Apologies to those interested owners, but if you’re looking for Brock Osweiler to Kenny Britt spicy fantasy football impact takes, I’m going to hold off until the free agent dust settles on the shores of Lake Erie and rather focus on the Browns’ offensive line upgrade effort.
There’s no need to mince words, the 2016 Cleveland Browns were a bad NFL product. They finished 1-15, averaged 16.5 points per game, allowed a league-high 66 sacks, ranked 31st in total defense, and ranked 30th in total offense.
A huge reason why the offense sputtered throughout the 16-game campaign was because the offensive line couldn’t block and keep their carousel of quarterbacks (five by season’s end) upright and healthy. Pro Football Focus may have ranked the Browns’ o-line 16th at the end of the season, but Joe Thomas’ and, before he got hurt, Joel Bitonio’s efforts helped apply lipstick to that statistical pig. Center Cameron Erving was and is a pass-and-run blocking liability.
Despite the numerous inefficiencies within the Browns’ offensive line, Isaiah Crowell ranked RB-14 in fantasy football standard and PPR-scoring. It’s also worth noting, as Dieter Kurtenbach also acknowledged in this NFL mock draft primer, that Crowell’s 2016 fantasy stats are a little fuzzy considering 47 percent of his yards came on just 16 carries. He rushed 198 times last year. So, embrace that fact as you wish.
Crow’s 2016 Splits
First 8 Games
Last 8 Games
Taking Crowell’s 2016 fantasy production with the intended grain of salt, the Browns’ free agent signings of guard Kevin Zeitler, center J.C. Tretter and contract extension of guard Bitonio indicates the franchise made it a priority to protect their TBD quarterback and improve their run blocking. Although Duke Johnson only managed five games with 11+ fantasy football points in PPR leagues and remains a late-round PPR investment, he was ecstatic about the upgrades and took to Twitter to show his appreciation:
While Crowell’s RB-14 rankings will be hard to match if he were to see less than 200 carries as was the case last season, the Browns are moving the chess pieces around the board to at least consider selecting the running back as a back-end RB-2 heading into 2017. Now, fantasy owners just need to see how the rest of the puzzle fits together behind center and who will line up opposite Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman if Terrelle Pryor takes his talents elsewhere (Oh look! Pryor signed with the Redskins.). Without question, the threat of Pryor – especially in the first half of the season – boosted Crowell’s fantasy numbers. As has been the case since 1999, the Browns remain a work in progress, but at least this time it appears they are applying logic in their strategy.