by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
In fantasy football, only single players are highlighted and given room to shine, regardless if they’re on a great or horrible team in real life. So what I chose to do instead of standard power rankings was take a look at all 32 NFL teams and rank them based on their fantasy relevance for the 2016 season in standard leagues, considering their current rosters, systems and surrounding conditions as criteria. Much can change between now and the opening of the regular season, but the following rankings are merely opinions from my perspective based on the current state of affairs and are ranked in the order in which I would invest in them, not based on which teams will have the best records at the end of the season.
The rest of the rankings can be found here.
With another offseason full of headlines, the Browns at least want us to think they’re on the upswing. And maybe they are. But we’ve seen this before, so I have no choice but to reserve judgment. I do see some intrigue for dynasty purposes, but there currently isn’t a lot I feel comfortable investing in from a re-draft or standard league perspective in 2016.
The Ray Farmer experiment is over and Sashi Brown is the new vice president of football operations. Hue Jackson is the head coach, who has had some successes in the past, but overall seems to already be anointed by many media outlets as a savior of sorts.
We’ve only seen Jackson as a head coach once before during the 2011 season with the Oakland Raiders. He was probably fired prematurely following an 8-8 season when he lost Jason Campbell in week 6 and traded for Carson Palmer a couple weeks later. Because if memory serves me correctly, Palmer had been “retired” up to this point in the season, but Jackson was still dismissed all the same after the mediocre finish.
Regardless, Jackson’s successes in his extensive career as either a quarterbacks or running backs coach, or offensive coordinator, is simply not enough to turn this franchise around in one off-season. Is that long-term goal within the realm of possibility? Sure…but there have been more personnel shuffles, signings and promotions within the organization in this offseason that I care to count. And with no GM in the current system in Cleveland, Sashi Brown is calling the shots, and only time will tell how this regime will unfold. So to reiterate, I have no choice but to reserve judgment.
Questions at Quarterback
Other than coaching and personnel changes, Robert Griffin III is the most popularized offseason addition following the departure of troubled Johnny Manziel. Hue Jackson may be RG3’s best hope at turning his career around, and while this is relatively sad to say, I don’t believe he can be utilized in the running-game like he used to be capable of, if at all, and isn’t a franchise QB without that aspect of his game. With the loss of the most crucial phase of his game, fantasy upside follows suit. Griffin’s days in Cleveland are numbered if he can’t be fully maximized, and he hasn’t provided me with any reason to believe he’s even average at reading and reacting to coverage's (without his legs) or doesn’t have problems with down-field accuracy. We don’t really know at this point how he will be used, or if he can be as effective as he was in the past, or if he can be utilized in the run-game, or if he can even stay healthy doing it. So I will have a hard time devoting roster spots to his supporting cast, because much of their success hinges on QB play.
Speaking of which, Josh McCown is also in Cleveland, in addition to the team drafting USC’s Cody Kessler in the fourth round to compete for the starting position. We already know what we have in McCown, who I’d be comfortable using as a possible streamer when the matchup is favorable, but Kessler is intriguing for dynasty, considering a gushing Hue Jackson pointed out his size (6’1, 215 pounds), accuracy (67.5 completion percentage as a three year starter) and touchdown to interception ratio (88 to 19 in three years as the starter) were “everything you look for in a quarterback.” For dynasty purposes, I guess he should be on your radar. But former GM Ray Farmer believes McCown will win the starting position come the beginning of the 2016 season.
Kessler is the true unknown at the position since most scouts had him pegged as a career backup. We know what RG3’s and McCown’s ceilings’ look like in the best case scenarios, but the supporting cast needs to be able to execute efficiently as well.
Who is Poised for Production?
Speaking of the supporting cast, there are a few players with opportunities to contribute to your re-draft teams that I could support (depending on their price and who else is available at the time). For instance, while I admittedly like him more for dynasty purposes, first round pick Cory Coleman is in position to attract a lot of targets as the number one option following the departure of Travis Benjamin. The Browns passed on both Treadwell and Doctson in the 2016 draft for the former Baylor wide-out, who posted a single-season record at his alma mater in 2015 when he led the country with 20 touchdown receptions. He was drafted to score, and that’s the kind of opportunity fantasy GMs should be on the lookout for.
But they also drafted Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, and Rashard Higgins. I’ve been high on Louis for a while just because he thrived at Auburn with horrific QB play, plus I think he is athletic enough to prosper in the NFL. However, his route-running and hands would need to be worked with and reformed pretty dramatically to have a consistent and/or significant fantasy impact in 2016. Higgins and Payton are not to be slept on either though, in my opinion. Both players were extremely productive in college, and that could be an indication they do well in the NFL. So I wouldn’t be afraid to take shots on Coleman, Louis, Payton or Higgins in dynasty leagues. Or at the very end of your re-draft leagues if you’re feeling ballsy.
We do know that under Jackson, Cleveland will want to run the ball, and the running game consists of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. Neither are particularly exciting to me, but either could at least produce flex or low RB2 numbers with volume on their side, so long as they can be somewhat consistent in light of how the offensive line will operate in the absence of center Alex Mack. While they do have a ceiling, these two could be steals on draft day because you won’t have to pay much for them and both could end up being the starter. But if the team is going to be playing from behind consistently, I could see Duke Johnson being effective in PPR formats as well.
Gary Barnidge, coming off sports hernia surgery, is the only remaining fantasy relevant player that comes to mind on the Browns’ depth chart. Keep in mind that I had him on a few rosters last season, so I don’t dislike the player. But from a fantasy perspective, I need to see more than one successful season from the career journeyman before I actually draft him. The fantasy community is reactionary, and now that Barnidge isn’t a waiver wire commodity, there is no attraction for me unless if I can get him at a bargain. And since I typically wait on tight ends or stream them, it’s a safe assumption that he will be far gone before I’m comfortable picking him and will not end up on any of my rosters this upcoming season.
Like I said earlier, there is some intrigue at the skill positions, but ultimately their success is in the hands of whichever quarterback is under center. And for 2016, all of the available options have relatively low to mediocre upside in best case scenarios with a young supporting offensive cast. So in my opinion, I’d rather arrive late to a party once I know it’s worth attending than show up early and end up being the only one there. But even on the worst teams, there is value to be had, so monitor this situation closely. Just keep in mind that in fantasy, when in doubt, try to side with or target players on the teams with more overall offensive production and higher upside. And just for reference, the Browns were 30th in the league last season in the average score for (per game) category at 17.38.
Also, before I sign off, just for disclaimer purposes, while I doubt it will transpire in 2016, some of this story changes if Josh Gordon returns.