The Cleveland Browns have been a bit of a mess for a while now, and even the most die hard fan probably won’t deny it. Heck, they might be the first to say it. However, as bad as it’s been at times, it’s arguable the Browns are in their worst state in some time, despite actually showing signs of life as a 7-9 playoff hopeful a year ago.

You can cite meddling owner Jimmy Haslam, the questionable hirings of GM Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine, as well as personnel moves that involved the drafting of Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert. And that’s not even diving into the dysfunction that led to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan wanting out or Farmer getting in trouble for in-game texts down to the field.

In a nutshell, even if everything had been all roses for the Browns before 2014, it surely was a firestorm of ineptitude during it. We probably didn’t think it would be possible, but these Browns, as competitive and inspiring as they were on the field last season, actually found a way to get worse. Of course, all fantasy football owners care about is whether or not their rapid decline this off-season means all hands need to be away from their team in the fantasy realm. The short answer is an emphatic “absolutely”, but it deserves a closer look.

See Ya, Jordan

Jordan Cameron didn’t enjoy a great 2014 campaign and wanted a fresh start, so he’s in Miami and the Browns are left without a legit starting tight end. That’s the beginning of their problems on offense, but it’s not their biggest area of concern. That being said, someone other than Cameron is going to be the main tight end in 2015, or the Browns will be left with a platoon of mediocre options. If the Browns are smart they’ll draft a tight end somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft, although even that shouldn’t make the tight end position one of relevancy in Cleveland this season. Fantasy owners should steer clear.

Down Goes Gordon

Josh Gordon may have played his last snap with the Browns, and whether or not that’s true Cleveland needs to replace him for 2015, doing enough to make sure they’re not held hostage by him in the future. Like the Jacksonville Jaguars with Justin Blackmon, the Browns need to draft one or two talented wide receivers and hope at least one can develop into an explosive starter. That could put guys like Dorial Green-Beckham, Amari Cooper or even Kevin White on the map early, depending on how the draft shakes out. Despite quarterback concerns, any one of those three guys would come in with the talent to be an interesting late round pick in fantasy drafts.

The cupboard is fairly bare beyond that, as Miles Austin jetted for Philly and all the Browns did to patch up the passing game was bring in Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe. Hartline and Bowe are fairly underwhelming signings due to their inability to dominate the red-zone or consistently spring big plays, but they’re quietly very solid, safe signings. Now Cleveland just needs one splash move to give their offense a much-needed jolt. As it stands, Hartline and Bowe are obviously going to be guys worth monitoring due to clear roles, but their lack of upside and various question marks has them cemented at WR3 status, at best.

Johnny Rehab

Whether you want to believe it or not, the success or failure of the 2015 Cleveland Browns is going to hinge to quarterback Johnny Manziel. Josh McCown was brought in to be another Brian Hoyer, but one that wouldn’t be headstrong and battle with Manziel. Instead, he’s there to help Manziel grow into the man and passer the Browns seem to still think he can be, and if that can’t happen, he’ll keep the seat warm for the guy they draft in the first round in 2016.

Provided Manziel’s visit to rehab wasn’t a PR move and that he has his head on straight come June, there is still reason to believe the talented kid from Texas A&M could put the time and work in to be a competent second-year player. Franchise savior and long-term answer he still may not be, but Manziel is still an athletic, elusive quarterback who is a much better thrower of the football than he’s given credit for. He’s lost weapons and pretty much no one believes in him, but there’s upside to be had if he’s the starter heading into week one. Whether or not that translates into actual wins is anyone’s guess, but a healthy, focused and improved Manziel is an interesting fantasy option and keeps the door open to Cleveland’s offense actually doing positive things. Then again, the hinges could always come off and the floodgates could open to the worst season in Browns’ history. Flip a coin.

I See Ya, Crowell

Isaiah Crowell was a fun fantasy sleeper going into last season, largely due to Cleveland not having much stability at running back and no one believing Ben Tate could stay healthy. True to form, Tate went down with an injury and lost his handle on the starting gig, which helped pave the way for Crowell to pile up nearly 700 total yards and eight scores as a rookie.

Crowell may have to fend off Terrance West to hold major fantasy value in 2015, but he’s the better talent with far more upside. West was extremely productive in college and showed flashes of being able to be a feature back a year ago, but Crowell is the better inside runner and appears to have a nose for the end zone. If Crowell at least is pegged as the early down and goal-line guy, he’s going to be a great guy to chase near the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. If he impresses early in the summer and is locked into a featured role, his value will only increase. West should remain a solid handcuff pick, regardless, while he also could potentially blossom into a solid RB2 if given the opportunity.

The Browns aren’t likely to improve on last year’s record and may have a tough time sniffing the post-season in 2015, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you make your fantasy football league’s playoffs. I still think Manziel is a guy to monitor, while a stud rookie receiver could be worth tracking, as well. Dwayne Bowe is an interesting rebound case, too, while Crowell is far and away the guy to target this year from the Browns. Overall you’d probably be best served picking your top fantasy options from a different bargain bin, however.

-Justin Becker


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