Fantasy Football 2022: Cleveland Browns Franchise Tag David Njoku

David Njoku Cleveland Browns

The first NFL Free Agency Domino fell on Monday, with the Cleveland Browns opening the franchise tag window by tagging TE David Njoku, tying him to Cleveland for one more year. This comes on the heels of Njoku repeatedly requesting a trade from Cleveland, and now they deny him his freedom. What does this mean for Njoku, the Browns, and 2022 fantasy football?

First, while I am a staunch proponent of player rights, I can’t get too mad at a tight end franchise tag figure of $10.9 million, it does sort of stink that the Browns and Njoku get tied together for one more year. Through four seasons, Njoku averages about 27 yards per game on 2.3 catches for the Browns, and he faded from the greater NFL consciousness as he had a weird spat with Freddie Kitchens on the eve of the league losing its mind with COVID-19 and the Browns losing their mind by giving Austin Hooper the most lucrative tight end contract of all time.

Well, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Browns will exercise their out on their Hooper contract early, and designate him a post-June 1 cap casualty. This will put them on the hook for $3.75 million over each of the next three seasons, saving them $9.5 million each of the next two years. That likely clears the tight end room down to David Njoku and Harrison Bryant. While I like Bryant’s upside, the commitment to Njoku has my interest piqued.

If you look at Cleveland’s tight ends, it looks as though they don’t use the position at all. After all, Hooper, Njoku, and Bryant have all been busts there. But that right there is the problem, too many cooks. The Browns threw the ball to their tight ends 28.5% of the time, the third-highest rate in the NFL (tied with the Falcons). Since they didn’t throw the ball as often as other teams, the Browns’ raw TE targets sat a bit lower… sixth in the league. So, they do use the tight end, they just use all of them. Hooper led the Browns with 61 targets in 2021, and Njoku followed behind him with 53. Bryant took up the rear with just 28 targets in 2021.

Njoku was good last year on a per-target basis, too. He ranked tenth in tight end deep targets last year and was top-five in both yards per reception and yards per target at the position. Njoku also boasted the sixth-most fantasy points per target. He was productive on a per-target basis, he just didn’t have all that many targets. Njoku should end up in the 85 target range in 2022, as the Browns will continue to throw tight ends the ball with regularity.

In full-PPR, this is a buying opportunity for Njoku as a backend TE1. Or, as we call it here at Football Absurdity, The Blob. Tight ends ten through thirteen in total PPR fantasy points last year had between 71 and 79 targets, meaning that the 85 or so likely headed Njoku’s way is going to allow him to perform well inside this range. As of right now, there’s only one place drafting for 2022 fantasy football, Underdog. According to 4for4.com’s ADP data tool, Njoku is currently TE24 off the board, and pick 187 overall. He’s a great selection at that price, and he should leap into the top-18 by ADP in short order, provided the Browns don’t make any splashy moves in free agency or the draft.

The only downside for Njoku’s potential breakout in 2022 comes with the territory in Cuyahoga County. With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in tow, the team wants to run the ball in and around the ten zone, which will limit Njoku’s touchdown upside. Still, he managed to score four touchdowns last year on his 53 targets. He also finishes with 475 yards and 36 receptions. All of those were admirable on a per-target basis, but ultimately he finished as just TE23 in total PPR fantasy points last year.  He finished just ahead of TE24… Austin Hooper.

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About Jeff Krisko

You can follow me on twitter, @jeffkrisko for the same lukewarm takes you read here.

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