Hue Jackson has been fired and another head coach is going to be leading the Browns, finally. In this case, the Browns do not have to start over and worry about rebuilding once again. Instead of bringing a new coach, they promoted their offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.
One of the things that led to Kitchens getting the job was his ability to turn Baker Mayfield into a possible franchise quarterback. With the number one overall pick designation, the expectations were high for Mayfield, to begin with, and Kitchens was able to showcase Mayfield’s abilities with the right play calling and schemes.
The Browns won their most games since 2014 and the optimism is high surrounding Mayfield and the Browns. While optimism is high for the team on the field, the optimism is a bit of a mixed bag for fantasy owners. Mayfield was reliable as a good streaming option, but can he be an every week starter in year two? Let’s dive into that question and the other position groups and see how they stack for your fantasy draft board.
Fantasy Focus: Head Coach Freddie Kitchens Fantasy Impact On Cleveland Browns
After being selected number one overall in the 2018 draft, Mayfield came into the season with high expectations. Initially sitting behind Tyrod Taylor, Mayfield had to wait his turn before taking over as the Cleveland signal-caller. With Taylor suffering a concussion in week three against the Jets, this opened the door to Mayfield leading the offense. He went on to lead the Browns to a win that week and then six more wins that season, to give the Browns their most wins in a season since 2014. He also went on to set a new rookie record for passing touchdowns with 27 and led all rookie quarterbacks in 2018 in multiple stat categories.
Now, what can derail all this success? A coaching change. Luckily, the firing of Jackson led to former offensive coordinator, Kitchens, to become the new head coach. This can lead to further development for Mayfield and he can now build on a great rookie campaign.
Also, Kitchens brought former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, to Cleveland to take the same position with the Browns. All Monken has done in his last three years as an offensive coordinator is have an offense that was top-10 in passing touchdowns (third in 2018) and top-5 in passing yards the past two seasons (first in 2018).
This means that the ceiling is very high for Mayfield when it comes to fantasy football. He was a great streaming option during the 2018 season, when teams were on bye weeks. Going into 2019, Mayfield becomes a very realistic option to be put into your starting roster every single week. There may be some reasons for hesitation, as there have been lots of quarterbacks that were flame outs after a solid rookie year. Be rest assured though, Mayfield has the right support on the field and on the sidelines that will make sure he will be a potential fantasy breakout star this coming fantasy season.
After the Browns traded Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Nick Chubb took the lead role in the Cleveland backfield. He ended up starting nine games for the Browns and he fell just four yards short of becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher for Cleveland since Peyton Hillis back in 2010. Chubb looks like the real deal when it comes to running the football, but his limitations in the passing game prevent him from being the every-down back.
This is where Duke Johnson Jr. can still be relevant in the Browns offense as his receiving ability adds another dimension to this Browns’ passing attack.
Another wrinkle for the Cleveland backfield is the addition of Kareem Hunt after he was cut by Kansas City when video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel hallway. Though we don’t know what sort of punishment will be handed out by the NFL, Hunt will play at some point this season and he has too much ability to keep him from being a factor in any offense.
Now Kitchens was all about incorporating the run game into his offense. An obvious reason why Chubb had the year he had in his rookie campaign. Also, this allowed Mayfield to not have as much pressure on him to perform as he could rely on a stable running game to balance the offense.
The interesting part of this is that Monken has never relied much on his run game to make his offense go. In his last two seasons at Tampa Bay, his rushing offense was 22nd or worse when it came to attempts, yards, and touchdowns. Monken is the epitome of pass-first when it comes to his offensive philosophy.
Now, what does this mean for fantasy owners come the 2019 season? It will be an interesting situation to monitor as the backfield has the potential to become a serious factor in the offense. The thing that you want to make sure of is who will be calling the shots. You don’t hire a guy like Monken unless you want him to run your offense. In all fairness though, Monken never did have a reliable backfield during his time with the Buccaneers, so that may throw a wrench into your decision process. Chubb deserves drafting and in PPR formats so does Johnson Jr. but they will not be worthy of starting until we see how this offense looks in the first couple weeks. As for Hunt, he can be a sleeper to add to your bench but you may not be able to use him for quite some time.
Five wide receivers caught a touchdown pass for the Cleveland Browns in 2018. Of those five, four of them caught multiple touchdown passes. This is great for the offense because we know that they have depth at a position that has featured a superstar but never depth behind him (Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Braylon Edwards, etc.).
Landry is going to get his, but now that there are receivers stepping up behind him, this takes some of the defensive attention away from him. Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins have really stepped up to bring this wide receiver unit serious talent going into the 2019 season and beyond.
Now Monken is great at involving the star receiver and then developing the talent behind him. In Tampa Bay, he got to use Mike Evans as the serious threat and then sprinkle in Adam Humphries, DeSean Jackson, and Chris Godwin to bring an added dimension to the passing game. In Cleveland, Monken will get the task of working with the young receivers and bringing the same balance he had in Tampa Bay. Kitchens is blessed to have this depth, but the big thing is the consistency and further development for this young core.
Now as great as it is to have that balance in the wide receiver unit, this is not as good for fantasy owners. Landry is a sure-fire starting caliber receiver for your roster but the other receivers are more streamable than starters.
Callaway has a good shot to become the number two option, but Higgins will be right on his tail. They will unfortunately cannibalize each other and make them hard to rely on in your starting roster. One week might be Higgins, the next it might be Callaway. We will have to wait for a couple weeks to see if Callaway or Higgins can emerge enough to become the number two option for the Browns. So worth adding to your roster if you need bench depth, but going into the draft, there are more reliable options until we see who can separate from the pack.
David Njoku enjoyed a nice breakout season with the help of Mayfield being under center. After playing with DeShone Kizer in his rookie year, Njoku just couldn’t rely on stable quarterback play to showcase his skills. The confidence and better ability that Mayfield displayed under center, allowed Njoku to finally breakout and his star is definitely rising now in the NFL as a premier tight end. Njoku was second on the team in passing targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. So we know that they want to keep him involved in the offense.
This plays into what Kitchens and Monken want to do with the offense. Njoku is a glorified receiver with his ability to stretch the field and has soft hands. With Monken coming from a team that had two good players at the tight end position (Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard), he knows the value of having the tight end a part of the passing offense. This means that Njoku should have no trouble getting looks in the Cleveland offense.
As mentioned, since Njoku was second on the team in all aspects of the passing offense, we can safely assume that he will continue that trend going into the 2019 season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Njoku cross the 100 target mark in his third year, which means more red zone targets as well. All four of his touchdowns came in the red zone and this means we should see that number rise in 2019. He is going to have a solid year and it would be best to draft him one round too early than one round too late.