QB Brandon Weeden
The Colt McCoy era, if you can call it that, has seemingly come to a quick end in Cleveland with Weeden, the 22nd player taken in the draft, expected to take over in the starting lineup in 2012. That’s nice but the bottom line is that Weeden won’t enjoy much more success than McCoy unless the team receives improved performances from its running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen. McCoy suffered at least partly because he lacked a true number one wide receiver, a role the Browns hope that second-year player Greg Little can grow into. Running back Trent Richardson, the highest rated player at his position in this year’s draft, should help the ground game. While Weeden is a solid dynasty league prospect given his age, maturity and strong arm, he is not worth owning in re-draft leagues.
QB Colt McCoy
Browns president Mike Holmgren all but admitted that McCoy never got a fair shake in 2011 as he couldn’t overcome the poor performances from every other facet of the team’s offense. Despite his solid character and toughness (how many quarterbacks would have returned to the game after getting put on another planet from taking a James Harrison headshot?), McCoy may not have the arm strength to be anything more than a quality NFL backup. It remains to be seen whether he will be in Cleveland on opening day.
RB Trent Richardson
Let the hype machine get rolling! Best rookie running back since Adrian Peterson. No competition for touches in Cleveland. Three-down back. Bad passing attack means plenty of runs. Yada yada yada. Time to pour some cold water on the hype. Is he 99% of Peterson or just 80% (hey, I could tell people I applied to Stanford and avoid telling them I had a 0% chance of getting in). Is plenty of touches in one of the league’s worst offenses a recipe for fantasy production? Did we mention the rookie quarterback issue? Did we mention the lack of a true number one wide receiver? Have we gotten to the fact that most of the upper tier ranked rookie running backs have flopped in recent years? Check out the rookie production of Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, LeSean McCoy, Mark Ingram and Daniel Thomas. There is little doubt that Richardson has impressive size, speed and agility and should be a three-down back, perhaps as early as this season. But the issue is value. Unless Richardson produces 1,500 yards and 8-10 touchdowns, his fantasy production is not going to merit where he is being drafted, which is as a lower tier RB1.
RB Montario Hardesty
Here’s the way the NFL can work for running backs. You suffer a season-ending preseason injury in your rookie year, then battle injuries and ineffectiveness in your 2nd year and enter your 3rd season destined to be a backup. The NFL doesn’t wait for you. In 2011, Hardesty failed to prove that he is a starter worthy player, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry on 88 rushes and failing to find the endzone. While the Browns plan to give rookie 1st round pick Trent Richardson plenty of touches in 2012, Hardesty doesn’t even rate highly as his handcuff because the expectation is that he would split the role with Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya if Richardson would go down. Hardesty rates as a lower tier handcuff in redraft leagues, provided he wins the backup job.
RB Chris Obgonnaya
Ogbonnaya had a pair of solid performances subbing in as a starter in 2011, topping 100 total yards in consecutive games against the Rams and Jaguars. Unfortunately, he struggled badly in his two other starts against the Texans and Bengals. He will enter 2012 competing with Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson for a roster spot and the backup job behind rookie Trent Richardson. While Hardesty enters camp as the front-runner for that role, Ogbonnaya clearly outplayed him in 2011, averaging 4.5 yards per carry to just 3.0 for Hardesty. That helps Ogbonnaya’s chances of winning the job but he also clearly lacks Hardesty’s upside.
RB Brandon Jackson
A toe injury ended Jackson’s season in training camp last season and he returns to the Browns hoping to secure the 3rd down pass-catching role that he fulfilled as a Packer for the majority of his four years in Green Bay. For Jackson to have any fantasy value in 2012, he will need to assume the lead backup role, for the Browns to use rookie 1st round pick Trent Richardson only occasionally on 3rd downs and for the dormant Browns offense to come alive next season despite having a rookie starting quarterback and no proven top level wide receiver. Play the odds, folks.
WR Greg Little
Every so often a player comes along and the fantasy world seems to completely overlook their prospects. Such is the case with Little in 2012. As a rookie, Little had his ups and downs. On the plus size, he amassed 61 receptions for 709 yards despite the shoddy quarterback play in Cleveland last season and the fact he missed all of his final college season due to a suspension. Not as impressive was his touchdown total (two), his double-digit drops and his average yards per reception (11.6). Heading into 2012, Little stands out as the only wide receiver on the Browns roster capable of assuming a leading role and he figures to benefit from strong-armed rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. With rookie burner Travis Benjamin on the roster, there is even a chance that opposing defenses may have to respect the deep ball more than they did in 2011. A converted running back, Little shed some pounds this winter and that should help his YAC totals. He’s being drafted as a high end WR4 under the assumption he will merely match his 2011 production and that’s a bargain given his upside and lack of competition for touches in the Browns passing attack.
WR Mohamed Massaquoi
What’s the book on Massaquoi? Well, the Browns seem to love him with president Mike Holmgren once again predicting a breakout season for the 2009 second-round pick from Georgia. Let’s see if Mike’s on the ball on this one. Massaquoi’s receptions totals have went from 34 to 36 to 31 and his yardage totals have dropped in each of the last two years from 624 to 483 to 384. He has scored seven touchdowns in three years. And, perhaps most damning of all, Massaquoi has caught 41.6% of his passes over his three-year career. I don’t care how bad the quarterback play has been – that’s pathetic. Concussion issues hindered his production last year but there is absolutely no reason to have Massaquoi on any fantasy roster to open the season.
WR Jordan Norwood
If you’re looking for a reason as to why you need to ignore the training camp hype, let’s look at Jordan Norwood. The Browns talked him up last summer and then proceeded to give him exactly two targets over their first six games. By season’s end, Norwood had accumulated just 23 receptions on 34 targets for 268 yards and a score. Best suited to play out of the slot, Norwood will battle rookie 4th round pick Travis Benjamin and veteran Josh Cribbs for that role in 2012. While he may put up some numbers in the first few weeks of the season, he figures to see his playing time decrease as Benjamin grows into the role. Norwood is not worth owning in 2012.
WR Travis Benjamin
The Browns used a 4th round pick to acquire Benjamin and he has the opportunity to earn a significant amount of playing time in 2012. While some rookies have the pedigree to get that chance, Benjamin’s road to playing time is more the result of the Browns having arguably the worst group of wide receivers in the league. The speedster from the University of Miami has outstanding speed (4.34 40-yard dash) and his size (5’10”, 175 pounds) would seem to dictate that he play out of the slot. However, the knock on him coming out of college was that his route running needed improvement so it may take him half a season to carve out a meaningful role. In redraft leagues, Benjamin is worth monitoring as a waiver wire option and he rates as a lower tier prospect in dynasty leagues.
WR Josh Cribbs
There was a time when it appeared that Cribbs would establish himself as a threat in the return game as well as on offense in both the running and passing game. Let’s stick a nail in that coffin. Cribbs managed career-highs in receptions with 41, receiving yards with 518 and receiving touchdowns with four in 2011 but failed to supplement that on the ground, getting just seven touches – his lowest total in five seasons. With a running back depth chart going four deep, that won’t change in 2012 and with the Browns focused on developing Jordan Norwood and rookie 4th round pick Travis Benjamin behind starters Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi, Cribbs figures to get even less use in 2012.
TE Ben Watson
After failing to reach his vast potential and having several largely unproductive seasons in New England, Watson was a revelation in his first year with the Browns in 2010, catching 68 passes for 763 yards, both career highs, and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, he went back to being his underwhelming self in 2011, as concussion issues plagued him on his way to a 37 reception, 410 yard, two-touchdown season. At this point of his career, Watson figures to more into more of a blocking role with veteran Evan Moore and 2011 4th round pick Jordan Cameron assuming a larger portion of the pass catching duties. Watson is waiver wire material in 2012.
TE Evan Moore
After putting together a few solid performances in 2010, Moore was expected to make a decent leap forward in 2011 but that failed to happen, despite starting tight end Ben Watson missing time with concussion issues. The Browns clearly don’t trust Moore in a blocking role so you have to wonder how much playing time he will get this season with the team committed to pounding the rock with rookie running back Trent Richardson. We see little reason to suggest Moore see much of an improvement on his 34 reception, 324 yard, four-touchdown performance from a year ago.