Things didn’t really go as planned for the 2022 iteration of the Cleveland Browns. They leveraged their future—and organizational integrity—on Deshaun Watson, who knocked off the rust to the tune of 184 passing yards and 29 rushing yards per game while averaging 1.2 touchdowns and 0.8 interceptions in his six games played last season. If Watson doesn’t turn things around, the Browns face a truly hellish cap situation, with the Deshaun Watson cap hit equaling $63.97 million in each of the 2024, 2025, and 2026 seasons. But, we aren’t particularly concerned about that (other than the fact that it would be really funny to see Watson stay terrible). However, we are concerned with the rookies the Cleveland Browns put around Deshaun Watson, who already has Nick Chubb, Amari Cooper, David Njoku, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Elijah Moore at his disposal. They took two fantasy football-eligible players in the 2023 NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at their rookie year fantasy outlooks, shall we?
FULL CLEVELAND BROWNS 2023 NFL DRAFT
|4||111||Dawand Jones||OT||Ohio State|
|6||190||Luke Wypler||C||Ohio State|
Round 3, Pick 74 Overall: Cedric Tillman, Wide Receiver, Tennessee (6’3” 213 pounds)
WR1 Amari Cooper
WR2 Donovan Peoples-Jones
WR3 Cedric Tillman
WR4 Elijah Moore
WR5 David Bell
It was the best of snaps, it was the worst of snaps. Cedric Tillman is a big and strong receiver, who is fast for his size. Unfortunately, he can also get completely bodied by smaller defenders as he sometimes fails to fully utilize his size and gets bullied. At his best, he’s an amazing contested catch receiver. At his worst, he’s getting shoved off of 50/50 balls and calling for flags before he even hits the ground (he literally did this against the Gamecocks). Tillman has the size, upside and toughness to be Michael Pittman, but he also has the complete lack of focus and technical proficiency to end up like Denzel Mims.
Still, despite the inconsistencies and downsides, Tillman makes for an intriguing player, mostly because you can see the upside in his good plays. You have to hope that he can clean up his worst traits, which are mostly letting his fundamentals take plays off here and there. If he does that, he could be one of the best in the league as a Michael Pittman or Allen Robinson-type player. If he doesn’t clean up his worst traits, then he could be an annual tease, a player just on the verge of a breakout.
The Browns’ depth chart isn’t all that inspiring, especially when you consider that two of their top three wide receivers were basically given to Cleveland for nothing (Amari Cooper for two-fifths and a sixth-round pick swap and Elijah Moore with pick 74 in the 2023 NFL Draft for pick 42). Granted, both Cooper and Elijah Moore are talented players, and their price tags had more to do with the salary cap for Cooper and Elijah Moore being weirdly aggressive about having no connection with Zach Wilson. But, that tells you that Cedric Tillman is really the first hand-picked wide receiver in some time, with Cooper and Moore as “too good to pass up” checks on the upside.
There’s a non-zero chance that given all this and given Tillman’s upside, he could lead the Browns in targets. But, I highly doubt that. After all, Amari Cooper, despite his contract, is still a dangerous football player, and a quality fantasy football option. After all, I bet you didn’t know that he was WR10 in PPR last season. It’s true, look it up! Unfortunately, WR2s and WR3s on a Kevin Stefanski offense find very little in the way of scraps to return fantasy football viability. Over his last four seasons, he hasn’t had a WR2 finish higher than Donovan Peoples-Jones’ WR42 finish last season, and his high-water mark for WR3 fantasy ranks is Olabisi Johnson’s WR79 in 2019.
2023 FANTASY FOOTBALL OUTLOOK
Cedric Tillman belongs on a roster in every ten and twelve-team draft this season. But, maybe not yours. After all, he sits on the correct side of the wide receiver dividing line (rookie wide receivers taken on day one and day two of the draft hit at a 20% rate their first season, whereas ones that go on day three hit at a sub-2% rate their first season). But, I fear that he might end up in the 80% of rookie wide receivers who fail despite draft capital. I can’t overcome the Kevin Stefanski model of running the football as often as possible, which would limit Tillman’s ability to get enough targets to matter. After all, the Browns passed the ball at a bottom-eight rate in each of the three seasons with Stefanski at the helm.
With all of that, I can’t see him as anything more than a speculative double-digit round pick. He will need, however, for everything to go his way for him to cash. The Browns will need to throw more, Deshaun Watson would need to turn it around, and Amari Cooper would need to take a diminished role to give Tillman the targets necessary for him to be fantasy viable. On top of all of that, he will need to get his inconsistencies under control before I feel great about having him around.
2023 FANTASY FOOTBALL OUTLOOK
Round 5, Pick 140 Overall: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Quarterback, UCLA (6’2” 203 pounds)
QB1 Deshaun Watson
QB2 Joshua Dobbs
QB3 Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Dorian Thompson-Robinson (or as the kids call him, DTR) is what happens when the new NFL quarterback prototype is in a player who isn’t very good at it. He runs well enough, and he has a strong arm, but he has clearly been playing 7v7 ball for a long time because nothing about his game screams that he can translate to the NFL given his skill level. He’s quick to tuck and run because he panics under pressure, and he has absolutely zero touch on any of his passes. He also has inconsistent mechanics, which lead to some pinpoint balls and then some truly chaotic ball placement on intermediate and deep throws. To be brutally honest with you, it’s nice that we’ve gotten to a place where we don’t just have 6’5” 225-pound statues who aren’t very good, but we also have little athletic guys who are nothing but roster depth, too.
To be brutally honest with you, if the Browns see any DTR on the field this season, then things have gone horribly, horribly wrong. Not just for 2023, but for the entire future of their franchise. There’s no world where the Browns want to see DTR for any extended period of time at any point in his rookie contract. Deshaun Watson has a nearly $70 million cap hit each season from 2024 through 2026, meaning that they don’t want anything to do with Dorian Thompson-Robinson starting any games, at all, whatsoever.
2023 FANTASY FOOTBALL OUTLOOK
Should things go to plan, we don’t see DTR this season. Should things go awry for the Dawg Pound, then DTR will have two quarterback league value, mostly because anyone with a pulse has value in a 2QB/Superflex league. He would be a middling QB2 in that circumstance, mostly because of his running ability. Think about how you regard Taylor Heinicke in his time as a starter, and that’s how you can regard Dorian Thompson-Robinson.