The Cleveland Browns are one of the most intriguing offenses for Fantasy Football in 2023 because they present such a wide range of outcomes. Deshaun Watson has delivered elite level QB play both in real life and Fantasy in the past, but from both a stats/analytics and game film standpoint, he was one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks last season. With a full offseason to work and two added weapons in the pass game -- wide receivers Eli Moore and Cedric Tillman -- Watson will have one of the best supporting casts in the NFL at his back. The Browns offensive line didn't have their best year in 2022 but remain in the top tier with upside to get back to being one of the league's elite units again. If this offense takes off, almost every player you draft will be a value.
- AFC North: | |
Below the CBS Sports Fantasy staff will take a look into the Browns' entire team outlook including a burning question for Fantasy Football managers that needs to be answered, key player projections, a review of their draft class, strength of schedule, and individual player outlooks for all of the notable Browns players who may end up on your Fantasy rosters.
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Browns 2023 team outlook
By Chris Towers
The Browns took a big swing with the Deshaun Watson trade, but they failed to live up to expectations in his first season, going 7-10 while the offense averaged just 16.3 points per game in Watson's six games. They're a solid bet to take a step forward, but Browns history tells us to expect disappointment.
Burning question: Can Deshaun Watson bounce back?
Watson was once one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but going nearly two years without playing left him understandably rusty. He'll still be just 28 for most of this season, so it's not unreasonable to expect a bounce-back performance, especially with what looks like a pretty talented receiving corps. But the ceiling for this team will be tied directly to how much of his pre-suspension form Watson can recover; there's considerable upside in buying in at a discount if you believe.
Key Browns player projections
|QB||Deshaun Watson||PA: 551, YD: 3854, TD: 26, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 91, YD: 362, TD: 4|
|RB||Nick Chubb||CAR: 272, YD: 1358, TD: 12; TAR: 39, REC: 29, YD: 217, TD: 1|
|RB||Jerome Ford||CAR: 91, YD: 380, TD: 4; TAR: 22, REC: 17, YD: 116, TD: 1|
|WR||Amari Cooper||TAR: 138, REC: 84, YD: 1091, TD: 6|
|WR||Elijah Moore||TAR: 99, REC: 60, YD: 725, TD: 5|
|WR||Donovan Peoples-Jones||TAR: 88, REC: 51, YD: 690, TD: 4|
|TE||David Njoku||TAR: 94, REC: 61, YD: 730, TD: 5|
2023 NFL Draft class
Browns 2023 schedule breakdown
Projected Strength of Schedule rankings by Dave Richard
- QB PSoS: 5th easiest
- RB PSoS: 8th easiest
- WR PSoS: 5th easiest
- TE PSoS: 3rd easiest
|1||Sep 10, 2023||@Cleveland||1:00 pm||Cleveland Browns Stadium|
|2||Sep 17, 2023||vsBaltimore||1:00 pm||Paycor Stadium|
|3||Sep 25, 2023||vsL.A. Rams||8:15 pm||ESPN||Paycor Stadium|
|4||Oct 1, 2023||@Tennessee||1:00 pm||FOX||Nissan Stadium|
|5||Oct 8, 2023||@Arizona||4:05 pm||FOX||State Farm Stadium|
|6||Oct 15, 2023||vsSeattle||1:00 pm||Paycor Stadium|
|8||Oct 29, 2023||@San Francisco||4:25 pm||Levi's Stadium|
|9||Nov 5, 2023||vsBuffalo||8:20 pm||NBC||Paycor Stadium|
|10||Nov 12, 2023||vsHouston||1:00 pm||Paycor Stadium|
|11||Nov 16, 2023||@Baltimore||8:15 pm||AMZN||M&T Bank Stadium|
|12||Nov 26, 2023||vsPittsburgh||1:00 pm||Paycor Stadium|
|13||Dec 4, 2023||@Jacksonville||8:15 pm||ESPN||TIAA Bank Field|
|14||Dec 10, 2023||vsIndianapolis||1:00 pm||Paycor Stadium|
|15||Dec 17, 2023||vsMinnesota||TBA||—||Paycor Stadium|
|16||Dec 23, 2023||@Pittsburgh||4:30 pm||NBC||Acrisure Stadium|
|17||Dec 31, 2023||@Kansas City||4:25 pm||GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium|
|18||Jan 7, 2024||vsCleveland||TBA||—||Paycor Stadium|
Browns 2023 player outlooks
By Dave Richard unless otherwise noted
QB Deshaun Watson
Less popular than he was three years ago, Watson sizes up as a Draft Day bargain. Cleveland's signal-caller was juuust good enough at the end of 2022 -- 24.8 Fantasy points over his final two games -- for us to be mildly optimistic.
Offseason additions to the receiving corps and a strong O-line help his cause, as does Watson's modest per-game rush average (29.2) landing close to his career average (31.1). It's not all good news as Watson posted career-worsts in 2022 in attempts per game, completion rate, yards per attempt and TD rate, and in four years, play caller Kevin Stefanski has never dialed up pass plays more than 54% of the time.
Watson is a solid bounce-back candidate who might not throw as much as you'd like but does have a good enough supporting cast to land competitive numbers (especially with an easier-than-expected schedule). He's safest as the 10th, 11th or 12th quarterback off the board.
RB Nick Chubb
Over the past four seasons, Chubb has finished on a per-game basis between seventh and 12th in PPR and fifth and eighth in non-PPR.
He'll enter the 2023 season still just 27 years old (28 in December) and, as of this writing, without having to share touches with Kareem Hunt. Not that sharing was a big problem -- Chubb has reliably averaged at least 15.8 carries per game since 2019, a trend that should continue. Even with Deshaun Watson for six games last year, Chubb averaged fine metrics (17.0 carries, 4.8 yards per carry). He just didn't score any rushing touchdowns, though he did catch a TD.
The veteran runner deserves the benefit of the doubt as Cleveland's offense should be more efficient in the red zone this year with Watson, plus Chubb hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. He's a safe pick around 22nd overall in PPR leagues and 14th overall in non-PPR.
RB Jerome Ford
After totaling eight carries over two games as a rookie in 2022, Jerome Ford enters the 2023 preseason as the presumptive backup to Nick Chubb. That role used to go to Kareem Hunt in the past, and usually, that meant roughly 10 or 12 touches per game. Ford has good enough size and power with solid speed, plus he proved in college he could reel in targets. Because he hasn't had an opportunity to play yet in the pros, his Fantasy value is awfully cheap, which means as backup running backs go he's a good value with a pick after Round 12, especially for those who take Chubb with an early-round pick.
WR Amari Cooper
There are some issues that might keep Cooper from being as good as he was in 2022.
With Deshaun Watson for six games last season, Cooper averaged 6.5 targets and 11.6 PPR Fantasy points per game, both of which pale in comparison to the 8.5 targets and 16.0 PPR points per game he collected with Jacoby Brissett. Assuming Cooper will just recoup those lost 2.0 targets per game with Watson isn't promised as the Browns added three new targets to their passing game, including intriguing after-catch speedster Elijah Moore and rookie big man Cedric Tillman.
On the plus side, Cooper isn't showing any signs of slowing down as his efficiency still ranked high in 2022. Figure him as a Fantasy starter who will deliver some boom weeks but will mostly be a steady, modest contributor. He should get taken around 50th overall.
WR Elijah Moore
Moore was traded from the Jets to the Browns this offseason, and he gets a fresh start that will hopefully revive his Fantasy value. He's worth drafting as early as Round 8 in all leagues.
Moore had a standout rookie season in 2021 when he averaged 12.5 PPR points per game, but he struggled as a sophomore at 5.4 PPR points per game. The Jets coaching staff seemed frustrated with Moore, and he never got on track with poor quarterback play. In Cleveland, he gets to play with Deshaun Watson, and Moore should be the No. 2 receiver opposite Amari Cooper. There's competition for targets for Moore with Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cedric Tillman and David Njoku, but Watson should find that Moore is a reliable weapon.
He should have the chance to play closer to his rookie campaign than he did last year, and Moore moving to Cleveland should be a great situation.
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
Peoples-Jones finished second on the Browns in targets last year with 96 (5.6 per game), but in a run-focused offense that added a bunch of wide receivers this offseason, there's no guarantee of a repeat, much less an improvement of that stat in 2023.
That's not to say he wasn't an efficient receiver -- Peoples-Jones ranked in the top 20 among qualifying wideouts in yards per catch (13.8) and explosive play rate (20.6% of his catches went for 16 or more receiving yards). He just didn't get enough opportunities, including in the six games he played with Deshaun Watson (5.0 targets per game).
Peoples-Jones might be worth a look late in Best Ball drafts, but given the influx of competition for targets in what's already a low-volume passing offense, he's otherwise a receiver to avoid.
WR Cedric Tillman
Tillman is a big, physical outside receiver coming off of five years of college football.
His 2022 season at Tennessee was marred by an ankle sprain that required surgery and ultimately cost him six games. Despite that, he scored 15 times over his final 19 games, averaging 14.8 yards per catch in that time. For a 6-foot-3 receiver, Tillman has good speed and definitely has an aggressive nature to fight for contested catches, but he's still a work in progress as a route runner and isn't a natural separator.
He might develop into a reliable option in Cleveland over the next year or two, which is why he's not worth even a late pick in 2023 seasonal leagues but is worth the spend in Dynasty rookie-only drafts at or after 25th overall.
WR David Bell
Bell will compete for playing time with the Browns, potentially suiting up as a slot receiver and depth player. Bell played at least 40% of the snaps in 10 games last season, catching at least three passes in four of them and scoring in none of them. Given the added receiver talent the Browns added in the spring and the run-friendly offense they seem to prefer, Bell isn't worth rostering in seasonal Fantasy leagues with declining value in Dynasty formats too.
TE David Njoku
Njoku's 10.1 PPR points per game in 2022 felt like a breakout campaign, even if the numbers didn't make anyone's eyeballs pop out of their sockets.
This year Njoku will be tasked with being just as efficient, but his target share (5.7 per game) isn't promised given the additions to the Cleveland offense. He also averaged a mere 9.1 PPR points per game in five outings with Deshaun Watson, who has never shown a tendency to overtarget his tight ends. Njoku is a risky Fantasy draft pick, especially if it's before the likes of Pat Freiermuth or Dalton Schultz.
Round 11 is the earliest he should be picked, particularly since his matchups in Weeks 2, 3 and 4 aren't particularly attractive.
York's first season as the Browns' kicker didn't move the needle in Fantasy whatsoever. He finished 29th in Fantasy points per game among kickers despite finishing tied for 13th in field goal attempts. That's what happens when you miss 25% of your kicks. If York struggles similarly this year, he might be out of a job. Don't draft kickers who miss 25% of their field goals and subsequently could be out of a job.
Cleveland's addition of Za'Darius Smith to a pass rush that already includes superstar Myles Garrett gives the Browns a pretty potent group that can force sacks and turnovers. Combine that with a run defense boosted by the arrival of Dalvin Tomlinson and a secondary that boasts three quality cornerbacks and a good safety duo, and the Browns DST has some appeal. That is, until you see that they play the Bengals in Week 1 before taking on the Steelers and Titans in Weeks 2 and 3. Your best move might be to hope that the Browns DST goes undrafted so you can add them off waivers after Week 1.