With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at the ceiling of the Cleveland Browns’ 2017 first-round pick.
The Browns haven’t scored 30 points in a game in an NFL-high 43 consecutive games. Unsurprisingly, this type of environment hasn’t exactly fostered many fantasy-friendly opportunities, but times are a changin’ in Cleveland. The Browns have an abundance of new pieces and a new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley.
While the team’s respective running back and wide receiver rooms certainly boast their fair share of talent, their true breakout star might just be a tight end.
David Njoku Had a Solid Rookie Year
Having to deal with 16 games of head coach Hue Jackson and 15 games of quarterback DeShone Kizer isn’t for the faint of heart. Still, Njoku managed to demonstrate his tantalizing combination of ball skills and athleticism throughout his first season.
David Njoku = TE1
-81st-percentile SPARQ-x score
-1 of 11 TEs with 8+ catches of 20+ yards in 2017 pic.twitter.com/dfC2lJj6VZ
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 31, 2018
Unfortunately, Njoku didn’t exactly receive an abundance of opportunities as a rookie. Seth Devalve (50%) actually played on a higher percentage snaps at tight end than Njoku (47%), and third-stringer Randall Telfer (28%) was involved as well.
The good news is Njoku still managed to rank third on the team with 60 targets, and he saw an uptick in snaps after the Week 9 bye.
When all was said and done, Njoku ranked 20th among 43 tight ends in yards per route run (Pro Football Focus), and his 32-386-4 line was good for TE24 status in points-per-reception formats. His splash plays may overstate how good his rookie season really was, but history is firmly on Njoku’s side heading into his second season.
First-Round Tight Ends Tend to Make a Leap in Year 2
Tight ends face one of the league’s most difficult transitions from college to the pros. This is especially true for those that are expected to both block and catch. Njoku certainly wasn’t the most polished tight end coming out of Miami, as the former high-school receiver and national boys high jump champion faced questions about his blocking ability and drops.
Luckily for the Browns, Njoku eased most of his concerns by dropping just three passes all season, and he also finished the season as PFF’s highest-graded run blocker at tight end. Based on the historical production from other tight ends drafted in the first round since 2000, we should expect a leap forward from Njoku in 2018.
- 14 of 18 — including the last 11 — received more targets in their second season. On average, they received an additional 19 targets in Year 2.
- 14 of 18 increased their PPR points in Year 2, and the average increase was 39.9 PPR points.
- 14 of 18 scored more touchdowns the second time around, and overall they’ve averaged an additional 2.4 touchdowns in Year 2.
(Note: The likes of Kellen Winslow, Tyler Eifert, and Ben Watson dealt with injuries that resulted in seasons in which they played two or fewer games. Those years were disregarded in favor of their subsequent post-injury season.)
Cleveland’s New Quarterbacks Have a History of Feeding Tight Ends
Kizer was shipped off to Green Bay in favor of Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. The 2018 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick figures to start sooner rather than later, but each quarterback should be a fairly fantasy-friendly option for Njoku.
- Taylor often featured Charles Clay in Buffalo, feeding him at least 74 targets per season from 2015 to 2017. Clay’s average of 5.8 targets per game over that span ranks 12th among all tight ends to play at least 20 games, and he averaged an additional 2.1 DraftKings points per game with Taylor under center.
- Mayfield’s wide-open offense at Oklahoma often featured tight end Mark Andrews in the slot, but Mayfield still managed to feed him almost 300 more receiving yards than the next best tight end in college football as a redshirt junior. Andrews scored at least seven touchdowns in each of his three seasons with Mayfield.
The likes of Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and even Corey Coleman are objectively better than anybody that Taylor or Mayfield have routinely targeted during their careers. Still, Njoku offers a playmaking vertical threat up the seam that Ben Roethlisberger routinely looked for in Haley’s offense; the likes of Jesse James and Heath Miller simply didn’t offer the same field-stretching ability as Ladarius Green or Vance McDonald.
It’s safe to say Njoku is the most talented tight end Haley has worked with in years. Assuming the beastly second-year man can take the step forward that history suggests, Njoku has a chance to easily surpass his current PPR average draft position of TE14 (Fantasy Football Calculator).
You can use our tools to research more player- or team-specific questions for yourself, and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.
Pictured above: Adrian Phillips (left), David Njoku (right)
Photo credit: Jake Roth – USA TODAY Sports