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Fantasy Football Feature: Cleveland Browns Spotlight

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Leon Halip

The Cleveland Browns aren't typically known for fostering a ton of fantasy football potential, but remember that this was the same team that had six players sent to the 2014 Pro Bowl back in January.

Four of those six players were on offense, and of those, two were at skill positions: TE Jordan Cameron and WR Josh Gordon. While their respective fantasy value is hard to place for a number reasons, one of those factors is the question at quarterback.

The projections seem to indicate that rookie Johnny Manziel will win the starting job over Brian Hoyer, but exactly when remains up in the air.

The following chart offers a quick glimpse at what to expect in terms of fantasy production from Browns players:

Browns Player Projected Points (pos. rank) Avg. Draft Position (Rnd)
QB Johnny Manziel 215.75 (29th) 125.9 (10)
QB Brian Hoyer 49.72 (36th) -
TE Jordan Cameron 126.08 (4th) 53.2 (4)
RB Ben Tate 126.30 (32nd) 100.5 (8)
RB Terrance West 104.91 (39th) 119.3 (9)
WR Josh Gordon - 120.7 (10)
WR Andrew Hawkins 96.09 (59th) -
WR Miles Austin 80.92 (73rd) -
WR Nate Burleson 49.61 (88th) -
Defense / Special Teams 126.19 (11th) 124.6 (10)
Billy Cundiff 112.49 (32nd) -

Note: Points are based on Yahoo! Sports default scoring and Pro Football Focus statistical projections for 2014. ADP rounds are based on 12-team drafts.

What to consider on fantasy draft day:

  • Johnny Manziel – While Johnny Football is projected to be the highest scoring Brown, he actually falls all the way to 29th among QBs. Cleveland has an interesting but unpredictable dynamic at the quarterback position this season. Unpredictability is the enemy of fantasy owners. Yet Manziel is still finding himself a spot on teams in round 10. That's because of his pure playmaking ability, especially on the ground, where he'll earn a point for every 10 yards rushed. It makes him worth that mitigated late round risk. Remember though, if your league is full of fellow Browns fans, people will reach for him.

  • Brian Hoyer – Pro Football Focus appears to think Hoyer will see at least some playing time this season, but not enough to warrant drafting, unless you're in a 32-team fantasy league. If he does keep the starting gig and begins to have a stellar season for the first time in his career, you'll be better suited trying to nab him off the waiver wire than throwing away a draft pick.

  • Jordan Cameron – This Browns Pro Bowl TE is easily the team's most potent fantasy weapon in 2014. Unsurprisingly, both PFF and fantasy owners agree. Even if the offense primarily focuses on the run, the team will still lean on Cameron in the passing game. If Gordon misses any time, that fact will be compounded. Beyond those two, the receiving corps is leaving a lot to be desired thus far, once again plagued by drops, has-been's, and never-were's. The Browns need another great year from Cameron and if they get it, he could be a fourth-round fantasy gem.

  • Ben Tate – Much has been made of Pettine and Shanahan's choice to use a running back-by-committee, but the name at the top of the depth chart remains whom was predicted back in March when the Browns added him through free agency: Ben Tate. He's had success with Shanny before and if he can stay healthy, don't be surprised if he earns more carries than what's currently being projected. The eighth round is a safe bet, in part because it's not too high of an investment. If he ends up losing a lot of carries to the next guy, his value plummets quickly.

  • Terrance West – Having team's running game garner over 230 fantasy points is fantastic, but the problem for owners is that those points are split almost evenly among two different backs. West is on the lower end of that equation. But when falling to round 10, he's someone that offers a ton of upside at very little cost. The shorter shelf life of veteran backs also increases his fantasy potential. As with most of the draftable players on this list, Browns fans may tend to reach.

  • Josh Gordon – With the impending appeal decision on his reported one-year ban looming, PFF currently has no projections for Gordon. The lack of a ruling on the appeal makes his fantasy value incredibly hard to place. Is it all or nothing? Could the suspension be reduced to half a season or less? We do know what he can do when he's on the field, even regardless of previously bad QB play last season. He's one of the most talented and physically gifted wide receivers in the entire NFL. That makes him worth the price of a draft pick, but Cleveland fans reading closely into his case may go high for him (pun intended) if they think he's going to avoid a suspension due to a faulty testing process. He's worth a risk, but not in the first five rounds. Oh, and one more thing: 

  • Andrew Hawkins – This is where the list reaches mostly undrafted fantasy players. We all have high hopes for Hawkins, but we have to keep expectations for this receiving corps in the realistic range. A smartly crafted front-loaded contract pays Hawkins well more than the typical ~1000 yard level WR. But this was because the Browns had flexibility to take the hit and force this RFA out of Cincinnati. He's still never surpassed 600 yards in any of his past three season with the Bengals. Don't overpay, but keep an eye on the waiver wire if he's emerging in the first few weeks of the season.

  • Miles Austin – This 30-year-old veteran in his ninth season has had quite the up and down career. Entering the league undrafted, he burst on the scene for the Cowboys in his fourth year, with a ridiculously high average yards per catch and per start. But following another solid performance the year after, his effectiveness was cut short by a series of hamstring injuries. The Browns are hoping he's finally 100% again, but we can't anticipate too much.

  • Defense / Special Teams – Cleveland's defense is actually getting a lot of respect from the projections, but not as much from owners. Despite being in the top third of the league for defensive fantasy scoring, they're only owned in 13% of Yahoo! leagues that have drafted so far. Compared to teams projected in the same area, the 10th ranked D/ST is owned in 81% and 12th ranked is owned in 91%. This is largely due to reputation and recent history. If you're not playing against other die-hard Browns fans, this could be a market to take advantage of. Expect Cleveland to produce fantasy points on D from sacks and turnovers. But defense is defense in the fantasy game. The draft value depends on when your league starts the run.

  • Billy Cundiff – Pro Football Focus seems to think Cundiff will be the lowest scoring kicker in the NFL. It doesn't inspire much confidence. Unless you're desperate for a kicker in a 32-team league, there's nothing else to say here.

So, if you're not worried about giving away too much of your strategy, what Browns, if any, will you be looking to come away with on fantasy draft day?

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Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $100,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1's NFL games. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.