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Team Previews: Cleveland Browns

Justin Schultz

Justin Schultz writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

THE SKINNY
The Browns are deep in rebuilding mode, and while they'll be hard-pressed to win many games in 2017, there should be some obvious improvement in terms of the on-the-field product. QB is still an issue, however, and the franchise will continue to dwell in the cellar until that's squared away.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

RECEIVING CORPS EXPECTED TO STEP UP
Corey Coleman, the first wideout taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, is a prime candidate to break out this season after a frustrating rookie year. The speedy receiver started strong, with seven catches for 173 yards and two scores over his first two regular-season outings, but was then sidelined with a broken hand and forced to miss almost two months. By the time he returned, Terrelle Pryor had emerged as the Browns' unlikely No. 1 receiver, en route to dominating the team's target share. Once back in the fold, Coleman failed to surpass 50 receiving yards in a single game the rest of the way, finishing with just 33 receptions for 413 yards and three touchdowns across 10 contests. Since then, Pryor has moved on to Washington, and Coleman now profiles as Cleveland's most dangerous offensive threat, health permitting. Veteran Kenny Britt was signed away from the Rams as a free agent after logging a career-high 68 catches in 2016. The 28-year-old will see his share of looks as well, with his 6-3, 223-pound frame providing a physical presence opposite the 5-11, 185-pound Coleman. Meanwhile, Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis will battle it out for the No. 3 wideout job following the departure of Andrew Hawkins. As rookies last season, the duo combined for just 24 receptions, so they'll be expected to pick up the pace.

QB QUESTIONS CONTINUE
In all likelihood, the quarterback carousel in Cleveland will continue to spin for at least another season, as the team has thus far failed to bring in an established veteran signal-caller. First, the Browns' offseason efforts to deal for New England backup Jimmy Garoppolo were thwarted, and the team seemingly has absolutely no interest in free agent Colin Kaepernick. In addition, the Browns didn't use any of their three first-round picks in this year's draft on a franchise QB, waiting until the middle of the second round to nab DeShone Kizer. The Notre Dame product has his flaws and is viewed as a long-term project, but according to Cleveland's brass, he'll have a chance to compete for the starting job. Considering that his stiffest competition is incumbent Cody Kessler -- who had a knack for turning the ball over during his rookie year (two interceptions and four fumbles) -- it's not out of the question that the strong-armed Kizer could be under center in Week 1. We also can't forget about the well-compensated Brock Osweiler, who at press time is somewhat surprisingly still on the roster. While he has nowhere to go but up after an interception-filled 2016 season with the Texans, it remains to be seen if he'll be around long enough to mount a challenge to supplant Kessler and fend off Kizer.

BACKFIELD DUO ENCORE
Led by the two-headed running back monster of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Cleveland ranked 19th in rushing yards during the 2016 season. Without any major offseason moves to indicate otherwise, it looks like the two will handle the bulk of the workload again. The team signed former Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler to a $60 million deal to fortify the offensive line, and that signing alone should open up some holes for the rushing duo. If the Browns want to invigorate their ground game in 2017, Crowell needs to get more involved. Even though he set career-high marks in carries and rushing yards in 2016, his touches were still inconsistent for a featured back, particularly in the red zone, where he had just 28 rush attempts. As for Johnson, his touches dipped some during his second year as a pro, though he did rush for 4.9 yards per attempt after logging a 3.6 average as a rookie. He's most dangerous when catching passes out of the backfield, and that's how he'll primarily be utilized going forward. Crowell, meanwhile, will continue to do the heavy lifting. Bolstered by Zeitler's arrival and given that a run-heavy attack is highly plausible considering the team's QB situation, both backs are worthy fantasy targets; Crowell more so in standard formats and Johnson in PPR arrangements.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Corey Coleman
Assuming he bounces back from his various aches and pains, Coleman's stock will climb. If the Browns end up seeing improved QB play -- in the form of rookie DeShone Kizer or a free agent -- the wideout's production could intensify. Even if they stick with Cody Kessler, the rapport the duo started to build in 2016 figures to pay dividends.

BAROMETER

RISING: Kenny Britt
Britt's quarterback situation isn't much better than it was with L.A., but if Corey Coleman breaks out as expected, it should only help Britt's value. Fewer double teams could do wonders for his targets and production.

FALLING: Cody Kessler
Kessler has a solid shot to open the season as the team's starting QB, but in such a scenario, his grip on the job figures to be tenuous. Ultimately, next year's draft could produce Cleveland's franchise signal-caller.

SLEEPER: Ricardo Louis
It was sporadic, but Louis showed flashes of potential in 2016. With Andrew Hawkins gone, the third wideout spot is his for the taking, and Louis could see his share of action while defenses focus on Coleman and Britt.

KEY JOB BATTLE STARTING TIGHT END
Even though the Browns released Gary Barnidge and drafted David Njoku in the first round, the latter is not a sure thing to start in Week 1. Cleveland wholeheartedly believes in second-year pro Seth DeValve, and many in the organization expect him to have a breakout season. He was limited last year, catching just 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, but he's bulked up this offseason in order to become a better blocker, and that may end up paying dividends tied to his playing time. Njoku should still be considered the favorite to garner most of the targets from the tight end position, but rookie tight ends have a history of underwhelming performances, meaning DeValve might have the opportunity to surprise some people in 2017.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Myles Garrett DE (Rd. 1, No. 1 Texas A&M)
Explosive edge rusher was a no-brainer with the top overall pick.

Kenny Britt WR (from Rams)
Bolsters a wideout corps that bid adieu to Terrelle Pryor.

DeShone Kizer QB (Rd. 2, No. 52 Notre Dame)
Quarterback was an obvious need, and he'll compete to start.

David Njoku TE (Rd. 1, No. 29 Miami)
Could make an immediate fantasy splash as a starter out of the gate.

Brock Osweiler QB (from Texans)
The team's most experienced QB, but will he even make the roster?

KEY LOSSES:
Terrelle Pryor WR (to Redskins)
The converted signal-caller heads to Washington on a one-year deal.

Gary Barnidge TE (FA)
Enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2015 but failed to repeat last year.

Andrew Hawkins WR (to Patriots)
The 31-year-old's departure paves the way for younger options.

THE INJURY FRONT
Corey Coleman, WR Coleman, who broke his hand last September and dealt with a hamstring issue in OTAs, should be ready for training camp.

Myles Garrett, DE The first overall pick missed a few days in minicamp with a sprained foot, but all signs point to him being a full-go when training camp kicks off.

Cody Kessler, QB Kessler suffered two concussions in 2016, so even if he does earn the starting QB job, it might be a short-lived assignment if he can't stay on the field.