Unless you’re a member of the “Sex Pistols” I’ll assume much like myself you dislike anarchy and disorder. I prefer when decisions are easy and largely made for me based on situation or circumstance. Playing fantasy football doesn’t always allow for simple binary decisions though. Sometimes there are situations with so many moving parts that you can only take your best stab at the correct answer, or specific player.
If you’ve listened to any episodes of the DynastyTradesHQ podcast, you know my utter confusion when trying to determine how the target distribution will play out in 2018 and beyond in Cleveland. Already boasting a pass-catching stable of Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, David Njoku and Duke Johnson, the Browns found it prudent to add even more weapons this offseason. The Browns traded for Jarvis Landry, subsequently locking him up for five years and $75 million, followed by signing Carlos Hyde during free agency. The NFL draft brought Nick Chubb and Antonio Callaway. Just to allow this confusion to stew a bit more, the Browns also traded for Tyrod Taylor to be a bridge QB and drafted Baker Mayfield first overall, who may force Cleveland’s hand to play him this season.
One thing in favor of the Cleveland pass catchers is that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley does have a propensity toward high volume passing attacks. The Steelers finished in the top-six in pass attempts in 2- out of the previous 4-seasons and in the top-half of the league the other two seasons under Haley’s watch.
All ADP referenced is via Fantasy Football Calculator
Josh Gordon checks in with as the WR16 and the 34th player overall off the board overall which I find confounding. When Gordon made his long-awaited return to the football last year, he was good but certainly not great. Three weeks as the WR27 or better were juxtaposed against weeks where Gordon finished as the WR40 and WR79. Gordon averaged 8.4 targets per game last year which works out to 134 targets over 16 games.
We’ve seen the damage Gordon can inflict when he sees that kind of volume in the past. In 14 games, way back in 2013, Gordon put up 87 receptions, 1,646 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Gordon averaged a ridiculous 18.9 yards per reception that season. Talent has never been the concern with Gordon though. Gordon downward spiral kicked into high gear in 2014, when he only played 4 games due to suspension with him missing the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons. I’m not a risk adverse fantasy football player. I’ll buy high-upside low-floor players without a thought. That being said, the risk involved with Gordon is the type of risk I can’t stomach. Being one strike away from a probable lifetime ban precludes me from ever spending what it would take to acquire Gordon, so he’s a hard pass for me.
Jarvis Landry is a player that I am not overly fond of. I believe him to be a volume-dependent receiver who will flame out without an abundance of targets. In two out of his last three seasons, Landry has eclipsed 160 targets. Landry’s 161 targets, 10.1 per game, last season were the 3rd most for the position. All those targets allowed Landry to finish the season as the WR4, averaging 16.4 fantasy points per game. In 2016, Landry didn’t receive nearly the same volume, finishing with 130 targets (15th most) and he finished as the WR15 scoring 14.5 points per game. The 2015 season was especially abhorrent, Landry had the 6th most targets, 167, but could only muster a WR17 finish.
It’s also possible the targets available will significantly drop while Tyrod Taylor is under center. In his three seasons as a starter, Taylor has averaged only 412 pass attempts per season. Conversely, during Landry’s four seasons in Miami, they averaged 565 pass attempts. As noted earlier Todd Haley does like to throw a lot but maybe it’s possible that just isn’t something that he can do with Taylor under center.
If it were only a question of targets, I could still understand talking yourself into believing that Landry can still produce at a high level. But that’s not the only consideration.
Tyrod Taylor’s skill-set doesn’t mesh well with Landry’s short routes. Landry is a receiver who does most (all?) of his damage on short routes, as evidenced by his 6.3 aDOT in 2017, which ranked 117 out 120 eligible receivers per PFF. Per NFL next gen stats, Tyrod Taylor is a below average quarterback when throwing into Landry’s sweet spot.
My good friend John DiBari dove even deeper into this and concluded that Landry will still finish as a top 24 WR in 2018. Between a decrease in targets and a questionable match with Taylor, I’ll pass on Landry at his current ADP as the 20th WR off the board. If Landry struggles out of the gates in 2018 and his price starts to fall he is a player I’ll look to acquire, but only if I can purchase him for a steep discount. With the expectation that 2019 should see the ascension of Baker Mayfield and the possible departure of Josh Gordon things would look much brighter for Landry.
David Njoku, saw just 3.8 targets per game garnering him a minuscule 10.6% target share in his rookie season. Being that it was his rookie season, it’s only natural to assume that Njoku should see an increase in usage going forward. When you see that Njoku’s closest comparable player on playerprofiler.com is Travis Kelce, it just bolsters that argument.
As noted by Neil Dutton, the highest target share a tight end saw during new offensive coordinator’s Todd Haley time in Pittsburgh was 16.6%, but Haley never had a tight end like Njoku. With Tyrod Taylor likely to start a good portion of the season it’s instructive to look at his historical use of the tight end. Using the RotoViz game splits app we see that Taylor averaged almost two targets per game more to Charles Clay than Njoku saw in his rookie season.
Njoku was targeted just 60 times in his rookie season, converting 53.3% of those targets into receptions, averaging 12.1 yards per reception. Even assuming the same modest catch rate, yards per receptions and touchdowns per target total Njoku would have slashed a 47/577/6 line on 90 targets. When you look at Njoku’s college stats and see that he averaged 16.6 yards per reception in college and scored 8 touchdowns on just 43 receptions in his only season at the tight end position, it’s hard not to salivate. Forecasting Njoku’s long-term outlook means you have to take a look at how Baker Mayfield utilized his stud tight end, Mark Andrews in college.
Over there three seasons together Andrews receptions and yards increased every season while he was a consistent touchdown threat amassing 22 touchdowns over those three seasons. While Andrews is a good tight end prospect he’s not in the same realm of the still only 21-year-old Njoku. I’m buying Njoku every last place I can and I suggest you do the same.
Duke Johnson With the addition of Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde, there’s no chance Johnson will see an increase in his rushing usage. Once Hyde departs maybe Johnson will see a slight increase in rushing attempts from the 82 he saw in 2017. But even without any increase in rushing usage Johnson is still a strong buy for me. Johnson finished as the RB14 last year, scoring 13.6 points per game due to his receiving work. Last year was Johnson’s third straight season with at least 74 targets, 53 receptions and 500 receiving yards to begin his career. With Todd Haley calling plays I fully expect those numbers to increase. In Le’Veon Bell’s last three seasons he averaged 102 targets per season. Johnson also happens to have a better yards per reception, 9.3 over his career, compared to Bell’s 8.5 YPR.
Tyrod Taylor also knows a thing or two about throwing to the running back as evidenced by his usage of LeSean McCoy during their time in Buffalo. Using the RotoViz game splits app again we see that McCoy averaged a healthy almost 4.5 targets a game with Taylor under center.
Since Taylor isn’t the long-term quarterback and Baker Mayfield should have the starting job no later than 2019 I thought it prudent to look at his running back targets last season. Using Sportsreference.com, we see that a healthy 20% of last years receptions for the Oklahoma team came from either a running back of fullback. After signing a 3 year $15.6 million contract, with the addition of Haley as an OC, and having QBs who utilize their running backs in the passing attack should secure Johnson’s top 24 PPR for the next three seasons. Johnson is a strong buy for me.
Antonio Callaway is going outside of the top 70 wide receivers on Fantasy Football Calculator. If not for multiple arrests and suspensions during his time at Florida, Callaway might have been a 1st-Round pick in the NFL Draft. Even with those issues, and regardless of the fact that Callaway played no games in 2016, the Browns still drafted him in the 4th round. Callaway should see some work in 2018 but won’t steal too much work from the other receivers.
Callaway was frequently available in the 3rd and 4th round of rookie drafts and his cost shouldn’t increase this year. Even if the Browns were able to trade away Coleman, it’s doubtful Callaway would carve out large enough of a role to put up substantial rookie year stats. Buy Callaway in every league you can. Ask for him as a throw-in any trades you make with the Callaway owner in your league. His upside is immense, and Callaway’s opportunity could be just one season away.
Seth Devalve. I’m going to hold off on talking about Devalve for now and instead will do a player profile later. But he is someone I’m looking to acquire.
Corey Coleman is player that has yet to break out as many of us expected he would. Coleman hasn’t been able to stay healthy and when healthy has failed to display the talent that made him the 15th pick overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Browns seem to be unhappy with him, but getting a lucid answer from Hue Jackson is near impossible, so who knows what they think. It likely doesn’t matter what Jackson thinks anyway since he’s promised to leave the offensive play-calling to Todd Haley. Coleman could thrive as a deep threat, but that’s an area that Josh Gordon thrives in as well. As things currently stand Coleman probably won’t see the modest 6.8 targets he saw per game last year.
With an ADP as the WR60 and 168th player overall, I’m still in on Coleman. Draft capital matters, admittedly less so the further from that draft we get, and Coleman was a 1st round draft pick. His closest player comp is Odell Beckham Jr., and even if Coleman’s upside is a welfare version of Beckham, that’s still a damn good result. Here’s hoping that Coleman gets traded before the season (looking at you Dallas), or at least can stay healthy in 2018 and give Cleveland a reason to let Gordon walk after this year.
Carlos Hyde signed a three year $15 million contract with the Browns before the NFL draft, but that doesn’t even guarantee that he’ll break camp with them. Hyde is coming off a season where he amassed 1,288 total yards, including 350 yards on 59 receptions. Cleveland still has enough cap space to absorb any dead cap hit that may come with trading away Hyde before the start of this season. If Hyde isn’t traded, it’s assumed he’ll be cut after the season when his dead cap-hit drops to $2.33 million. If you own Hyde, you can’t sell him now unless your willing to sell low. Hold onto Hyde, hope he’s traded to another team or can find a less congested RBBC role elsewhere come 2019.
Thank you for reading. Hopefully, I could in some small way help clear up any confusion you feel when looking at the Brown’s pass catchers. You can always find me on Twitter @DFF_Shane.
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