Fantasy Football: Freddie Kitchens should keep things cooking in Cleveland
Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb should remain effective in Freddie Kitchens' offense in Cleveland, but what about the Browns' receivers?
One of the brightest young players in the NFL is Baker Mayfield. Whoever is calling his plays matters a lot for the quarterback's future in Fantasy. The good news is that the Browns appear to be all about the air.
Cleveland promoted running backs coach-turned-interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens into its head coach, adding ex-Buccaneers playcaller Todd Monken as the new offensive coordinator. Kitchens will continue to call plays but insisted that Monken will have a say in how the offense will operate.
Kitchens has called plays for exactly eight NFL games — he won five of the eight, and as you'll learn, he trusted his quarterback quite a bit. Monken has called plays for exactly 15 NFL games, and he, too, trusted his quarterback a bunch.
It makes for a very good situation for Mayfield, albeit one without much data to back it up.
We crunched the numbers on Kitchens' play calls for the last half of the 2018 season to give us a glimpse into how the Browns might operate beginning in 2019. Here's what we have.
Overall, the Browns came in at 59 percent passes, compared to 41 percent runs under Kitchens. What's notable is in the Browns' five wins with Kitchens calling plays, they were almost exactly balanced at 50-50 (0.4 percent more favored toward the run). And in their three losses they were absurdly off-kilter — 73 percent pass, 27 percent run. It's not surprising to see a coach go pass-heavy when playing from behind, but a 73 percent pass ratio will always raise eyebrows.
In general, the information confirms what we already knew: This is Mayfield's team now.
RB runs called per game
If you're targeting Nick Chubb in 2019 drafts, you'd probably wish for that number to be a little higher. And when the Browns won under Kitchens, that number was higher — 22.6 carries per game. Not surprisingly, in their three losses the Browns' running backs averaged 15.0 carries per game.
Maybe if this were the "old" Browns, these numbers would sway us away from their rushers. But Cleveland seems to be a team on the rise, complete with one of the league's brightest young backs in Chubb. Of course we'd wish for more touches — perhaps we'll get them when the Browns string together more wins than losses in 2019.
It wouldn't hurt if the Browns used Chubb more in the passing game, either.
Not that Kitchens didn't try.
Honestly, it's all good news here. Whereas Chubb didn't get a slew of touches week in or week out and did split receptions, it's a clear tendency for Kitchens to lean on his running backs. Nearly a third of the receptions went their way!
Chubb's season kicked into high gear when the Browns traded Carlos Hyde, but his receiving opportunities didn't really start until Kitchens took over. In eight games, Chubb caught 18 passes including six in the three losses. Unfortunately for Chubb, Duke Johnson still had a larger share in the pass attack, rounding up 27 grabs over eight games and 12 in those three defeats.
We might not see a scenario where Chubb regularly out-catches Johnson, but we should also never see Johnson out-carry Chubb. Chubb out-touched Johnson 19.8 to 5.6 in games Kitchens called plays in. Let's keep that going.
While we'll line up to draft Chubb, we might have to take a step back from David Njoku. The athletic-but-raw tight end had the same amount of touchdowns with both playcallers but saw more targets with Todd Haley (6.4) than with Kitchens (4.6). However, Njoku did improve his receiving average from 9.6 to 13.7 with Kitchens. That part is nice, but it's not enough to expect Njoku to fulfill his potential as a stud Fantasy tight end. It'll probably take a strong training camp and preseason to buy into him as a big-time player at a thin position.
Kitchens' playcalling versatility — and Mayfield's ability to function in it — left a less-than desirable amount for the Browns' receivers.
Overall, Jarvis Landry saw 11.8 targets per game with Haley calling shots and 6.9 targets per game with Kitchens. The story wasn't quite as bad for Antonio Callaway (5.6 targets per game with Haley, 4.3 targets per game with Kitchens), but it spells out a pretty clear tendency: Kitchens prefers to spread the ball around, not to lean too heavily on one or two guys.
Maybe Kitchens' approach will change if the Browns add another quality outside receiver. Such a move would take pressure off of Landry and Callaway, conceivably giving them a shot at being more efficient. But whether this happens or not, neither receiver will be a top-70 priority pick in Fantasy drafts. This is an area in the Cleveland offense that needs help.
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