I’m no fan of the Cleveland Browns. From their awful-color uniforms to their lackluster announcement of a uniform change a few years ago when they went from orange-orange to orange-red, to their horrid draft decisions over the last decade or so, I’m just never going to be able to get behind the Dawg Pound. That said, in my three years of writing about fantasy sports, no team’s fan base has impressed me more than Cleveland Browns. Be it via interactions on Twitter or Reddit or in real life, they are a knowledgeable, funny, devoted fan base who honestly deserves much better from their franchise.
Big Free Agency Moves
With the Browns’ recent trades and moves, my initial thought was “Here we go again, the Browns are being the Browns!” I’m no Tyrod Taylor fan. Maybe in a 2QB league, he’s a fine QB2, but in 1QB leagues, no thanks – and I’m typically somebody who waits as late as possible to snatch a quarterback in redraft leagues. I’ve just never been a big fan. I don’t think he’s awful, but there are a bunch of players I’d rather have over the respective QB16, QB8, and QB16 over the last three seasons while he was a starter. His trade from the Bills did nothing to move the needle for me except wonder who the Bills would be trading with the move up in the draft because there is no way they are rolling with Nathan Peterman on opening day next year.
In addition to the Taylor trade, the Browns also acquired Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins. In point-per-reception (PPR) leagues, I like Landry for what he does. But aside from that, yuck. He has been incredibly volume-dependent as was illustrated perfectly by his stat line last season when he hauled in 112 catches and somehow only amassed 987 yards. Woof! Whether or not you like the moves, at least you can say the Browns are doing something this off-season, which can’t be said for several other teams this year. (Now, if you attribute the apparent early off-season success of this team to the current front office led by John Dorsey, or the prior regime led by Sashi Brown, that’s open to debate at another time).
I love to play devil’s advocate and will regularly argue against something I believe to be true, so I can examine all sides of an issue. With that in mind, after initially thinking that Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry would likely be trash for fantasy football together in Cleveland, maybe, just maybe, they could thrive and turn the “216” into “Believeland” once again.
A Look at Tyrod Taylor
I researched Taylor’s history and found that he wasn’t as bad as I had thought. Taylor has been an NFL starter for three seasons, and over that time, has amassed 51 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while adding another 14 rushing scores. If you’re mathematically impaired, that’s 65 total touchdowns in 3 years. By comparison, while Taylor was operating as the signal caller in Buffalo, the Browns had 8 different guys line up behind center. That group of QBs combined for 63 touchdowns and 54 interceptions with another 13 scores via the ground. If you want to be thoroughly disgusted, those quarterbacks were Johnny Manziel, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Kevin Hogan, Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and somehow Charlie F’n Whitehurst was still in the league too.
Sorry, I digress; I’m a sucker for low hanging fruit, and I found an opportunity to bash the Browns a little bit more. Now, back to the potential Taylor-Landry connection. I wanted to look deeper into Taylor’s numbers and found exactly what I was looking for courtesy of Josh Hermsmeyer’s amazing, free, data-packed website: Airyards.com. I wanted to see what Taylor’s average depth-of-target (aDOT) was while he was a starter in Buffalo (If you want to learn more about aDOT, ESPN’s Mike Clay introduced it to the world in 2012). My thinking being, if Jarvis Landry was typically used on short and intermediate routes in Miami – and given heavy volume – the fantasy community (myself included) believes that he’d lose value playing for any other team due to the lack of volume in another system. I wanted to look at Taylor’s history to see if maybe he was, for lack of a better term “Taylormade” for Landry’s perceived skill set.
I used the Airyards.com tools to look for Taylor’s distribution of targets broken down by the depth-of-target. The chart illustrates that during his 3-year tenure as a starting quarterback in Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor, by volume, threw most of his passes 5, 4, and 6 yards, respectively. Before I looked at Landry’s numbers, this jumped off the page to me as I assumed this would lie right in Jarvis Landry’s sweet spot given his reputation as a volume-receiver who doesn’t stretch the field.
A Look at Jarvis Landry
Jarvis Landry is polarizing in fantasy circles. Some love his high floor for PPR leagues, while others despise his inefficiency with the targets and touches and volume he got in Miami. To put some of his most hated numbers out there, last season Landry led the NFL with 112 receptions, yet still somehow failed to top 1,000 yards receiving. He averaged an abysmal 8.8 yards-per-reception (YPR) last year, and for his career, he’s averaged only 10.1 yards-per-reception. To put those numbers into context, the average NFL wide receiver gets approximately 12 YPR, and last season, Landry’s 10.1 yards career average would have ranked him 91st in the NFL in YPR. “Gross” would be an understatement. Seattle’s Doug Baldwin had nearly the same yardage total as Landry – and did so with 37 fewer receptions. Landry’s paltry 8.8 YPR ranked him 108th in the NFL last year, a territory typically reserved for tight ends, running backs, fullbacks and the Cole Beasley’s of the world (an unnecessary cheap shot at Beasley whose career YPC is higher than Landry’s, but was the closest wide receiver to him last year).
With the same distribution of target-by-depth data used for Taylor above, it confirmed what I had thought.
As you can see, the most frequent depths for Landry’s targets have been 4, 5, and 6 yards, respectively. These numbers almost perfectly overlap with what we found when looking at Tyrod Taylor’s data. To be fair, it’s not as eye-opening as it seems at first glance. The 5-yard target depth is the leading or second-leading depth-by-volume for every quarterback I looked at, which gives me pause. I wanted to see where Landry’s aDOT was for his career. As you can see below, to my horror, his average depth-of-target was 6.6 yards.
Is 6.6-yard average depth-of-target bad for a receiver? I set to find out. I did a little trial-and-error test-run using airyards.com data plugging in elite receivers, awful receivers, and known slot receivers, to see if that 6.6 number was as terrible as I initially suspected.
For context: Antonio Brown posted an aDOT of 11.10 yards. Known deep ball specialists, like Ted Ginn and Paul Richardson, have aDOTs of 14+ and 13+, respectively. Kenny Stills, Landry’s teammate in Miami, has averaged an aDOT of 15 yards! It’s not entirely fair to compare Landry, typically a slot receiver, to the NFL’s top deep-ball threats. However, when you do compare him to fellow slot receivers, Landry’s aDOT of 6.6 yards doesn’t measure up. Seattle’s Doug Baldwin’s aDOT is over 10 yards, Washington’s Jamison Crowder averages just over 7 yards, Julian Edelman, and Willie Snead’s averages are in the mid-8s. So, who compares to Landry in terms of aDOT? It looks like the two best comps I found are the aforementioned Cole Beasley who’s aDOT of only 5.6 was the only active NFL wide receiver I found below Landry. Retired slot stud Wes Welker had an aDOT of 6.3 yards. It’s easy to postulate that Landry was purely a product of volume during his time with the Dolphins.
Will They Mesh in Cleveland?
Over the last two seasons, TE Charles Clay has arguably been Tyrod Taylor’s favorite target in Buffalo, with RB LeSean McCoy a close second. Charles Clay’s aDOT over his 3-years playing with Taylor was 7.67 yards. Clay’s 7.67 aDOT is just a hair below the top-end of the NFL’s elite TE talent. The Gronks, Ertzes, and Grahams of the world are typically between 8- and 10.6- aDOT. With that 7.67 aDOT number in mind, it seems like Taylor would be looking to Landry often. When you look at Taylor’s target distribution by depth below, you’ll notice the highest percentage of his throws, over 6%, fall just below the 5-yard mark.
When we look at Landry’s distribution of targets by depth, you’ll notice that he, too, finds his highest percentage of targets, just over 6%, fall right below the 5-yard mark. At first glance, that seems like a match made in heaven, right? A closer look, though, reveals something slightly troubling.
We’ve established that Landry has one of the league’s worst YPR, and now we’ve discovered that he also has one of the lowest average depths-of-target in the league among all receivers too. Although, both Taylor and Landry’s distribution of targets by depth seems to match up nicely, that may not tell the entire story of what their future could hold as teammates.
A closer look at Taylor’s aDOT data reveals that he’s more of a deep-ball thrower than the public might give him credit for. As a starter, Taylor has an average depth-of-target of 9.4 yards. It may not seem like much, but I can’t find another quarterback with aDOT higher than his. Taylor isn’t just a deep ball thrower – apparently, he’s THE deep ball thrower. The only other quarterbacks I found averaging 9 yards or greater were Russell Wilson (9.1), Andrew Luck (9) and Ben Roethlisberger (9). Most of the quarterbacks we think of as bombers have lesser aDOT numbers. Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady are all in the mid-8s, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford are sub-8-yards. And for the sake of argument, Ryan Tannehill, and Jay Cutler (Landry’s quarterbacks) are sitting at aDOTs of 8.5 and 8.6, respectively. With Taylor statistically as a deep ball threat, Landry will be the odd man out in Cleveland with Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman on the field. Gordon has an aDOT of 13.3 and Coleman’s aDOT sits at 14. When playing with Taylor, Sammy Watkins, and Robert Woods’ aDOT sat at 15 yards for Watkins and over 10 yards for Woods. Looks like it going to be a deep-ball party in Cleveland and poor Jarvis Landry will be the odd man out.
Is There Any Hope for the Taylor-Landry connection?
I intentionally omitted one name from the list of quarterbacks who have an aDOT over 9 yards. In a strange twist, Miami Dolphins backup quarterback and occasional starter Matt Moore has a career aDOT of 9.3 – exactly like Tyrod Taylor. It’s a small sample size, but according to rotoviz.com Landry played 11 games with Moore as his quarterback. You can see how his performances in those games played out here:
You’ll see that although he had lesser volume with other quarterbacks, Landry’s average numbers were better. He averaged fewer targets with Moore at the helm but averaged nearly 10 more yards per game on more than one fewer reception per game and he scored more touchdowns on a per-game basis. Comparing Matt Moore and Tyrod Taylor only by average depth-of-target leaves a lot to be desired. However, Moore is the most similar quarterback I found to Taylor.
What Can We Expect in 2018?
From the looks of things, the Browns are going to be drafting a quarterback early in the upcoming draft, possibly with the 1st overall pick. Assuming that, despite Head Coach Hue Jackson saying otherwise, we might only get a half-season out of Taylor at quarterback. History shows he is a good fit for this team, as far as the talent around him is concerned. Taylor is a deep-ball passer and has two statistically great deep-ball threats in Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman, and he has a reliable short(er) yardage weapon out of the slot in Jarvis Landry. Landry will probably not get the volume we as fantasy owners have become accustomed to while he was in Miami, so the question becomes whether he can be a more efficient fantasy producer with fewer touches? After looking through the data, I think the answer is “yes.” Given new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s history of play calling, I think we can expect something in the neighborhood of 200 fantasy points out of Landry this year. That should put him somewhere between WR18 and WR24 on the season.
I anticipate Josh Gordon will also have a nice season, leaving Corey Coleman as someone I’m selling, as there are only so many targets to go around. As far as Tyrod is concerned, if he can keep his hold on the starting job in Cleveland all season, despite whatever rookie is knocking on the door behind him, he might be a solid fantasy sleeper pick this year. I don’t think a finish as a low-end QB1 or high-end QB2 is out of the question, I see him finishing the year in the QB11-QB14 range if he plays all 16 games under Todd Haley. He’s got a plethora of weapons both in the air and on the ground, a good offensive line, and a solid offensive game-planner calling his plays. This might be the best offensive Browns’ team we’ve seen in decades if all the pieces fit together like it appears they will.