The long reign of offensive incompetence in Cleveland is (allegedly) over. Brian Daboll and his screen passes moved to Kansas City in 2012 and Pat Shurmur has finally been relieved of duties. Rob Chudzinski has returned to take over as head coach and imported Norval Turner as the offensive coordinator. Given that Josh Gordon is a fantasy football community favorite (as well as a darling of the Rotoviz Staff) and Jordan Cameron is getting early buzz as he remains the only serviceable tight end on the roster, the Browns offense might have some serious fantasy football value in 2013. To help make my case, I’ve enlisted the help of Ryan Burns, editor in chief of Football Sickness and verified Browns fan extraordinaire.
Drafting Brandon Weeden, from an NFL franchise perspective, is absolutely inexcusable. If you let that bias cloud your fantasy football opinion, however, you will be making a mistake. Burns stated on on the 2013 offense that “If you believe it matters at all in the NFL, you have to believe the offense will be better in 2013. The West Coast system installed by former coach Pat Shurmur at the behest of former president Mike Holmgren was impossibly antiquated in design and unimaginative in implementation. I knew it, anyone who watched it knew it, and Pat Shurmur’s team knew it. Where Shurmur failed most miserably was at quarterback, where he tried to force Weeden to be an under-center, drop-back, play-action pick-your-shots game manager. Not only is this insane, it proved predictably ineffective.” Norv Turner-led offenses have finished in the top-10 of Net Pass Yards per attempt ten times, including three first place finishes and have eleven top-ten passing yard finishes. Despite the train wreck in San Diego the last two years, Norv is a quality offensive coordinator, just not a great head coach.
Rob Chudzinkski is equally positive for the fantasy football value of Browns pass catchers. As an offensive coordinator, Derek Anderson was a Pro-Bowler who completed 56.5% of his passes with an adjusted adjusted yards per attempt of 7.2. In that same year, Braylon Edwards caught 80 passes for 1289 yards and 16 touchdowns. Known as something of a tight end whisperer, Chud was the tight ends coach for Antonio Gate’s career best 2009-10 campaign where Gates caught 1157 yards and 8 touchdowns. In 20 games under Chudzinski, Kellen Winslow Jr. caught 1,534 yards and 8 touchdowns. Once Chudzinski moved to Carolina as the OC, he coached Cam Newton to a 60% completion rate and you guessed it, 7.2 adjusted yards per attempt.
Quarterbacks in Chudzinski’s offenses average 3,559 yards and exactly 20 touchdowns. That includes one miserable season where Derek Anderson turned into a pumpkin and Ken Dorsey and Brady Quinn were forced into the starting role. Burns writes “Brandon Weeden, at worst, is a much more talented version of Derek Anderson. Norv and Chud will emphasize the vertical passing game, taking advantage of Weeden’s natural throwing ability and a group of big, talented receiving weapons.”Phillip Rivers, under Norv Turner, averaged 3,963 yards and 28.6 touchdowns. While both Turner and Chudzinski have presided over complete trainwrecks (The 2011 and ’12 Chargers and the ’12 Panthers, respectively) it appears that they have had offensive success more often than not. While Brandon Weeden might not have the pure arm talent of Rivers or Newton, he isn’t incompetent. If we subtract the downright awful week 1 game against the Eagles from Weeden’s totals, he completed 59% of his passes. For the entire season, Weeden had a 59.6% accuracy percentage while under duress, per Pro Football Focus. Even if Weeden gets displaced, I’ve always liked what Jason Campbell can do when put in a decent situation.
It is precisely because Weeden and Campbell are at a baseline of competency that we can look to Greg Little, Jordan Cameron and most importantly, Josh Gordon as legit fantasy options. Beginning with Cameron, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland Plains Dealer reported that the Browns “plan to throw to him alot”. Forty six different tight ends finished with top 12 numbers in at least one week in 2012, which points to volitility of the position. Cameron will be available for a late round selection and will likely make a great week in, week out streaming option in 12 team redraft leagues. The starting tight end in Chudzinski’s last 4 offenses has averaged 895.26 yards and 5.5 touchdowns. Those average 119 fantasy points would have been TE6 last year, barely beating out, ironically, Greg Olsen and right behind Jason Witten. Including numbers from Norv Turner offenses simply wouldn’t be fair to averages since Norv benefited from the all world talents of Antonio Gates. Cameron is the only real tight end option on the roster for the Brown’s and the historical averages place the 6’5 physical specimen with a 4.5 40 time and 62% 2012 catch rate in a prime position to succeed. While Cameron hasn’t proven much, Ryan writes “Cameron has the athletic ability to play at the level of the best tight ends in the league, but has yet to establish himself as an every down player. That the team didn’t draft or sign an obvious replacement, though, shows faith in Cameron’s ability at a key position.”
Greg Little is an interesting case, as he is a converted running back with a successful junior wide receiver season at UNC, averaging over 8 yards per target and getting a 35% market share of touchdowns. For this analysis, Little’s rookie season has little to tell us. He was incredibly raw and had subpar quarterbacking. One of the largest criticisms of Little has been that he is prone to dropping the ball, but that was a problem he solved in 2012. Ryan points out that “The first five games of 2012 were brutal, with 11 catches and 6 drops. In the last 11 games? 42 catches, 3 drops (and run-blocked like an all-pro guard for good measure). He looked like an entirely different guy and played outstanding football.” The 2nd wide receiver in Chudzinski offenses has rarely been productive because they have played by guys like Brandon Lafell, Legadu Naanee and Joe Jurevicious. However, Norv Turner offenses paint a slightly brighter picture. Subtracting the 2012 trainwreck, the 2nd leading wide receiver option in San Diego averaged 706 yards and 3.4 touchdowns. Not sterling numbers, but it shows the 2nd guy is involved. It bears mentioning that LaDainian Tomlinson was responsible for scoring touchdowns in those days, that Antonio Gates was functionally the top target in the passing game and that Darren Sproles was leaching targets. The Browns do have a running back who will be on the field for all 3 downs, but not a Sproles-like passing down back. Little’s elite yards after catch ability and place in this downfield offense makes him a WR4 target and someone to monitor on the waiver wire all year.
The combination of Chudzinski and Turner’s aggressive downfield offense with Josh Gordon’s elite skills makes Gordon the best wide receiver sleeper in redraft for 2013. Ryan stated “Weeden is a gunslinger. You have to simply accept that and put him in a position to do what he did at Oklahoma State: survey the defense, preferably from the shotgun, and hit the open guy. When he gets into a rhythm, Weeden is a gifted and dangerous thrower of the football. He had numerous “wow” throws mixed into his rookie mediocrity. None of this “turn your back to the defense while play-faking and counting your steps, go through four reads and maybe throw a flare out” nonsense. Get out there and sling it. We’re trying to score touchdowns here.” This new perspective and offensive attitude is going to do nothing but improve Gordon’s fantasy profile. Gordon stated about the new offense that ““The new offense is great. For wide receivers, it’s the best offense you can really play for, I believe. With Norv’s offense, we watch all the old Cowboys’ vintage films. You can pretty much get lost and see yourself in the play. Working with Norv and Chud, I couldn’t ask for anything more.” Ryan writes of Gordon “Josh Gordon walked onto an NFL field last year having not played college ball since 2010, out of shape, devoid of technique, obviously clueless and without much of a role for the first quarter of the season and yet finished with a nice little 50/805/5 line on a team with poor scheming, a rookie quarterback and no established receiving threat. As a 21-year old. At times, he looked lost. At other times, he looked like if he figures it out there isn’t a corner alive who will be able to do a damn thing with him. Gordon has immense, top-5 WR type physical ability and a devastating deep threat.”
The immediate production points to Gordon having a very high ceiling. Take a look at Gordon’s next season comparables, originally calculated by Frank Dupont.
The next season averages projected by the Similarity Score apps equate to a full season of 65 catches, 950 yards and 7 touchdowns. Those 137 points would have made him WR23 in 2012. Those numbers strike me as incredibly conservative, however. Gordon received 16% of the teams targets in 2012, but that number is likely due to rise significantly in 2013; he is just so much more talented than Little, Cameron, Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin. If the Browns attempt 600 passes and Gordon increases his market share of targets to 20%, that will mean 120 targets. Likely, many of those will be high value, downfield targets which is what Gordon specializes in. Per PFF, on 8 catchable deep targets, Gordon caught 6 for 259 yards and 4 touchdowns. Under Norv Turner, Vincent Jackson had a similar skill set to Gordon and averaged 998 yards and 7 touchdowns in all his complete years as a starter. The top wide receiver in Chudzinski’s offenses averaged 1,182.5 yards and 7.5 touchdowns. Clearly, the top pass catcher in this offense is going to be a fantasy commodity. At an ADP of WR32, the fantasy floor created by Gordon’s comparables, physical measurables and historical data of Norv Turner and Rob Chudsinski offenses makes Gordon a steal at the wide receiver position.
All of the existing data suggests that the 2013 Cleveland Brown’s are going to be a different offensive force. Turner and Chudzinski are going to transform Weeden into a stream-worthy QB2, Josh Gordon into a legit WR2, Greg Little into a player to monitor on the wavier and Jordon Cameron into a draftable TE2 with TE1 upside.