Team-by-Team Draft Recap: Cleveland Browns



We continue to go around the league and cover the draft picks from each team, discussing their potential in dynasty leagues and impact on their new teams. Today, we cover the Cleveland Browns, who had an exciting draft from a dynasty fantasy football perspective.

Johnny Manziel, QB (Round One, Pick #22 Overall)

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Initially, when Cleveland traded up to end Manziel’s fall down the first round at the 22nd pick, it seemed like he was entering a very good fantasy situation. That all changed approximately 12 hours later when the news broke about Josh Gordon’s latest violation of the NFL’s substance abuse program, which, if the reports are true, would mean a full calendar year suspension. As you would expect, when you take one of the best young receivers in the game out of the picture, the situation becomes far less appealing.

The Browns declined to address receiver in the draft, instead turning to late-May free agency and adding Earl Bennett and Miles Austin, who immediately became two of the Browns’ best three receivers, along with Andrew Hawkins. Austin is an intriguing bounce-back candidate as his career has been derailed primarily by ongoing hamstring issues rather than a substantial decline in his abilities, but suffice it to say, Josh Gordon’s shadow looms large. Even if Austin does to somewhat return to form, it would’ve been invaluable for Manziel to have a “go up and get it” presence like Gordon, having excelled with a similar presence in Mike Evans in college.

On the bright side, Manziel will still have Jordan Cameron, a qualify offensive line anchored by Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, and a deep stable of running backs with Ben Tate, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell. He’ll also be working with Kyle Shanahan, who did an excellent job designing a scheme that best fit Robert Griffin III’s abilities in Washington. There’s little question Shanahan will be able to take advantage of Manziel’s mobility on play-action, bootlegs, and perhaps some read-option plays mixed in. The question with Manziel will be how quickly he can develop as an analytical quarterback inside the pocket, and how much of his free-lancing, improvisational style will translate in the pros.

As to Manziel’s timetable, I happen to believe he’ll start opening day in his rookie season. Various officials from the Browns front office have been going out of their way to insist Manziel is the third-string quarterback, behind Brian Hoyer and Tyler Thigpen, but personally, I think it’s a poor attempt at a misguided smokescreen. Hoyer had a nice three-game stretch with the team last year, but he’s a journeyman quarterback coming off a torn ACL. Thigpen isn’t even in Hoyer’s class, and has barely been with the Browns for a cup of coffee. Also, as mentioned above, Shanahan will want to build an offense tailor-made for Manziel’s abilities. It seems like it would be an awful waste of time to install an offense that fits Hoyer’s style rather than Manziel’s.

The DLF staff rankings currently have Manziel as the 21st overall rookie, one spot ahead of Blake Bortles and five behind Teddy Bridgewater. I personally believe Manziel has the highest fantasy ceiling of any quarterback in this class because of his big playmaking ability and mobility, but he does cary some developmental risk.

Terrance West, RB (Round Three, Pick #96 Overall)

West is a compact runner, standing just 5’9’’ and checking in around 225 lbs. He’s considered a rugged, physical player with good vision and patience, but lacks top-end explosiveness and speed. He was extremely productive in college, but did not play against top competition. Overall, it seems he could be a capable, if not spectacular, workhorse running back.

While West may have some questions as a prospect, it’s hard not to like the situation he ended up in. He will be playing behind a talented offensive line, and an oft-injured incumbent starter in Ben Tate. Tate is on a a two-year deal with short money and it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone if he wasn’t a long-term player for the Browns. West’s patience as a runner will be an asset to him in Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme, which requires a runner to wait for a hole to develop among a moving, flowing group of offensive lineman and have the vision to recognize it where and when it does.

It also bodes well for West that the Browns felt compelled to trade up to the 94th pick to grab him, reportedly because they had a feeling some other teams were targeting him. West seems to have the endorsement of another AFC North team, as Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has spoken publicly about being a fan of West.

Currently, West is ranked relatively low by the DLF team, checking in at #27 overall – this is behind other running backs who were drafted later, including Storm Johnson, Lache Seastrunk and KaDeem Carey. This may be in part due to the Browns also adding Isaiah Crowell, who we will get to momentarily. In a way, it is reminiscent of a poor man’s Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin situation we had a year ago. Both players had fans, and as a result their stock subtracted from each other a little.

West is unlikely to pay immediate dividends as Tate is an excellent fit for the Browns scheme, but if you have roster space and some patience, West is an excellent early third round stash in rookie drafts.

Isaiah Crowell (Undrafted Free Agent)

Crowell is considered by many to be the most talented running back in this class, but fell out of the draft due to his off-the-field issues, which included a failed drug test and two felony weapons charges that were ultimately dropped. There have also been some questions about his toughness and willingness to play though relatively minor injury issues. On film, however, there aren’t a lot of holes to be found in his game. If he can get his act together, Crowell could be an intriguing player to stash.

The only problem with him is the price. Despite the fact Crowell seems to be an extremely risky player, he is not falling tremendously far in drafts, no doubt because most are aware of his talent. Crowell is ranked #23 overall by DLF rankers and seems to be going in the mid-second to early third round in rookie drafts, from what I’ve seen. This is certainly a discount for a player of Crowell’s upside, but it still means you’re passing on a pretty good rookie prospect, presumably without the baggage. As Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon owners can tell you, downside is more than just a concept; it happens.

Other notes

The Browns drafted Christian Kirksey in the third round, a name you’ll want to know if you play in IDP leagues. He’s slightly under-sized and may struggler early on against the run, but he was considered one of the better coverage linebackers in his class, which should help him see at least nickel work very soon. More importantly, only Craig Roberston stands between him and a starting inside linebacker spot next to Karlos Dansby, which would be a productive fantasy situation.

And lastly, the Browns took cornerback Justin Gilbert with #8 overall pick of the draft. Gilbert will start immediately and could see a lot of activity directed his way by teams electing to throw away from Joe Haden. Gilbert has the makings of an elite cover corner, but he’s not always very aggressive in defending the running game. He is, at best, a roster stash in deep CB-required leagues at this point.