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The Browns were the darling of the AFC North in 2014, making a playoff push before ending the season with five consecutive losses. In 2015, it can no longer be said that they are a pushover. The Browns do two things that are difficult in today’s NFL: they can run the ball whenever they want, and they can defend the pass better than any team in football.
Unless your league has a spot for offensive lines, the Browns aren’t a team with many fantasy assets. Running backs are by committee here, but if the depth chart were to thin out, the rusher left standing may bring some monster performances.
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Here’s the best Browns:
1: Isaiah Crowell, RB
It wasn’t always clear who the starting back in Cleveland was, but Crowell certainly looked the best in 2014. At 4.1 yards per attempt, Crowell was a handful between the tackles, but losing two fumbles hurt his playing time. He finished with eight touchdowns, respectable considering he touched the ball more than 15 times in only three games.
Crowell has a buzz around him heading into 2015. He should improve on last season’s 148 carries, which were only 35 percent on the Browns rushing attempts. Crowell is a mid-round pick with great upside. If he can keep the fumbles down, he will be the Browns every-down back this season.
2: Terrance West, RB
West became the main ball carrier for the Browns last year after Ben Tate struggled early on. He burst on the scene with 100 yards in Week One, but never matched that mark for the rest of the season. The former Towson standout led the team with 171 rushing attempts, but only found the end zone five times in 2014.
Running behind Cleveland’s line, it won’t be hard for West to repeat his 2014 performance, which wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. If he can stay healthy and hold onto the ball, he’ll outlast Isaiah Crowell and become the Browns feature back. West may not be worth drafting, but you’ll be calling owners like crazy trying to trade for him midseason.
3: Browns DST
The Browns didn’t have a solid quarterback last year, but constantly found themselves hanging around games in the fourth quarter. Cleveland played six games decided by three points or less, ending up 3-3 in those contests. What kept them hanging around was the defense, led by what may be the league’s best secondary. Cleveland was sixth in passing touchdowns allowed, and their 21 interceptions was second-best in the NFL.
Despite their on-field success, Cleveland wasn’t a great fantasy start last season. They struggled terribly against the run last year, which negated any impact the secondary might have. Actually, they were the league’s worst run defense, giving up over 2,200 yards. The Browns made improvements in the offesason, acquiring three defensive players in the first three rounds and signing former Dolphin nose tackle Randy Starks. Cleveland will have strong fantasy weeks, but until they prove themselves there will be better options available.
4: Brian Hartline, WR
Without Josh Gordon, the Browns were devoid of the big-play threat last season. They still don’t have that threat. But Brian Hartline adds an immediate impact. Hartline is the definition of a possession receiver, and will bring relaible hands to a position that is constantly in flux in Cleveland.
Hartline was signed in the offseason after six seasons in Miami. He saw alot of change there, too, and was a valuable asset in the ongoing maturation of Ryan Tannehill. Hartline disappeared behind Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry last year, and took the hint that times were changing. However, Hartline entered 2014 coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, so it’s not like Hartline has never been productive before. Hartline could be one of your last picks, and end up being an important piece down the stretch.
5: Duke Johnson, RB
Duke Johnson passed the eye test while running at Miami, so much so that the Browns nabbed him in the third round. Johnson is both fast and physical, and left Miami as the school’s all-time leading rusher after three seasons. Take a second and think about the previous running backs that have gone to Miami.
Whether Johnson’s physical style will translate into the NFL is unclear. The Browns want to use him on third down, but right now he is sitting out of preseason practices with a hamstring injury. If Johnson can get on the field and stay there, he’s the Browns back of the future. He’s a late round pick but has great keeper value.
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