skill set for a "move" tight end.
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