2014 Team Outlook: Cleveland Browns

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2014 Team Outlook: Cleveland Browns

A fantasy football preview of the Cleveland Browns this season. Profiled players include Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer, Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, and Chris Ogbonnaya.

RISKY BUSINESS: The Browns haven't had much success selecting quarterbacks in the first round, but they rolled the dice on Johnny Football with the No. 22 overall pick. They're hoping Manziel works out better than previous No. 22 overall picks they've used on quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden in 2012 and Brady Quinn in 2007). They also whiffed with the Tim Couch selection in 1999 (first overall). While Manziel's running ability gets a lot of attention, 2013 showed his passing skills are improved as the redshirt sophomore completed 70-percent of his passes for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He added 923 rushing yards (759 net) with nine touchdowns on the ground. In 2012, the redshirt freshman won the Heisman after he completed 68-percent of his passes for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In that first collegiate season, he rushed for an eye popping 1,571 yards (1,410 net) with 21 touchdowns. Johnny Football will be hard-pressed to produce QB1 numbers even if he wins the starting job as the Browns' receiving corps (without Josh Gordon) will likely rank among the bottom five in the NFL. Whichever QB wins the starting nod will benefit from playing behind an offensive line ranked No. 12 overall by Pro Football Focus (18th in run-blocking and 6th in pass-blocking).

Editor's note: Love him or hate him, Manziel keeps making headlines. Putting on the pads and seeing if he is for real can't come soon enough. The Browns could have a fantasy gem on their hands or a monumental train wreck waiting to happen. Easily the most divisive player to come into the NFL since Tim Tebow.

The 28-year-old impressed in two starts last season before he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 against Buffalo. Hoyer completed 60-percent of his passes over Weeks 3 and 4 (wins over Minnesota and Cincinnati), while averaging 295 yards per game. He tossed five touchdowns and three interceptions over those two contests and will have every chance to beat out Johnny Football in training camp. Hoyer is entering a contract year, so motivation won't be a concern, but he will likely have one of the more pedestrian receiving groups when Josh Gordon is suspended. The Browns also have the worst fantasy schedule for QBs with 10 games against defenses that were stout against the pass and just three favorable match ups (Jax - Week 7, TB - Week 9 and ATL - Week 12). With his job security and receivers lingering as major questions, a very difficult schedule, and the Browns expected to employ a run-heavy approach -- Hoyer remains unlikely to produce fantasy numbers even if he wins the starting job.

Editor's note: Hoyer is the man to beat for the starting job; however, does he really offer that much to the team? We saw very brief glimpses of his talent and it was up in smoke almost immediately due to injury. If Manziel is the real deal, there's no reason he should sit behind Hoyer for even one game.

In 2011, Crowell (a five-star prep recruit) started for Georgia as a true freshman and finished with 185 carries for 850 yards and five touchdowns. An arrest on weapons charges resulted in him being kicked off the team. He ended up at Alabama State, rushing for 842 and 15 touchdowns in 2012 and 1,121 yards (6.59 YPC) and 15 touchdowns last season. Despite the character concerns, Crowell has a skill-set that could pay dividends at the next level. The 5-foot-11, 224-pounder is a powerful runner with adequate speed. He also displayed decent pass protection skills in college, which should help him make an impact in the short-term. He is worth a late-round flier in dynasty leagues with rookie Terrance West and Ben Tate listed above him on the depth chart.

ROOKIE IMPACT: The Browns had an underwhelming rushing offense last season and used the offseason to upgrade their backfield by signing Ben Tate and drafting West in the third round. The former Towson back had 802 carries in college for 4,849 yards (6.1 YPC) and 84 touchdowns. He saved the best for last by posting a monster 2013 with 2,509 yards and 42 touchdowns, which resulted in West being named Offensive Player of the Year in both the Colonial Athletic Association and all of FCS. West (5-foot-9, 225 lbs.) had an impressive combine (4.54 40-yd dash) and runs with power and balance. This gives him a chance to carve out his own niche in the Browns' run oriented attack. Questions remain regarding his pass-catching ability, as he had just 36 career catches in college (only 10 receptions between 2011 and 2012). Tate has battled injuries throughout his career, making West one of the better rookie backs to target in redraft leagues.

The 28-year-old Texas alum proved to be more than just a solid Scrabble word. He gained some PPR relevance in 2013 (had at least five catches over five games). Ogbannaya was limited to 49 carries for 239 yards, yet set a career high with 47 receptions for 334 yards and two scores. Ogbannaya has no fantasy value without a string of injuries occurring ahead of him on the depth chart.

Tate signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract to be the lead back for the Browns. In 2013, Cleveland's ground game was anemic. Their 86 rushing yards per game ranked sixth-worst. The 25-year-old Auburn alum spent the first three years of his career backing up Arian Foster in Houston. He has missed eight games over the past three seasons. In Cleveland, Tate will run behind one of the league's better offensive lines, which ranked 12th overall by Pro Football Focus (18th in run blocking). Over his brief career, Tate has averaged 140 carries for 664 yards (48 YPG) with an impressive 4.7 YPC. He lacks game-breaking speed, yet possesses sufficient size (5-foot-11, 215 lbs.) to handle 15 to 20 carries per game. In his 11 career games with at least 15 carries, he averaged 12 FPPG. The Browns added Terrance West in the 2014 NFL Draft, so Tate is unlikely to dominate touches; however, Cleveland is expected to employ a run-focused attack under Kyle Shanahan (especially with Josh Gordon's lengthy suspension expected). Tate had 34 catches in 2013, yet West is expected to dominate third-down touches which will limit Tate's upside in PPR leagues. Tate makes for a solid RB2 worth targeting in Round 6 because of his 66.24 ADP.