We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.
The Browns have emerged as a most popular dark horse and are 5-4 favorites to capture the AFC North title for the first time since 1989.
The 2018 Chiefs jumped off the page as the NFL’s most explosive offense even before they played a snap last season thanks the rise of their first-round quarterback and addition of a high-priced receiver. Now the same is true for the 2019 Browns — who brought in Odell Beckham Jr. to pair with 2018 No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield — and there’s reason to believe their offense could rank among the league’s best as early as this season.
But just how explosive should we expect this unit to be in fantasy football? Let’s take a closer look at Mayfield and the weapons around him.
Baker Mayfield Looked a Lot like an Elite QB as a Rookie
Mayfield put together about as good of a rookie season as we’ve seen for a quarterback over the better part of the past two decades.
Here’s how he ranked among 50 quarterbacks with eight-plus starts since 2000:
- Touchdowns: 27 (first among 50 rookie QBs with 8+ starts since 2000)
- TD rate: 5.6% (third)
- Yards per attempt: 7.7 (eighth)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 7.5 (seventh)
- Yards per game: 284.6 (first)
- Completion rate: 63.8% (eighth)
- QB rating: 93.7 (fifth)
The Browns benefited from Mayfield’s chops as a downfield passer as he joined Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes as the only quarterbacks with double-digit deep-ball touchdown passes in 2018 (throws of 20-plus yards per Pro Football Focus).
Mayfield can make pretty much any throw on the football field — and he knows it.
There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of Mayfield’s path to stardom, especially considering who his teammates are on offense.
Cleveland’s Sudden Plethora of Great Skill-Position Players
There should be a dizzying number of good to great options for Mayfield to throw the ball to on any given play this season.
Excellence exists in the backfield as well as at tight end and receiver. Let’s run through each group.
- Nick Chubb: The Browns’ 2018 second-round pick is one of the freakiest athletes in the NFL and is making an early case as one of the league’s premier backs at creating game-changing plays.
Most yards after contact per touch in a season among all RBs since 2010 (PFF, min. 100 carries):
1. 2018 Nick Chubb (4.47) 👀
2. 2017 Kenyan Drake (4.29)
3. 2018 Derrick Henry (4.21)
4. 2012 Adrian Peterson (3.93)
5. 2017 Alvin Kamara (3.83) pic.twitter.com/qt8Rv9Gi79
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 30, 2019
- Kareem Hunt: The former Chiefs running back is suspended for the first eight games of the season. But he’s one of the best backs at breaking tackles and offers enough upside as a receiver to potentially dominate down the stretch.
- Duke Johnson: The Browns’ long-time underused backup has ranked 29th, sixth, eighth, fourth and first in yards per touch during his career among running backs with at least 20 touches.
- Odell Beckham Jr.: The ceiling is the roof for the NFL’s best wide receiver with Mayfield under center. OBJ’s average of 92.8 receiving yards per game trails only Julio Jones (96.7) among all wide receivers in NFL history.
Imagine trading away Odell Beckham Jr. pic.twitter.com/X7bbXNvXhX
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 13, 2019
- Jarvis Landry: The Browns’ incumbent No. 1 receiver is now one of the most over-qualified No. 2 receivers in the league. Beckham’s presence should allow Landry to get back to his roots as a primarily underneath option. He ranked among the league’s top four receivers in yards after the catch from 2015 to 2017 before falling to 31st last season.
- Antonio Callaway: The Browns’ 2018 fourth-round pick has Day 1 talent and a 4.41-second 40-yard dash that was on full display in 2018. His pure speed makes him a dangerous secondary option.
- David Njoku: The former first-round tight end has a ridiculous amount of athleticism (82nd-percentile SPARQ-x score) for a man his size (6-foot-4 and 246 pounds). He ranked among the league’s top 10 tight ends in catches (56), yards (639) and touchdowns (4) last season at 22 years old.
- Demetrius Harris: The former Chiefs tight end is a former basketball player with an alien-esque combination of size (6-foot-7 and 235pounds) and speed (4.57-second 40-yard dash).
Of course, the roster wasn’t the only upgrade the Browns made during the offseason.
Coaching Upgrades Should Also Help
The Browns’ decision to remove the interim title from head coach Freddie Kitchens was thanks in large part to his ability to turn around Mayfield’s rookie season:
- Weeks 1-8: 58% completion rate, 6.6 yards per attempt, 3.5% TD rate
- Weeks 9-17: 68% completion rate, 8.6 yards per attempt, 7.2% TD rate
And there’s reason to believe the addition of new offensive coordinator Todd Monken could lead to even further improvement.
The Buccaneers didn’t exactly thrive in terms of winning with Monken helping direct the offense under head coach Dirk Koetter, but it’s tough to argue with their offensive efficiency. Overall, only the Falcons (8.3 yards per attempt), Chiefs (8.0), Saints (7.9), Chargers (7.9) and Patriots (7.9) averaged more yards per pass attempt than the Bucs (7.8) from 2016 to 2018.
There are still some questions along the offensive line as well as with their linebackers and secondary. Still, it’s tough to imagine a world in which the Browns’ offense won’t be productive with the level of talent and smarts surrounding what looks like one of the league’s next great quarterbacks.
Mayfield doesn’t offer a ton of value as the QB4 in average draft position, but don’t be surprised if he and the rest of the Browns’ skill position players achieve fantasy stardom on a regular basis in 2019.
Pictured above: Baker Mayfield
Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports