It’s after the Fourth of July, which means that it’s high time we turn our attention to fantasy football sleepers, breakouts, and busts for every NFL team. The ADP is per 4for4’s ADP data. We started with the AFC East, and we now move on to the AFC North. Will the Factory of Sadness destroy yet another year for the Cuyahoga County faithful? Will Cleveland bring back nickel beer night? Can the Browns finally lure LeBron to play tight end? We answer none of those questions, and more, with the Cleveland Browns’ sleeper, breakout, and bust!
Sleeper: Jerome Ford, Running Back (RB66, Pick 216 Overall)
There are four running backs on the Browns not named Nick Chubb, and they have 49 career carries. 27 of these came for John Kelly with the Rams… in 2018. Post-COVID, they guys not named Nick Chubb have been totally devoid of NFL usage. That having been said, Jerome Ford is probably the best of the bunch. While that seems like damning with faint praise, he is also the one closest to Nick Chubb in the group. His PlayerProfiler.com closest comparison is Joshua Kelley, who wasn’t good enough to sideline Austin Ekeler, but this isn’t about sidelining Austin Ekeler. Ford had himself a nice little 2021 for Cincinnati. He finished with 1535 total yards and 20 total touchdowns on 236 touches across 13 games. While he hasn’t had a chance to flash yet in the NFL, he will have every opportunity to do so now that Kareem Hunt is elsewhere (more accurately, he’s unsigned, so he’s nowhere). In Hunt’s 3.5 seasons with the Browns, he averaged 12.4 touches per game as Chubb’s 1B. And he’s free, so you can just drop him if this doesn’t work out.
Breakout: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Wide Receiver (WR60, Pick 150 Overall)
DPJ had himself a miniature breakout last season already. Last year, he finished with 96 targets, 61 receptions, and 839 receiving yards. Unfortunately, he had just three touchdowns, which pushed down his overall finish, and relegating him to a WR42 finish last season (WR55 per game). But, two of his three touchdowns came in the six games with Deshaun Watson under center, and his air yards with and without Watson give me encouragement going forward. While the Browns added Elijah Moore and will have David Njoku under center, none of them have the deep threat chops of DPJ. He was top-30 in air yards last season, as well as average depth of target. If Deshaun Watson turns it around, then his connection with DPJ grows (he completed 61% of targets to DPJ last season compared to over 66% for Jacoby Brissett), then DPJ could be in for a good season.
Bust: Deshaun Watson, Quarterback (QB9, Pick 56 Overall)
I will always remember the first pass I saw Deshaun Watson throw as a Brown. I was at the Fantasy Football Expo in Canton, Ohio. It was so bad that, well, it’s hard to explain who he threw it to, here. He wildly missed either Anthony Schwartz or Donovan Peoples-Jones, but I’m not sure which:
Things didn’t get better for Watson that game, as he finished one-for-five. I didn’t see Watson again until week thirteen, when he returned from suspension. Things didn’t get much better for him. He was thirty-fifth in fantasy points after he returned (there are only 32 starting QBs), and out of the 43 QBs who attempted at least 100 passes from week thirteen to the end of the year, Watson ranked 40th in completion percentage, 20th in TD rate, 8th in INT rate, third in sack rate (behind only Justin Fields and Sam Ehlinger), and 33rd in passing yards per attempt. This is the only Deshaun Watson that we’ve seen under the Biden Administration. And, much like Joe Biden, his best years might be behind him. I’m fine with drafting him in case those years aren’t behind him, but taking him as QB9 has me insanely itchy. He will most certainly improve this year, but there’s a long way to go between where he was and where he needs to be to be worth that pick at QB9.