QB Johnny Manziel
(2013 QB Rank—N/A)
As one of the most polarizing players in the NFL, Johnny Manziel provides a similarly tantalizing dilemma for fantasy owners. He has undeniable physical gifts, but does he have enough between the ears to win the starting job and run with it? A dynamo on the ground and in the air, Johnny Football dazzled the college ranks for two years at Texas A&M. He showed improved development as a pocket passer in his short collegiate career, but enters a pro system that will undoubtedly test his discipline and maturity.
A positive for Manziel is the presence of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan knows a little something about getting the most out of fleet-footed rookie quarterbacks. Expect Shanahan to employ Manziel on a bevy of rollouts and bootlegs to give him the throw/run option. No matter who is under center, the Browns will use a running-based offense, especially considering the potential loss of All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon. Manziel will be a part of that attack and with enough playing time, he could approach 100 carries.
Any potential fantasy impact that Manziel might have will be tied to playing time. If he can win the job in camp, he should start all 16 games. Manziel’s cocky attitude, reckless play style and sinewy rocket arm harken back to a young Brett Favre. In his first year as a starter for the Packers, Favre put up 3,000+ yards passing and had a respectable 18-14 touchdown to interception ratio. With a limited offense, experience and weapons to throw to, Manziel’s full-season stats are most likely capped at QB2 potential. Keep a close eye on his development, as Manziel could be a valuable spot starter late in the season for a needy fantasy owner.
QB Brian Hoyer
(2013 QB Rank—#44, 17.5 FPts/G)
Lacking the physical gifts of his rookie competition, Brian Hoyer is a backup-level talent that will struggle to put up numbers in this Cleveland offensive system. While Hoyer has the chops to lead and brings a two-game spark to a Cleveland team that was again spiraling out of control, he’s a career journeyman quarterback. Hoyer’s upside is limited by a run-based offense and the presence of Johnny Manziel. Hoyer will battle for the starting gig in the preseason, but remember that Manziel remains the franchise’s future. Unless Hoyer plays lights out and the Browns win games, Manziel is going to siphon starts away at some point this season. While his work ethic and leadership are admirable, Hoyer simply doesn’t bring enough to the table to be a valuable piece of your fantasy roster and is nothing more than a QB3.
RB Ben Tate
(2013 RB Rank—#33, 8.2 FPts/G)
Injuries and playing time have prevented Ben Tate from ascending into the upper tier of young runners. Given a one-way ticket to starter’s snaps in Cleveland, Tate has a chance to showcase the skills that made him a fantasy darling in 2012. Back in the zone-blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan, Tate will benefit from a familiar scheme and strong Cleveland offensive line. Sporting a great 4.6 yards per carry average for his career, Tate seems primed to climb the rankings and be a fantasy centerpiece. But before you go and make Tate a high draft pick, consider some of the red flags, the biggest being his injury history. In just three seasons Tate has missed eight games because of injury, and played hurt and ineffective in several more. He simply hasn’t displayed the ability to stay healthy for an entire season and is a good bet to break down with too voluminous of a workload. His durability was most likely a reason why his free-agent reception was very lukewarm. The bigger roadblock to Tate’s success could be his teammates. Terrance West, the third-round pick out of Towson has been impressive this offseason, as has undrafted free agent and former five-star recruit Isiah Crowell. If West’s successful exploits continue into preseason action, look for Tate to cede a large volume of touches to him. Timeshare and injury concerns figure to limit Tate, but in an offense built to run the football, look for Tate to approach the 200-yard carry range and be a low-tier RB2 for your fantasy squad.
RB Terrance West
(2013 RB Rank—#52, 4.1 FPts/G)
Stoutly built at 5’9’’, 225 lbs. with quick feet and good vision, Terrance West has a chance to carve out a large role in the Cleveland running game. Capable of heavy workloads, the Atlantic 10 prospect from Towson also has a nose for the end zone with 84, yes 84 touchdowns in three college seasons. As he continues to develop as a pass catcher (only 36 career college receptions) expect West to get the bulk of his work inside the 20. West is going to challenge Tate for playtime as soon as the opening weekend and is a must-handcuff for anyone drafting Tate as a starter. Should Tate miss time during the season, West could quickly pick up RB2 value, but for now, add West as a high-upside RB3 and hope he sees the field early and often.
WR Josh Gordon
(2013 WR Rank—#1, 16.2 FPts/G)
Overflowing with talent and unfortunate decision-making, Josh Gordon is at a career crossroads. At the time of this writing, 2013’s fantasy monster at wide receiver is appealing his yearlong suspension. If he somehow wins any measure of his appeal, whenever he steps onto the field he will be a fantasy stud no matter if Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel are tossing the rock. It seems as though Cleveland won’t give up on him, so dynasty leaguers can still take a flier on the elite wideout, but redraft owners will have to hope he wins his appeal to get any value.
WR Miles Austin
(2013 WR Rank—#118, 2.2 FPts/G)
Relegated to the fantasy scrap heap because of balky legs after a once promising career, former Cowboy Miles Austin has been thrust into the spotlight for the Cleveland Browns. Under the looming suspension of Josh Gordon, Austin instantly becomes the most experienced wideout on the roster and will shoulder the burden on the outside. Austin is part of a complete overhaul at the Browns receiver position, and with health, he could approach 50 catches and 700 yards. Stuck in what is sure to be a committee approach, Austin will be limited as a low-upside WR4/5.
WR Charles Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
If there is one receiver who offers a glimmer of fantasy hope on the Cleveland roster, it’s the 6’2’’ speed demon Charles Johnson. The 2013 seventh-round pick from Grand Valley State didn’t see the field last year. Reports out of camp, however, indicate he could push for playing time in 2014. With middling talents ahead of him on the depth chart, Johnson could earn enough playing time to make fantasy owners interested. Keep a close eye on his early season snap count and don’t wait to scoop him up off the waiver wire should you sense a breakout looming.
TE Jordan Cameron
(2013 TE Rank—#4, 8.9 FPts/G)
There was hardly a better fantasy player after the first four weeks of the 2013 season than Jordan Cameron. The athletic tight end that was expected to break out under tight end guru Norv Turner started off blazing hot with a 30-360-5 line by Week 5. But as the season wore on, Josh Gordon began to impose his will and the passing game was siphoned through him. Cameron tallied only two more touchdowns in the final 12 games and exceeded 10 targets only once. With Gordon suspended, Cameron immediately becomes option No. 1 in the Cleveland passing game. As the only threat running around in the secondary, Cameron is going to get plenty of attention. Expect defensive coordinators with lockdown corners to deploy them to cover Cameron when he goes out wide, much like the Patriots did with great effectiveness with Jimmy Graham last year. Luckily not many teams have corners able to cover Cameron’s size-speed combination, and despite the loss of Turner, scheming tight ends open is something offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has experience doing. Even with the added defensive focus and unsettled quarterback position, Cameron has the talent, scheme and opportunity to approach his season totals from last season, even with less overall variance in scoring on a weekly basis. Plug Cameron in as an upper-tier TE1 and don’t look back.